by Eric M. Morris, Producer & Host, N.onT.ypical Outdoorsman TV - Tuesday, September 27, 2022
Squirrel hunting has never been as popular as deer hunting, but chasing “bushy tails” can be an excellent way to introduce urban and inner-city people to hunting. While urbanites may be more accustomed to seeing a squirrel sitting on a park bench, they will be surprised to learn that it makes delicious table fare. Squirrel hunting also involves a lower price of entry compared to hunting some other game species, increasing the likelihood that newbies will return to the woods on their own. Since the reader of this article is likely already a hunter or interested in introducing others to the sport, here is some information on reaching diverse urban populations.
First, we need to find participants, which is easy if you know where to look. School, social organizations, churches and social media are good to start. A common tactic that I have used to find city hunters is to stand before groups—kids and adults alike—and ask two simple questions: “Who has hunted?” and “Who would like the opportunity to go hunting?” These questions usually spark discussion and interest among the audience. Perhaps the biggest obstacle one will face when introducing city people to squirrel hunting is getting them to see squirrels as a source of food and to overlook that they consider them rodents. One can usually close the deal by talking about food security and survival.
The urbanites interested in hunting are typically adventurous types interested in being self-sufficient. The pandemic in 2020 was a wake-up call. Also, many Americans were raised on squirrels, so much so that squirrels have their own rifle—the “squirrel rifle.” In an actual survival situation, we would be eating squirrels and possums more than deer or turkey. Why? Because small game is plentiful and easier to acquire. And because it is tasty, we can coax potential newbies into going hunting just by sharing a freshly cooked batch of squirrels.
A recent experience with an urban Louisiana squirrel hunter comes to mind. I accompanied Vincent, a diehard air-gunning squirrel hunter, on a hunt. He proudly announced that during the 2020-2021 season, he shot 200 squirrels and that during the 2021-2022 season, he was up to 172 squirrels. I asked if his freezer was full, and he said, “Nope, I don’t eat them; I give them all away.” When I asked why he doesn’t eat them, he said they didn’t look like something he wanted to eat. As luck would have it, another hunter brought along two one-gallon bags of battered, fried squirrels he made the previous night. Vincent tried a piece and had a life-changing experience. We sat there and watched him eat about three pounds of fried squirrels without stopping. He couldn’t believe that he had been giving away something so delicious. Never dismiss the opportunity to let your new hunter taste what he or she is hunting.
One of the biggest perks of squirrel hunting is having fun with friends and family. Unlike big-game hunting where one must be quiet and constantly aware of wind direction, a squirrel hunter can be relaxed and enjoy the camaraderie. This also makes squirrel hunting perfect for introducing people to hunting. After all, where’s the fun if you cannot talk about the experiences one is having on a first hunt. And it can be done just about anywhere. Gaining access to hunting land can be easier compared to when deer hunting. Some landowners gladly allow a hunter access to land to reduce the number of squirrels ravaging their fruit or nut trees. However, if one does face issues finding private land, public-land hunting opportunities usually can be found within a couple of hours of most major cities. Public land such as Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) or National Wildlife Refuges (NWR) may be a better option if taking a group.
Speaking of groups, squirrel hunting has the added advantage of allowing multiple people to get outdoors and position themselves throughout the woods in search of squirrels. Hunters can interact with each other in ways that big-game hunters cannot. Odds are, one will stand a better chance of getting city dwellers to go hunting if they can bring a friend.
For another bonus, it doesn’t take much to get started. Once your new hunter takes his or her hunter safety course, all that’s needed are everyday clothes, comfortable shoes, a gun, a blaze orange hat and vest, and a hunting license. The selection of a firearm is perhaps the most crucial choice a new hunter must make as options are endless. Shotguns are hard to beat when squirrel hunting but so is a .22 rifle. Air rifles are another popular option considering the number of young people who used an air rifle when they learned how to shoot. Of course, under no circumstances should a person just be given a gun and taken into the woods to hunt. Be sure to schedule a range session to teach a new hunter about the firearm and marksmanship. Doing so will increase the chance of success while fostering hunter safety. Don’t be surprised if city dwellers already own a gun suitable for hunting. Just because they live in the city doesn’t mean they are not legally armed.
New hunters looking for a place to hunt may have better luck gaining access in more populated areas if they hunt with an air rifle or shotgun due to their limited range. Some people dismiss an air rifle as marginal for squirrels at best, but a pellet gun can be highly effective on squirrels. A squirrel dinner is almost guaranteed if one can get a .177 or .22 caliber pellet at 700 fps to 1,100 fps to connect on a head or shoulder shot. More advanced air guns shoot pellets up to .35 caliber or larger and can quickly drop squirrels. In my experience, collateral damage from a high velocity .22 cartridge in more populated areas can be reduced by using subsonic ammunition, which will reduce velocities while still packing a wallop at moderate ranges.
When introducing hunters to the sport, make it fun and productive. Adding a dog to the hunt can liven up the action. Consider finding someone with a good squirrel dog. Few city people have ever seen a hunting dog in action. Beagles may be the name of the game when it comes to rabbits and walkers or blueticks may be the choice for raccoons, but it is hard to beat a treeing fiest or cur when squirrel hunting. Success rates will go up 100 percent as the dogs will track the scent of the squirrels. Keeping the hunters engaged will also increase 100 percent as it is likely that most people from the city have no idea that there are dogs bred for squirrel hunting. In February 2022, I had the pleasure of hunting over a world champion squirrel dog named Pirogue, owned by Owen Grayson, so I can attest to the increased success a squirrel dog provides.
Like the rest of us, urbanites realize the importance of being self-sufficient and being able to feed their families if the need arises. Learning to squirrel hunt provides the skill set and it can be easily duplicated after that first experience. Your hunter may even consider getting a squirrel dog. After all, squirrels are delicious, as Vincent attests. It doesn’t matter if they are fried, baked, sautéed, grilled or roasted over an open fire. The important thing is to use this small game animal to introduce more people to hunting.
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