It’s no secret that we hunters get a lot of flak these days, and that the flak gets heavier if we talk about families going hunting and introducing young people to our hunting heritage. None of that flak changes the fact that we hunters know that bringing up our kids hunting is good for their health and for the environment.
I have said many times before that probably no form of hunting is better situated for introducing new hunters, young and old, than squirrel hunting. Why is squirrel hunting tailor-made for young people and families? I’m so glad you asked.
1. Multiple opportunities=a lot of hunting fun.
We all like to pursue those big bucks and strutting gobblers. The thing is with turkeys and deer, you may sit all day and have one opportunity to bag the game…or not. In good squirrel woods it is possible to have action almost all day. This is important for kids and new hunters; young people get bored easily and may lose interest in the early stages of their hunting upbringing. Squirrel hunting offers members of a family a chance to engage with the game much more often than big game or turkeys. Seeing squirrels, stalking them, or treeing them with a good squirrel dog keeps everyone interested.
2. Access is easier.
One thing is essential for anyone to go hunting, and that is place to hunt. It is estimated that in the eastern United States we have over 384 million acres of woodlands. In most places if you have woodland, you have squirrels. A lot of this woodland acreage is on public land. Many public hunting areas are not heavily hunted for squirrels, and depending on the time of year, you may have some areas virtually to yourself. If the public hunting area has a campground, now you have the makings of a weekend or multiple day family outing.
On private land you stand a good chance of getting permission to squirrel hunt. Many landowners will give permission to hunt for squirrels and other small game when they may not for deer or turkeys. Some may give you a look and say something like “Squirrels? Really?” That’s OK; once they understand that a family wants to hunt for bushytails on their land and enjoy a day in the woods, they may very well give you permission.
3. You can keep it simple.
No doubt many of us are gear obsessed these days. Sometimes loading up the truck to go hunting looks like there was a fire sale at the sporting goods store. You can go that route for squirrel hunting, but you don’t have to. Your gear requirements can be kept at a very basic level. Any serviceable firearm, be it shotgun or .22 rifle, will work for squirrels. That old single-barrel shotgun you started out with as a kid just may be perfect, and the same goes for a .22-caliber rifle. A scope on the rifle makes things easier, but is not absolutely necessary. Many squirrel hunters are now using adequately powered air rifles as well.
Same thing goes for your hunting clothes and foot wear. Camo dress may help a little if you are still hunting, but if those kids have blue jeans and a sweatshirt, that is all you need. A blaze orange vest or hat is always a good idea and may be required in some states (check your state’s regulations). Inexpensive hunting boots are fine, but in warm weather many is the young squirrel hunter who has gone afield shod in tennis shoes. Some type of hunting vest with a game bag is very handy; (to carry snacks and other essentials as well as squirrels), so your turkey vest that has been sitting idle may be just the ticket.
4. Squirrel hunting is a woodland classroom.
It is a safe bet that any really good hunters that you know started out squirrel hunting. This type of hunting can teach us much of what we need to know for most any kind of hunting. Spot and stalk, reading sign for tracks and feeding areas, what the game is feeding on, and learning to sit quietly and watch for game are just some of the lessons to be learned in the Squirrel 101 curriculum. Learning to hunt squirrels also teaches many things besides the hunting itself. It’s important to learn the different plants and trees that the squirrels may be feeding on. The squirrel hunter will learn to recognize different varieties of oak trees as well as hickory, walnut, dogwood, beech and others.
Along with this, the young or new hunter can learn how to practice safe gun handling techniques and other safe hunter essentials like positively identifying your target before each shot. On the family hunt Dad and Mom can be right there with the fledgling hunter to show the proper way to do things.
5. Squirrel hunting is just plain fun.
Having fun while hunting—you remember that, don’t you? No worries about lugging a bunch of treestands into the woods, how big a set of antlers are, or how old a certain buck may be. You can just take the family to the great outdoors and go hunting. If smaller kids want to expend some energy and run down a trail, throw sticks or be a little noisy, well, OK. The woods will quiet down and squirrels will venture out again. You’re not worried about spooking a big buck and never seeing him again. Take the family to the woods, go hunting and have fun.
While we are talking about having fun, no discussion of squirrel hunting, especially with kids, would be complete without bring up hunting with dogs. Squirrel hunting with a dog is an old tradition in much of the country, mainly in the southeast. I have said many times before that for pure enjoyment in any type of hunting, nothing beats squirrel hunting with a dog. The squirrel dogs run through the woods and do most of the work; everyone enjoys watching a hunting dog work. The hunters can relax and socialize, there is no need to walk quietly, and the kids can talk all they want. Once the squirrel is treed by the dogs, the hunters can take their time spotting it in the tree tops and setting up the young hunter for a safe shot. It would seem that this type of hunting was made for kids.
A wealth of public access hunting land and a good chance of private landowners allowing you and your family to squirrel hunt, no need for a lot of expensive or high tech gear, a great avenue for families to teach their children about hunting and enjoy the outdoors. What more could you want? Squirrel hunting is for families!