It is an enjoyable fall and winter sport. Where I live, squirrel hunting starts weeks before big game and ends in February – 2 ½ months after deer season ends. It can be as much fun as you want and it puts food on your table. If you want it will also put some money (very little) in your pocket. All you need is a good woodlot that is populated with trees that produce the food squirrels eat, a .22 caliber gun or shotgun and time. You can hunt alone, with the family dog or with a friend. A word of warning – never shoot into a squirrel nest. First – it is not sporting; second – you will probably never retrieve the squirrel and third – it is probably illegal. Always remember to be a responsible hunter.Gray squirrel
Squirrels are found where their food is. I live just outside the Adirondack Park in New York. Much of the forest is “forever wild”. What that means in a lot of areas it is mature forest without much food producing trees. Just hemlock and old pines and a ground covered in needle litter. What you find here is pine squirrels and frankly they are too small for me to bother with. I look for mixed forests with oaks, wild fruit trees, maples and pine. Here you will find gray squirrels, a fairly large squirrel that lives in much of the eastern United States. Forest that border farm land can be very productive.
As with most hunting, if you are alone, being a bit stealthy is important. If you go tramping through the woods crunching leaves or just being loud the squirrels (as well as everything else) will typically hunker down and quietly wait for you to pass. Try walking slow and steady. Every once and awhile, stop and stay in place. If you wait for 10 to 15 minutes the squirrels in the area will start moving again and at that point the “hunt is on”. I know people that will walk into a good woodlot sit for about 15 minutes and use a squirrel call with excellent results.
Shotgunning for squirrels is a blast. Many times they will be running along branches or bouncing through leaf litter looking for fallen nuts. At these times I consider shooting as exciting as gunning birds. When hunting with a shotgun, it does not need to be a specific gauge. Anything from a 12 to a 410 will work – you will need to use more powerful loads, magnums if your gun is capable, with the smaller gauges. My preference is an old 20 gauge I have owned for over 30 years. I typically use 3” shells loaded with 1 ¼ ounces of # 6 shot. Since I support eating what you shoot, try for head shots to keep the pellets out of the meat. The nice part of hunting with a shotgun is that you can be opportunistic. Rabbit and grouse seasons mirror squirrel season where I live and when you carry a shotgun you have the chance at a mixed bag.
For a challenge you can hunt with a 22 caliber rifle. I have an old single shot 22 with a variable scope mounted on it; it has taken many squirrels over the years. If the squirrel does not present itself safely, try calling to it or make a small movement. The squirrel should react, usually by moving and often into a tree crotch so it can take a better look. If it runs around to the other side of the tree take a rock or branch and throw it past the tree. That may cause the squirrel to scurry back to your side presenting a good shot.
The only issue with a 22 is being very careful when taking your shot. Wait for the squirrel to present itself either on the ground or if in a tree where the tree will act as a backstop if you miss. A 22 can travel almost 1 mile and for several hundred yards it will keep enough power to hurt, even kill, unintended targets. When I was younger I took a cousin hunting. He had a 22 caliber marlin auto-loader. Within one day he had went through almost 500 rounds with one squirrel in his bag. Many of his shots were in the air at squirrels in trees without backstops. No matter how much I explained the danger he continued. He has never hunted with me after that day.
Hunting with a dog for squirrels can be productive. This is one time you do not need to be quiet. The dog will work the ground find and tree squirrels. Frankly, you really do not need a “trained” dog as you would for birds or rabbits. I think the main requirements are:
A dog not afraid of a gunshot sound,
A dog that will listen and not run,
A dog that loves to chase squirrels
A dog that will not grab a downed squirrel and ruin the meat.
I had a Cairn terrier that hated squirrels and would tree them and stand there barking, that is all I needed. Once treed the squirrels were more concerned with the dog then with me moving into place.
If you are squirrel hunting with a friend stay spread out to about 40 yards and avoid screaming back in forth. Slowly walk along and often a squirrel will be pushed out of hiding toward one of the hunters. This is much like hunting deer.
I like to use squirrel when tying certain flies for fishing or adding hair to the treble hooks of spoons and spinners. If you harvest enough squirrels and have no use for the fur or tails, you can try to sell them. You will need to know how to prepare the skins to keep any value. A good place to find buyers is your local trappers club. You can find a local club by going to the National Trappers Association website: http://www.nationaltrappers.com. They can direct you to buyers as well as provide information about skinning and caring for the hides.
Another place you can sell to is to Mepps Fishing Lure company. They will buy the tails but are strict about the condition the tail must be in. Check out their website: http://www.mepps.com/programs/squirrel-tail/. I have never sent them tails but might start. I am a big user of their product and it would be nice to someday think that a small piece of the lure I am using came from my hunting efforts.
I have not heard of one yet that pertains to both Rabbits and Hares. There are various clubs that focus on one over the other. Please email me with any links and we will post here – contact TC
Rabbits and Hares Descriptions
– Rabbits are defined as medium-sized grazing mammals with long ears, long hind legs and bulging eyes on the sides of their heads. There are 18 different species living in the U.S. and Canada.
The male, is called a buck The female, called a doe, is larger than the buck.
Rabbits are primarily nocturnal animals. They can detect enemies by scent. They are extremely able runners and can switch direction in an instant, making them an extremely tough game animal to hunt.
Hares are generally larger than rabbits and, except for the snowshoe hare, are found in more open territory. Their young are generally born more fully developed.
Below are general descriptions of three of the more common species found in North America:
Eastern Cottontail – Very common in its range of the eastern US. Coloration is grayish brown above, grizzled with black. There usually is a white spot on the forehead. Tail is cottony white and the feet are white above. The cottontail has long ears. The cottontail is approximately 14 ¾” – 18 ¼” long and weighs between 2 – 4 lbs. The hind foot is usually between 3 3/8″ – 4 1/8″ long. Habitat – Brushy areas, old fields, woods and farms.
New England Cottontail – Coloration is brownish sprinkled liberally with black. As opposed to the Eastern Cottontail, which has a white spot on its forehead, the New England Cottontail has a black patch on its forehead. Its ears also are outlined by a black stripe. Tail is cottony white below and the feet are white above. This cottontail is approximately 14 ¼” – 19″ long and weighs between 1 ½ – 3 lbs. The hind foot is usually between 3 ¼” – 4″ long. Habitat – Brushy areas, old fields, woods and farms.
Snowshoe Hare – In summer color this hare is dark brown with a small tail dark above and dusky to white below. In the winter, mottled white with brown to white, with black-tipped long ears. This animal has large hind legs that are well furred, hence the name. In certain parts of the country they may not change color. In the Adirondack Mountains, black individuals have been observed. This hare is approximately 15 – 20″ long and weighs between 2 – 3 lbs. The hind foot is usually between 3 7/8″ – 5 7/8″ long. Habitat – Northern forests.
Rabbits and Hares Food
– As stated previously, rabbits and hares are grazing animals. Greens, berries and in the winter woody material (such as my blueberry bushes) are eaten. You can tell a bush eaten by a rabbit, it usually looks as a clean cut at an angle (as opposed to deer that usually leave a ragged appearance). Bark of trees may be stripped 3-4″ from the ground. Breeding – Rabbits have the ability to breed several times per year. Their litters can average from 1 -6 (snowshoe); 1-9 (Eastern Cottontail); 3-8 (New England Cottontail) young. Gestation period is roughly 28 days but does vary by species. The Eastern Cottontail has the ability to have 4 litters each year – that is a possible total of 36 rabbits each breeding season. This is nature’s way of providing survival potential since almost all predators prey on them.
Scat – Small pea sized and rounded. Usually in piles. This is one of the sure signs rabbits are around. They are like their domestic cousins, they eat and poop continually.
For jackrabbits, which are not only bigger but also tougher than other hares and rabbits, many hunters use hollow-points, some use 22 Magnums, and some even use .22 centerfire cartridges associated with long-range chuck shooting. When I lived out west, I would shoot jackrabbits with my 22-250. For those that want to attempt target practice with hunting, try this.
When rabbit hunting with a shotgun, missing is often caused by swinging ahead of the target and overshooting as the bouncing “bunny” abruptly switches course and vanishes. A smooth swing and good understanding of your guns performance are of little avail in this situation, so a majority of experienced rabbit gunners, whether they realize it or not are snap-shooters. They knock over rabbits the way many of us knock down grouse or woodcock, by getting on target fast and snapping off a shot the instant the muzzle passes the rabbit.
If you want to be prepared for opening season and make quick clean kills, get practice at a local range. Many clubs offer “running clays” that simulate rabbits. Take the time, spend the money and practice. It will not only make you a better shot, but will bring you in touch with others that share you passions.
Hunting rabbits can bring you through all types of country, everything from slash piles, greenbrier tangles, brush, shrubs, and high weeds of typical cottontail country to open fields where I sometimes walk up on other upland game.
Hunting alone – When hunting alone for rabbits, as for most small game, it pays to pause now and then and switch directions slightly. This can unnerve and flush a rabbit from hiding just as it can flush a grouse or other game animal. Tracking rabbits on snow is often productive, even snowshoe hares that have turned winter white may be spotted by their dark eyes and ear tips, though their body may be almost winter white and sitting in screening cover. Having spotted a snowshoe hare, or any hare or rabbit, it’s often possible to stalk within gunning distance.
Hunting with partners – When hunting cottontails with friends, you can stage a rabbit drive. This doesn’t require standers to Intercept the game, because a rabbit’s first defense is to freeze at the approach of danger, hoping to escape detection. It moves when it senses that the hope is gone, and by then, you’ll, generally be quite close. Just form a line, spacing the hunters at wide intervals, and walk through fields, brushy meadows, and other promising patches of low cover. While jumping rabbits this way, you may also walk up on other upland game.
Hunting with dogs – When hunting with beagles (or other dogs – I used to have a Springer Spaniel that was an excellent rabbit dog), there’s a strong temptation to follow the dogs every time they start to chase a rabbit. This is precisely the wrong tactic unless your dogs are too pushy-in which case the rabbit will dive for a hole and whatever you do probably won’t matter. If your dogs press along with no terrifying rush, a rabbit will most often move in a rough circle of no more than a few hundred yards. It is traveling through its home grounds, confident that it can elude its present pursuers just as it has eluded predators. You won’t keep up with the dogs or the rabbit anyhow, so just wait in a fairly open spot or on the nearest little rise, preferably close to where the hounds first got hot. The rabbit will probably come bounding back, presenting a shot.
A young snowshoe hare will often behave like a cottontail when pursued by dogs. An older, more experienced one will often move over a much greater radius. Its first circle may cover a mile and never bring the game within your view. Find a fair vantage point commanding possible crossings. Try to stand where you’ll be inconspicuous, if not hidden, and be patient. Subsequent circles will shrink. The chase may be quick or it may last for hours. An exception to the rule occurs if the hounds soon move out of your hearing and seem to have taken a fairly straight course. Sometimes an old, experienced snowshoe hare runs straight out for quite a distance before circling. If this seems to be the case, you’ll be well advised to follow for a while and then take a stand where the hound music again grows loud.
Hunting times and places:
A warming trend after a cold spell makes for good hunting, regardless of which kind of rabbit you’re after and good places to look then are grassy, weedy, or brushy stretches along creeks and ditches. When cottontails are the game, be sure to check any strips of sumac,particularly if the strips have heavy ground cover. Sumac bark has a high fat content and cottontails love it as a winter food.
In very cold weather below about 12° cottontails hole up in burrows, dens, and the like. I generally hole up too, in that kind of weather, but snowshoe hares don’t. If you can take the cold, try combing the dense conifer swamps for snowshoes in midwinter. Jacks, too, usually stay out in cold weather. They may be warming themselves in brushy depressions, moving about searching for food, or sunning themselves on the warmer sides of hills.
Try not to dress a rabbit in the field, much less reward a dog with a bite of raw meat. There’s a hazard to dogs in this practice. Watery cysts called “bladder worms” are sometimes found in a rabbit’s body cavity. They’re larval tapeworms of a kind that can’t mature in a rabbit and are harmless to man, but are very dangerous to dogs.
Another rabbit parasite-fortunately, one that is no longer common is the Bacterium tularence, the producer of tularemia, or “rabbit fever”. It’s carried from rabbit to rabbit by ticks, fleas, and other biting insects. The meat of an infected rabbit is perfectly safe; to eat if thoroughly cooked, but it is possible for a human to contract this disease through a cut or abrasion. Check with your state game department if you have concerns or questions regarding if any diseased rabbits have been discovered and how best to handle raw meat. To find information about your local state agency check out our state agency page.
If you want to practice shooting – download the rabbit target.
Description: Turkeys are the largest of the upland game bird species. Wild turkey is a dark bird with a naked, bluish head.
The male, also called a tom, has an overall coloration that is brownish black with an iridescent sheen. His wings have black and white barring. The tom has folds of red skin, called wattles, under the chin; fleshy, wartlike caruncles on the neck; and a fingerlike snood dangling beside the bill. A 4 to 10 inch projection of feathers, called a beard, extends from the breast. Additionally, the tom has spurs on his legs. Toms measure 36 to 48 inches long and weigh 17 to 28 pounds. Wingspan on a large tom may be over four feet.
The hen is smaller and browner than the tom, and lacks head features and does not have spurs. Hens measure 26 to 34 inches and 8 to 12 pounds.
The juvenile male, called a jake, and the juvenile female, called a jenny, resemble hens by fall, although they have a duller, more mottled color. After the first year, jakes are larger than hens, and have begun to develop a beard.
Turkeys can run over 20 miles per hour and fly up to speeds of 40 miles per hour.
There are five subspecies of wild turkey in North America:
The eastern wild turkey (M. gallopavo silvestris) is the most abundant of the five subspecies. It is found throughout most of the eastern United States. Its population is increasing because of introductions, such as those in the Pacific Northwest and North Dakota. It has a copper-bronze sheen, and its tail has a chocolate-brown tip.
Merriam’s wild turkey (M. gallopavo merriami) is found in much of the western United States, from Montana to Arizona. It is the most adaptable of the five subspecies, and its numbers and range have grown due to stocking efforts. It has a purplish bronze sheen, and a buff-tipped tail.
The Rio Grande wild turkey (M. gallopavo intermedia) is an open-country bird found primarily in the south-central United States from Nebraska through Texas and into Mexico. Its range has expanded westward thanks to stocking efforts. The overall body sheen is a pale copper, and the tail has a yellowish tip.
The Florida wild turkey (M. gallopavo Osceola) is found only in Florida, and has a relatively small, stable population. It is similar in appearance to the eastern wild turkey, but has darker wings and an iridescent, greenish gold body color. It may hybridize with the eastern turkey, where the ranges of the two subspecies overlap.
Gould’s wild turkey (M. gallopavo mexicana) is found in extreme southern Arizona and New Mexico and into northern Mexico. It resembles the Merriam’s subspecies, but has a bluish green sheen and a white-tipped tail. The population is stable.
Habitat – Turkeys are birds of the big woods. An individual bird requires from a few hundred to more than a thousand acres of ground with a combination of trees for roosting, a reliable water source and an open feeding area. In spring and summer, when the birds are nesting and raising broods, they seek openings in or alongside the woods, with dense, grassy cover at least 3 feet high. In winter, they prefer more densely wooded habitat.
Birds in the East generally inhabit dense, mixed-hardwood forests and river bottomlands adjacent to agricultural lands. Birds in the West and South prefer pine and oak forests near streams. Florida birds are found in oak and pine woods, palmetto flats and cypress bottomlands.
Wild turkeys move seasonally between nesting and wintering areas, but seldom travel more than two miles. In mountainous areas, wild turkeys occupy higher elevations in spring and summer, and lower elevations in fall and winter, sometimes moving as much as forty miles between ranges.
Food – Wild turkeys eat mostly plant material, including fruits, acorns and other nuts, small grains, and the seeds, shoots and roots of grasses and various other plants. They also eat many types of insects, small amphibians and even lizards. Turkeys generally fly down from roosting trees to feed in early morning, and return to the trees in the evening.
Breeding – Toms start their breeding displays in early spring while still gathered in flocks in the wintering areas. With tail fanned, feathers fluffed and wing tips dragging, the tom struts boldly while emitting low-pitched hums. He repeats this display, coupled with the characteristic gobble call, until he attracts a hen. The most dominant toms breed with the majority of hens, continuing to display after each mated hen goes off to nest. By late spring, breeding is nearly complete and the male’s display begins to taper off. The hen becomes very secretive at nesting time, distancing herself from other hens. The nest site is usually under or near a log, bush or clump of vegetation. She scrapes a shallow depression, lines it with leaves and twigs, then lays 8 to 14 buff-colored brown-speckled eggs, which hatch in about 27 days. The young poults grow quickly and can make short flights within 8 to 10 days.
Social Interaction – Wild turkeys gather in wintering flocks that range from less than a dozen to several hundred birds. In spring, just before the mating season, this large flock divides into three sexually segregated groups: one consisting of hens, another of jakes and a third of toms. In the latter, a single tom emerges to do most of the breeding.
Because of restoration efforts by wildlife management agencies, North America has more wild turkeys now than it did during pre-settlement days.
Hunting – In states where there’s an early fall season, good turkey-hunting land has grasses and brush to support insect life, for at this time of year, both the adults and the juveniles may still be eating quantities of insects. In the spring, too, good habitat usually has some brush or swampy places. And regardless of season, there must be ponds, creeks, seeps, or swamps to provide water. Whether a hunt is in fall, winter, or spring, most of the best spots have stands of hardwoods that supply mast-acorns, beechnuts, or hazelnuts. Where these favorite foods are lacking, however, conifer seeds are heavily utilized. But bear in mind that at some times of year or in some regions, mast may be scarce or absent, and very different foods will attract turkeys: chufa grass, sumac, wild grapes, dogwood, ragweed, and all sorts of berries. Though wary, the birds will also come to farmlands for corn, sorghum, or oats.
Specific foods and feeding periods are most important during a fall hunt, when sexual attraction won’t keep the gobblers moving about or draw them as eagerly to a call that sounds like a hen’s yelp. Although turkeys feed intermittently throughout the day, and you might find them in the woods at any time, they forage most intensively for a couple of hours after dawn and before dusk, and those are the best hunting times.
A productive area must have appropriate roosts as well as foods. Turkeys prefer to spend the night in tall trees, usually more than 60 feet high and situated on a ridge or at the edge of a clearing so that no obstructions will interfere with emergency flight. In most regions they like oaks, cottonwoods, pines, spruces, and firs. In parts of the South they roost in cypresses over water (a natural moat to impede the approach of any predators). Sometimes they use the same trees for several successive nights. Even though turkeys can frequently change roosts, roosting sign is worth looking for because these birds usually stay within a fairly small area throughout the year.
Roosting sign is composed of molted feathers and quantities of droppings. A hen’s scat is looped, spiraled, or bulbous; a tom’s is longer and straighter, with a knobby twist at one end. Near roosts and in foraging areas, you may also find the big triple-toed tracks, sometimes more than six inches long. If a footprint is more than 4 1/2 inches long, a mature tom probably made it, and if the stride is over 11 1/2 inches long, it was almost certainly made by a mature tom. Also watch for scratching and digging in mast where the birds have been foraging. Another worthwhile kind of sign consists of dusting spots. These are shallow ovals, not easy to spot but sometimes marked by feathers, droppings, or tracks. Favored places for dusting are under sumacs or small trees and beside logs or burned brush. In scouting for such sign or for the birds themselves pay attention to old roadsides and trails, which the birds sometimes use not only for dusting and gritting but also for easy traveling between foraging areas.
A primary hunting method in the fall is to locate and scatter a flock (which is apt to be composed of hens and juveniles) and then call. The birds are listening for one another as they regroup, and calling will often lure one into view of your hiding spot. To locate a flock, hunters generally scout for scratching and the other kinds of sign described in mast high up on slopes, atop ridges, and on high flats.
There are more methods than you ordinarily see described in of the magazine articles that tend to emphasize the drama of calling. For example, as you scout for a flock in woods known to hold turkeys, it pays to stop occasionally, hide, and call, even if you’ve neither seen nor heard any indication of birds. This is because other hunters may already have scattered a nearby flock, in which case you have a good chance of calling in a bird.
The proper calling sounds to rally scattered turkeys in the fall are the big clucking, gobbling, and trilling. There are instructional records and tapes, as well as numerous books, to help you learn the right sounds to use both in fall and spring.
Another autumn method is to still-hunt, pretty much as you would for deer. In its pure form, this technique isn’t very productive. That is, a hunter doesn’t often get a shot at a bird spied while he slowly stalks through the woods. But if the still-hunter gets no shot during his stop-and-go progress, he can occasionally hide and call for a while, or he may find sign or even get a glimpse of a distant bird, and he can then wait on stand, either calling or just watching and waiting. Still-hunting is best in bottomlands where there’s screening brush, and on brushy slopes. When working the slopes, move to the summits every few hundred yards to scan the opposite hillsides. Good ‘Stands are generally near the edges of fields or clearings, or overlooking small, openly wooded valleys, or near old roads, trails, or burns.
It pays to scout a turkey area thoroughly, then go on stand near a roost well before sunrise. The birds may start calling while it’s still dark, and they’ll probably begin moving at first light. If you don’t take a turkey from such a stand in the early morning, you can try again very late in the afternoon-just in case a turkey goes to roost early.
You must be concealed when you go on stand. You’ll probably find plenty of natural blinds-logs, boulders, blowdowns, clumps of brush, etc. but it’s not a bad idea to pack along a roll of camouflage netting to improve such blinds. Sometimes, too, you can enhance a natural blind with fallen branches, brush, and twigs.
Camouflage apparel is also a great help. Most hunters wear a camouflage-pattern jacket, pants, and hat. Some wear a camouflage face-net or mask, or blacken their faces and hands with burnt cork, or apply camouflage grease paint, which is available at many archery-equipment outlets and some general sporting-goods stores. A few hunters go further, wearing camouflage gloves and even camouflage-pattern shoes or boots.
The basic types of store-bought calls are boxes with hinged handles, boxes with separate strikers, tubes, slates, box or wingbone suction calls, aluminum-groove calls and diaphragm yelpers. Some are more popular (or traditional) than others in various regions. The diaphragm type takes some practice to make it sound right, but it has the advantage of leaving both your hands free, and it can be quite realistic. It’s a vibration device, worked between your tongue and the roof of your mouth.
In the spring hunting season, sexually receptive hens call to any available males by uttering rather plaintive yelps, which sound something like keowk, keowk. This is the most basic and frequently effective call. It isn’t the only sound you need. When flying from a roost, turkeys sometimes yelp more softly, and they often cluck and trill while feeding. An imitation of these calls isn’t important (though it might attract a gobbler’s attention) but once in a while such sounds may help you locate birds. More important is the gobbling and yodeling of the males-sounds used to warn other males away and respond to calling females. The basic gobbling sound might be described as a high, throaty gl-obble-obble-obble, sometimes preceded by or combined with a more yodel- grrrrddle sound.
Calling is usually best when there’s little or no breeze. When rustling wind can cover the sound of approaching predators, turkeys remain still and hidden. On calm days they’re active, and their gobbling can sometimes be heard at a distance of more than half a mile.