May 24, 2013
Missouriís squirrel season opens on the fourth Saturday in May ó today† ó and wonít close until Feb. 15, 2014.
The fact that the season is so long is one reason its arrival doesnít draw much fanfare.
But thatís fine† with the sportís fans, who take great delight in not having to share space with jillions of opening day addicts like the participants in so many other outdoor sports do.
Being ó or even feeling ó crowded is a solvable problem for squirrel hunters in Missouri.
Since there is no such thing as a specific squirrel permit, itís impossible to know exactly how many people hunt squirrels, but itís extremely unlikely that the number would exceed 40,000.
The stateís squirrel habitat, on the other hand, numbers in the millions of acres.
If that sounds like a good combination to you, but youíve never tried squirrel hunting, read on.† This column was written especially for you.
If youíre a veteran pursuer of the wily bushytail, come along for the ride. Who knows, you might pick up a tip or two.
Squirrel hunting is among the least expensive shooting sports.
You may already have the right gun, because, given itís mechanically sound, any new or used shotgun is adequate for squirrel hunting, no matter what its brand name, action type or choke.
If I had to limit myself to one do-everything shotgun, it would be a 20-gauge pump with an interchangeable or adjustable choke.
Iíd give Mossberg a close look, because the companyís no-frills products are the functional equal of far more expensive products offered by other companies.
Squirrels are harder to kill than many small game animals, but shoulder-wrenching magnum loads arenít necessary.
Heavy game or high brass loads of No. 4 or† No. 6 shot are ideal.
While I recommend shotguns for novice hunters, some experienced shooters† prefer .22 rimfire rifles. Not just any rifle will do because a squirrelís head is a small target.
Choosing a squirrel rifle is complicated because rifles can be almost lifelike in their individuality.
For example, the second-most accurate .22 Iíve ever owned set me back $50 at a pawn shop.
The most accurate .22 Iíve ever shot is the one Iím using now. It and its scope sent the cash register past the $1,000 mark.
Camouflaging your hands and face will put a lot more squirrels in your game bag.
Camo gloves and face masks are widely available, but I often substitute a bug net for the face mask. I can see through it easily, and some mornings, its original purpose comes in quite handy.
Wearing a full set of camouflage clothing is fun and will make you feel more like a hunter, but clothing of any muted color will do just fine.
A plentiful supply of insect repellent is the only accessory a squirrel hunter absolutely needs, but I can never resist gilding the lily.
I wear a fanny pack, so I can easily keep extra ammo and clips, antacids and cough drops, toilet paper, a water bottle and a game carrier originally designed for waterfowl close at hand.
I also carry shooting sticks and, usually, a short-legged seat.
My original thought when I said that squirrel hunting was an inexpensive sport was based on the lack of equipment it requires.
These days, with fuel prices soaring into the stratosphere, the fact that good squirrel hunting can be found within 20 miles of any given GPS location in the state is an important factor for many of us.
During the summer months as much as 80 percent of squirrel activity takes place during the first 90 minutes after sunrise.
Being able to hunt close to home also has the advantage of minimizing the amount of sleep the hunter must sacrifice. This is no small matter in June when sunrise is prior to 6 a.m.
This time of the year, buds and new growth twigs are staples.
Elms, maples and other soft woods are preferred when theyíre available, but any tree species will do in a pinch.
As berries ó especially mulberries ó begin to ripen, squirrels are drawn to them like bears to honey.
Itís not unusual to find nearly all the squirrels who normally spread out over many acres of woods gathered in a single heavily laden mulberry tree.
The debate over whether sitting in one place or still-hunting is the best tactic will never be settled.
When my eyes were more acute, I favored still-hunting.
Now that it has become difficult for me to see squirrels until they move, I spend most of my time waiting semi-patiently in a known or suspected hot spot.
The daily limit on squirrels is now 10, but hunters are under no legal obligation to kill that many.
I got greedy and shot a full limit one morning several years ago.
I know what Iím doing when it comes to skinning and field-dressing squirrels, but by the time I finished, I had ample time to remember why Iím normally satisfied when a morningís hunt ends with two or three squirrels in hand.