Yamaha Outdoors Tips — Busting Bushytails

Gray squirrels (pictured feeding on a nut), and fox squirrels (with that long tail dangling down) offer plenty of early-season hunting opportunity. Courtesy photos Ohio DNR.

By Steve Hickoff

They call it “small game” because it is. Still, targeting such game animals keeps you busy until the deer, moose, and elk seasons arrive in hunting country. Many states offer early squirrel seasons. 

When sportsmen talk about “bushytail” hunting, it’s usually in reference to the gray and fox varieties (pictured here), though red (“pine”) squirrels are taken too. 

I grew up hunting the Pennsylvania ridgetops for gray squirrels, and the occasional trophy black squirrel, a color phase variant. Fox squirrels (my Midwestern buds hunt them) weren’t available. 

Wherever you target these and/or grays, they provide anti-couch-potato opportunity. 

When does squirrel season open in your state? Mark that date. Hang treestands for fall deer while scouting squirrels. 

Ride and scout. Search out squirrel haunts with your Yamaha ATV or Side-by-Side vehicle. Four-wheel to spots that hold this small game. Cut the engine. Survey the habitat. Plan your stalk.

Ease quietly into the woods. Move either with a slow stalking rhythm, or simply sit with your back against a tree the way you would turkey hunting. Both work. Mix it up.

Find food preferences. It pays to learn where the game eats, as with other forms of hunting. Look for nut-rich woods, with shagbark hickories, white oaks, and beech trees. Sit nearby. Chances are squirrels that spooked on your approach will reveal themselves within the hour.

Lurk near den trees. Dens are those leafy basketball-sized dwellings you see sitting at the tops of oaks and such. These reflect squirrel activity (old and new).

I enjoy all kinds of hunting using dogs. Like-minded canines can find, chase, and tree squirrels until you, the hunter, arrive shortly after. Early season is a good time to use this tactic as squirrels often bury nuts then, and can be found on the ground doing it. 

Shotguns (No. 6 loads are favored by many), and .22 rifles can be used. Check your lawbook for firearms regulations in your state. 

Like to call your wild game? Me too. Squirrel calls, from standard plastic single-reed options to modern bellows-type calls, both work. Squeak. Bark. Make that weird clicking you hear from squirrels. It can pull one into view, sometimes from behind a tree where it had been hiding — ideally in range. 

Got an older edition of The Joy of Cooking? You’ll find culinary squirrel wisdom inside. Does squirrel taste like chicken? No, but it goes well in Brunswick stew recipes. Many game cookery titles offer one.