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Advice for a successful squirrel hunt

Despite my good intentions, I never seem to get out to hunt squirrels as often as I would like during the pleasant days of September and October. But I try to make up for it this time of the year. Squirrel season is open until the end of February, so if you, like me, just did not find the time to get out squirrel hunting earlier this fall, come on along and join me for some last call squirrel action.

    

One of the things I have always enjoyed about squirrel hunting in southeast Minnesota is the almost unlimited opportunities you and I have to hunt on some very good public land as well as private woodlands. It is rare that I am turned down when seeking permission to hunt squirrels, especially this late in the season.

Although you can walk into any old woods, private or public, and get lucky and kill a squirrel or two, you can also get skunked. The latter is more likely.

If there is a secret to consistently killing squirrels on late season hunts, it is food. Find the food the squirrels are feeding on and your odds of coming home with a few bushytails have just risen dramatically.

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Follow the food

The good news  is that a squirrel's dining options are very limited at this time of the year: corn or acorns. Oh sure, they will eat some seeds, and twig ends, dried grapes and other berries, buds or catkins if they come across them, but they survive the winter on either corn, acorns or most commonly both. If you find the food, you will find the squirrels.

Squirrels prefer a standing, unharvested field of corn, but one that has been picked but not chopped or tilled is almost as good. Fields that have been harvested and the stalks either chopped or rolled up into those big round bales run a distant third, and a field that has been chisel-plowed is the least desirable of all to a foraging fox or gray squirrel. And speaking of the two most common sub-species of squirrels in our region, it has always been interesting to me that the larger fox squirrel is more reliant on the farmers corn than is the slightly smaller gray squirrel.

For any cornfield to be worth hunting, it must be adjacent to the woods. As winter wears on, squirrels will travel greater distances to access cornfields, but when they do, their life expectancy takes a substantial nose-dive. A squirrel out in the open field is easy pickings for aerial predators like the red-tail hawk.

When there is snow on the ground, it is very easy to see if squirrels have been feeding on left-over corn adjacent to the woods. Just walk the edge of the woods and look for squirrel tracks in the snow. If the field is worth hunting, you should find more than just a track here and there.  When squirrels go to work looking for corn ,they often use the same path day after day. Find such a squirrel interstate, sit down with your back against a tree an easy shot away from the trail and just wait.

Usually, it will not be long before a hungry squirrel comes along. When you shoot it, don’t be in a big hurry to rush out and retrieve your prize. Many times, by just sitting still for 10 or 15 minutes after shooting, I have been able to take two or three squirrels from one spot.

Look for acorns

OK, so you have a nice woods to hunt, but there is no corn in the area.  Is the woods still worth hunting? That all depends on whether or not the woods has oak trees and whether or not the oaks had a good mast crop.

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If the answer is yes and yes, you are in for a treat. When acorns are heavy on the branches and on the ground, squirrels eat as many as they can and stash even more in hollow cavities and cracks in the trees as well as in holes they dig in the ground. Then they spend most of the winter scurrying around trying to remember where they hid them all.

Luckily for us, squirrels evidently have poor memories. Because they quite often seem to forget where they buried some of their acorns and a very few of those misplaced treasures will grow into little oak trees.

    

But whether you hunt near corn or an oak-studded ridge, weather is a major factor when it comes to hunting squirrels. The best days are sunny and calm. Sunny with a slight breeze is OK, too. But windy conditions and especially cold and windy conditions are difficult at best. If you must hunt on windy days, look for squirrels down in the valleys or on the downwind side of ridges. But adjust your expectations according to the wind. If you do not, you will tire of late-season squirrel hunting in a hurry.

Once you have shot as many squirrels as you need, do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to clean them in the field. Squirrels are not all that hard to clean if you do it soon after you shoot them. But wait until you get home and you have set yourself up for a frustrating chore.

A sharp jackknife will suffice, but I prefer a game shears (scissors). Use the shears or the jack-knife to make an incision from the anus down the inside of each hind leg. When you get to the paw, cut the skin all the way around. Cut through the tailbone at the base of the tail, but not through the skin where tail and back intersect.

Now find a log or rock, stand on the squirrel's tail and pull up steadily while working  the skin over the hind legs, back and front legs. Next, remove all four paws and the head, split the belly and remove the entrails. Carry a couple of gallon Zip-Loc bags to put the cleaned squirrels in.

When you get home, rinse the squirrels under cold, running water. This should wash off any hair you might have gotten on the meat while skinning.

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