The sweat running down your neck feels like someone opened a hot faucet under your hat. You try to ignore it, but it’s hard to concentrate. There! Nah, just the breeze. The muzzleloader rests in your lap as you squint through the binoculars…
There’s a chill in the air, but you just don’t seem to notice as the crosshairs settle, tremble, and lock rock-solid. It hadn’t been easy. Shifting winds, falling leaves, but it’s time now. You breathe in, and let it out as the muscles tighten in the back of your hand…
Thirty days pass. A hundred yards away, you see something, just a flicker. As you rise, you plot your move. You grin—it’s the adrenaline, still there after three decades. Your boots slide silently through the powder, but your eyes never leave the ridge…
One hunter, three different times of year. But whether it’s September with a flintlock 20-gauge muzzleloader, October and a pet .22 rimfire, or November’s snow-white camo, he realizes one thing—squirrels have made him a better hunter.
Better hunter? By chasing squirrels around the calendar, he’s forced to improvise, adapt, and adjust his strategies to ever-changing conditions, including weather, terrain, food and water sources, and more. These changes apply not only to squirrels, but also to whitetails. Rather, everything learned hunting squirrels can be applied to whitetails, and, as such, can take him from a mediocre deer hunter to a more successful deer hunter. Now have I got your attention?
September is a time of plenty for squirrels. Temperatures are high, and food sources are abundant. This makes predicting the critters’ movements difficult.
What’s your plan? First, you hunt early and late. The squirrels are most active, the bugs least active, and the thermometer hasn’t exploded. Second, you do less walking and more sitting. Visibility is often less-than-perfect now, and sitting still allows you to visually pick apart the canopy. You see with your eyes, not your legs.
Finally, you hunt water. Squirrels can, if necessary, go without food for a day or two. However, they need water every day and will travel distances to get it. That said, do you know of a pool in an otherwise dry creek bed or a spring seep? Along with water, concentrate on the soft or first mast. Early squirrels are selective about what they cut (eat) because they have so much from which to choose. This suggests focused scouting rather than taking haphazardly chosen stands and hoping for the best.
October is a transitional month. September’s food sources have been depleted, and the harvest hasn’t begun in earnest. That said, food sources remain a safe bet, but what type? In Ohio, September’s beechnuts give way to October’s shagbark hickory and various oaks. As the squirrels move with the food, so I, too, move.
A couple notes. In the 35 years since I killed my first squirrel, I’ve learned that not all hickories bear the same. Oaks, too, can be quirky. Matter of fact, the type of oak can be an indicator as to whether squirrels might be present. White oak acorns ripen every year and are sweeter and more digestible. Given the choice, bushytails will search these white oaks out over others. Black oak acorns mature every two years, and as such, may not be available at that location at that particular time. Know your trees, and you know the preferred and available food sources throughout October. Know your food, and you find your squirrels. Change squirrels to whitetails or fall turkeys, and the point remains the same.
Come November, things start to get serious. In the North, it’s growing cold; in the South, the days are getting shorter. There’s a flurry of squirrel activity, particularly where food is concerned. To the squirrel hunter, it means all-day action, and at those locations where food remains available.
It’s during November that I put an emphasis on still-hunting, combined with sitting. The leaves are gone and visibility has improved dramatically. However, this increased visibility benefits my quarry as it does me. In open timber, I’ll spend my time sitting and watching. Give me a woodlot with a high-sided creek, or one that rolls from gentle ridge to gentle ridge—some terrain feature capable of masking my movements—and I’ll use the time from mid-morning to mid-afternoon walking and watching, a few steps, and few minutes still, eyes searching.
Success now is all about waiting. You wait at a food source; you wait on a stand. You wait briefly after slipping through the timber, but most importantly, you wait for that fox squirrel—or that whitetail—to make a move. Here, patience fills game bags, while impatience sends you home tired, cold, and looking forward to another frozen pizza. True, my telling seasoned hunters to wait and watch is quite elemental. However, and whether you’re hunting November squirrels, December whitetails, or May gobblers, the three most important qualities are patience, persistence, and self-discipline.