Bagging a limit of squirrels really isn’t that hard. Maybe that’s why so many hunters have forgotten their roots. Who didn’t cut their hunting teeth chasing bushytails through the winter woods? Squirrels are the perfect game for beginning hunters, just hard enough to require a little skill, but easy enough and abundant enough to bag a few. For many veteran hunters, however, squirrels just get in the way of a good deer hunt and aren’t really a worthy quarry anymore.
But throw a handgun into the mix and you’ve got the ingredients for one of the most challenging hunts you’ll ever try. That’s exactly why Gary Smith, a software engineer from Virginia, gave up hunting with a long gun years ago. An accomplished hunter who has taken a variety of big game animals with a rifle, Smith decided to raise the bar by chasing big and small game with nothing more than a sidearm and a pocketful of shells. He’s carried big-bore handguns across the plains of Africa and he’s dropped some impressive whitetails with them, as well. But for Smith, nothing beats the thrill of stalking a squirrel as it shuffles through the leaves, completely unaware it’s being hunted.
“There’s something about chasing squirrels with a handgun that is so addictive. It’s not really that hard to kill a bunch with a .22 rifle or a shotgun,” he said. “With a handgun, you have to get closer than with a rifle and that’s not always an easy thing to do, especially later in the season.”
His first handgun was a scoped Thompson/Center Contender, a single-shot, break-open that is popular among handgunners for a variety of game. The barrel of a Contender can be changed to dozens of calibers and Smith uses several for different game species, but the one he uses more than anything is the .22 Long Rifle. At least he used to. He recently switched to an unscoped Freedom Arms revolver. The barrel is less than five inches, a challenge unequaled by anything except perhaps a bow. Despite the handicap of iron sights and shorter barrel, Smith still manages to drop his share of squirrels with only a single shot from the revolver.
“I like that gun because I have to get even closer than I did with the Contender,” he said.
Smith is convinced that his love of squirrel hunting with a handgun has helped him turn into a better and more successful hunter for bigger, more challenging game. By limiting himself to a .22, he automatically has to hunt smarter and harder than he might if he was toting a rifle.
Although he’s taken squirrels out to 75 yards with his scoped Contender, Smith typically tries to get within 25 or 30 yards to ensure a clean one-shot kill. And he always tries for a headshot. If he misses, the squirrel gets a free pass, a deal Smith is happy to make. Sometimes he sits among a stand of big oaks or hickories and waits for the squirrels to come to him. More often, however, Smith prefers to spot squirrels across the open forest floor and execute a slow, calculated stalk that can take 20 minutes or more. When he does have an opportunity to take a shot, he typically braces his handgun against a tree, but he also drops to a squatting position and rests the gun across a knee. Either way, there’s a good chance he’ll add another squirrel to his game bag.
Don’t think squirrels are a worthy game anymore? Then maybe it’s time to leave the long gun at home and take to the hardwoods with a handgun. You’ll not only be surprised by the challenge, you’ll remember why you enjoyed hunting squirrels when you were a kid.