February is a down time for many hunters, but the woods still provides a challenge for avid hunters for a few more days. Squirrel season often stays open late into the winter in many states, and this elusive tree-dweller offers hunters an exciting late winter hunt
Where I hunt in Illinois there are 2 species of squirrels – the Fox and the Gray. Fox squirrels can be found throughout the state just about anywhere there are trees. Windbreaks and wooded corridors, as well as larger forested tracts, can provide excellent hunting. Abundant dead leaf nests in trees are good indications of population density. Fox squirrels are most active at midday and spend a good deal of time on the ground. Mature fox squirrels can weigh up to 3 pounds.
Smaller than fox squirrels, grays average about 1 pound and are more difficult to hunt. Grays are most active around sunrise and sunset, spending midday hours denned up.
Hunting squirrels during the harsh winter months is tough. Early in the season, squirrels seem to be everywhere. Food supplies are abundant, squirrels are less wary, and leafy branches restrict the squirrel’s vision, allowing for closer shots.
As the season comes to an end, squirrel hunting gets harder. The population has lessened from harvest by hunters, as well as death due to the cold winter the have had to endure.
During severe weather, squirrels may be almost totally inactive and seldom seen. Leaves have fallen, making the hunter easier to see by the squirrel. Nuts no longer are on the trees, making the squirrels stay on the ground, harder for the hunter to see.
With all that being said, late-season squirrel can still be a lot of fun and successful. Winter hunts are more challenging, but squirrels are still out there.
There are some major differences in hunting squirrels this time of year. One of the differences is that the trees are naked of their leaves. But, this can also work in your favor as well as against you. It allows you to see the squirrels easier, but allows them to see you with more ease. Second, the foods the animals were eating during early in the season are mostly on the ground.
A tactic that produces a lot of squirrels every year is knowing where the den trees are located. Once you find a den tree, move in as quietly as you can as early as you can, take a seat and wait for the bushytail to show itself.
Another productive technique is to still-hunt, moving very slow and very quiet, trying to spot a squirrel before it spots you. Listen for the cutting sound of a squirrel cracking nuts or scrambling through the trees or on the ground. If the squirrels are out of range or do not appear, a lot of hunters use a squirrel distress call to pull a nearby squirrel in for a closer look. Squirrels have great eye sight, so good camouflage is more important with this technique, but I always recommend good camouflage when squirrel hunting.
A few more tricks:
- In country with a mix of small woodlots and big woods, work smaller patches late in the season. Small tracts often are overlooked by other hunters, and though they may not hold large numbers of squirrels, the restricted area makes squirrels easier to find.
- When you spot a squirrel, slow down. The slower you go, the better.
- If you have a choice between hunting a ridge and a creek bottom, stick to the creek bottom. The leaves will be wetter and the going will be quieter. You will also be keeping a lower profile so squirrels will not be as likely to spot you.
- Excellent squirrel hunting can be found on wooded public hunting areas, and there is typically little hunting pressure. It is also easier to receive permission to hunt private ground because of the lack of competition among other hunters.
Squirrels and Rice
2 squirrels, cut up
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 bay leaf
1 cup rice, uncooked
Place cut-up squirrel in large pot and cover with water. Add salt, pepper and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer for 1 to 2 hours or until meat begins to fall off the bone, adding water as needed. When done remove bay leaf, and discard. Remove squirrel pieces and allow to cool. Remove meat from bones and return meat to pot. Add rice, bring to a boil, reduce and simmer for about 30 minutes or until rice is done.