Many of my earliest memories of hunting are centered on those anxious days waiting for that first hunting season of the year to come. Back in my youth that first season was always the chance to get out and chase those bushy tailed rodents that scurry about the forest in the ever urgent search for food.
Generations of hunters have been brought up cutting teeth (no pun intended) on chasing the small game animal through the mountains of Appalachia.
I remember as a kid counting the days till I would get the chance to accompany my dad, my grandfather and several uncles as we would load up in trucks and make a several hour drive to neighboring Virginia for that first squirrel hunt of the season. The Virginia season opened almost a month before the mountain state and thus afforded the troupe two opening days to chase the wild fare.
Those hunts often resulted in a truck tailgate lined with buck toothed critters, all ready to be skinned and prepared for the dinner pot. I am sure I am not the only hunter with fond memories of getting their start in the squirrel woods.
A lot of things have changed since those days long ago, but one thing remains the same, squirrel hunting is a great way to get kids introduced to hunting and teach them a lot about the woods that they will never forget.
In this day and age of trophy this and the biggest of that, small game hunting has taken a back seat to bigger pursuits. It is still a great first step into hunting or even just a welcome change of pace for the weary trophy hunter just needing a little low stress relaxation.
It is tough to take a youngster into the bitter cold deer woods and expect them to stand statue still for hours on end, just hoping to catch a glimpse of a deer. Take that same young steward into the squirrel woods and things change dramatically.
Typically when squirrel hunting, the hunter rarely has to sit motionless for endless hours. Most successful squirrel hunters will tell you that covering more ground increases your odds of consistently bagging your limit of bushy tails.
You still have to limit your movements so as to stay undetected, but a common tactic is to move a short distance, followed by several minutes of sitting and watching the woods. This is much more tolerable to a fidgety youth than sitting from daylight till dark in a single patch of woods.
For the experienced hunter, and novice alike, a squirrel hunt can be a great way to get to know a new piece of hunting ground, or maybe just to keep tabs on deer movement in preparation for the upcoming deer season.
Another plus is you don’t have to carry the biggest gun in your arsenal to have a good chance at taking a stew pot full of squirrels. The most die-hard squirrel hunters will tell you that too much gun just “tears them up too bad.”
Leave the 3 ½-inch magnum shells at home; many a squirrel has fallen to the trusty single shot 22 caliber rifle or 410 shotgun. Not only does the smaller caliber do less damage to the table fare, it also increases the challenge requiring the hunter to get just a little closer.
It seems that in recent years the number of squirrel hunters has taken a downward trend, whether it is our busy lives, or everyone just wanting to focus on one big game animal or the other. Whatever the reason, there are still plenty of squirrels in the hills.
A squirrel hunt is a great way to teach a new hunter woodsmanship skills that will transfer throughout all aspects of hunting, without putting the pressure to perform or be perfectly quiet and still as with a deer hunt. It is a great reason to take a relaxing stroll through the woods and practice and hone your skills as a hunter.
Perhaps best of all it is a way for many of us to get back our roots and relive those days as a young hunter and feel the anticipation and excitement, to just be in the woods with family and friends doing what is most important…making precious memories of the hunt!
Squirrel Season in West Virginia opened Sept. 12, and runs through Jan. 31, 2016. Kentucky’s season opened Aug. 15, and you can chase bushy tails in the Bluegrass State right up through the end of February 2016.
Roger Wolfe is an outdoor columnist for Civitas Media. He can be reached at [email protected]