Sharpen Your Skills with Squirrels

By Mark Goodwin | August 2, 2004
From Missouri Conservationist: Aug 2004

Squirrels have sparked the hunting spirit of many young hunters. Interest in squirrel hunting,however, often wanes as hunters grow older. Bigger game, such as white-tailed deer, takes center stage.

Nevertheless, squirrel hunting can be just as exciting as ever, and it's a superb way to sharpen your deer-hunting skills.

Building Patience

The amount of waiting inherent in hunting white-tailed deer demands more patience than most people have. Our culture demands immediate satisfaction. When we want something, we expect to get it right away. This attitude runs counter to nature's pace and to the mindset needed to successfully hunt whitetails.

Developing patience requires practice, and a great time to practice is while squirrel hunting.

Squirrels are abundant in Missouri. The squirrel season is long, and limits are liberal. Any tract of timber larger than 10 acres with mature, nut-producing trees will usually contain lots of squirrels. Good squirrel hunting is easy to find, and it's an excellent way to escape the "have-it-now" tempo of the modern world.

Squirrel hunting, requires that you slip back into nature's pace. You may have to wait an hour or so for a squirrel to re-emerge after ducking into a den tree. You may have to stand in one place and
look skyward for 15 minutes. You'll find that you have to travel through the woods in discreet, five-step increments. The patience that you acquire in squirrel hunting will make you a better and more successful deer hunter.

Shooting Skills

For any hunter, the rifle range is a fine place to practice marksmanship. However, few deer or squirrels are taken by hunters shooting at marked distances from a bench rest in full sun. At the range and in the woods, proper breathing, trigger control and follow through are the same, but that's about it. Deer hunters face an array of shot angles from a variety of shooting positions under varying light conditions. To further complicate matters, shots must often be made within a narrow window of opportunity.

Squirrel hunting provides frequent shooting practice under the same conditions you'll face when deer hunting. To fine-tune your marksmanship for deer season, hunt squirrels with a .22-caliber rifle similar to the design of your deer rifle, and use the same type of sights that you use while deer hunting. If you hunt deer with a muzzleloading rifle, squirrel hunting is even more helpful.

Muzzle-loading rifles, from flintlocks to in-lines, are highly reliable and accurate. Level of reliability and accuracy, however, is determined by proper handling. All muzzleloaders, for example, require meticulous cleaning to be functional. Breech and bores must be left dry and oil free. Powder must be kept dry.

With caplock muzzleloaders, percussion caps must fit tight and snug to the nipple.

With flintlocks, flints must be sharp, properly positioned and tight in the jaws of the cock. The touch hole must be clear, with a proper quantity of powder in the pan.

Any hunter new to muzzleloading will experience a few misfires before learning to fully control these variables. It's far better to have a misfire on a squirrel hunt than to have a misfire on a deer. Hunting squirrels with a muzzleloader also allows a hunter to learn how to use and organize loading equipment while hunting.

Many deer hunters don't know that the muzzle-loading rifle they use for deer can also be used to hunt squirrels. Simply reduce the powder charge and shoot only at the head.

Bowhunters who hunt whitetails can enhance their deer-hunting skills by bowhunting for squirrels. Try it. You'll quickly be convinced.

September, when nuts are falling and squirrels are foraging for them on the ground, is the best month to bowhunt for squirrels. Climb in your deer stand and wait. Squirrels that feed on the ground within 15 yards or closer to your position allow you to practice shooting downward as you would from a tree stand. This will also give you excellent practice shooting at really close ranges. Such shots are trickier than they appear.

When bow hunting for squirrels, use judo points and aim for the squirrel's head. To be sure, bow hunting for squirrels is not about bringing home a limit. Bagging a squirrel or two with a bow represents a great hunt. Over the course of several hunts, you will likely get enough squirrels for a meal or two. Come October, the shooting practice you logged will increase your odds of bagging a deer.


Successful deer hunting involves knowing where deer tend to be at a given time, and knowing which way they travel to get there. This requires scouting. Scouting is simple in concept. Find where deer feed and bed, then find a way to set up, undetected, between those two areas.

Squirrel hunting allows you to do just that. When hunting for bushy-tails, look for deer sign, particularly in September, when deer are establishing routines that will carry into deer season.

Some deer hunters might question this advice, believing that human presence and gunfire will cause deer to leave an area or change their habits. It is probably wise not to hunt squirrels where you plan to deer hunt during the couple of weeks immediately before deer season, but before then you can learn a lot about where deer are feeding and bedding.

Maximum Effort

Hunting white-tailed deer represents different things to different people. For some, hunting whitetails is mostly a social activity. It's about getting together with good buddies for a weekend or for evenings filled with good food and time around the campfire. The actual hunting is secondary to getting away for a while with friends.

For others, hunting is the main focus. They like the challenge, and they spend many hours in the woods and expend maximum effort on their deer hunting. If you take your deer hunting seriously, then squirrel hunting is a great a way to hone your skills. Try it. Come deer season, your skills will be noticeably sharper. triangle

Fine Food

Besides sharpening deer-hunting skills and being fun, squirrel hunting offers fine table fare. Young squirrels are delicious when fried.

To prepare a young squirrel for frying, skin it, then remove its entrails. Be careful not to puncture its stomach, intestines or bladder. Cut off its front and hind legs and the back meat.

Remove the yellow-gray glands located where the front legs join the body, and the glands located under the triangle-shaped patch of tissue on the hind legs,where thigh meets knee. Soak squirrel pieces in milk, then roll them in flour flavored with a liberal amount of seasoned salt and black pepper.

Heat about a half-inch of oil in a skillet to 350 degrees. Brown squirrels on one side for about five minutes, then carefully turn squirrel pieces over and reduce the heat to 275 degrees. Cook another 10 to 15 minutes. "Crisp up" the squirrel pieces by returning the heat to 350 degrees for the last few minutes of cooking. Remove squirrel pieces and place them on paper towels that will absorb excess oil. If the towels become oil-soaked and no longer absorbent, place the pieces on a second set of clean towels.This will help keep them crisp.

Try serving the squirrel meat with biscuits, fresh tomatoes, homegrown green beans and new potatoes. For dessert, pecan pie is hard to beat.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Bryan Hendricks
Art Director - Ara Clark
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Circulation - Laura Scheuler