Herald Photo / Provided
SQUIRREL  — Squirrel hunting has dimmed in popularity over the years, but the author still enjoys it every bit as much as he once did.
Herald Photo / Provided SQUIRREL — Squirrel hunting has dimmed in popularity over the years, but the author still enjoys it every bit as much as he once did.
Squirrel season opens up in one week, and frankly, my son and I couldn’t be more excited. Sadly, though, you don’t see many people getting excited over squirrel hunting anymore. That’s too bad because some of hunting’s most enjoyable moments can come while sitting at the base of a tree scouring the tree tops for bushytails, unless you factor in the mosquitos! Nonetheless, hunting squirrels still rekindles some of my fondest memories and hearkens me back to when I was just a kid.

 Back then I had more free time (although I didn’t think so), and I found squirrel hunting as a kick-off to all the wonderful things to come with the other seasons that would soon follow. It was exciting to be in the woods. My eyes scanned the terrain for signs of deer as my mind wandered and drifted off to visions of big bucks sauntering by. 

When I was young, squirrel and rabbit hunting were what kids cut their teeth on. Days spent afield with my father, and eventually alone or with friends are what many of my childhood memories are made of. Sure, I eventually graduated to chasing deer around, and then to turkeys, but small game came first. And small game still holds a special place in my heart.

You don’t see much of that these days. You do see a lot of kids accompanying their parents out deer and turkey hunting, which is great, but it is not the same as squirrel hunting – nor does it serve the same purpose. While it may seem simple, grabbing the .22 and going out and trying to knock some bushytails out of the trees lays the groundwork to becoming an accomplished hunter. 

In my opinion, introducing children to any type of hunting is important, but by introducing youngsters to deer and turkey hunting before they have ever had the chance to chase squirrels and bunnies around seems kind of backward to me. I mean, it is almost akin to expecting a child to skip T-ball and little league and to be immediately successful in Babe Ruth. When deer numbers were higher, it wasn’t so bad getting them in on some deer sightings and the like, and is still isn’t, but, still, don’t overlook squirrel hunting.

With deer and turkey hunting, the odds of success are proportionately smaller compared to squirrel hunting, even with today’s deer populations and expanded turkey flocks. Also, the skill level needed and failure rate are each higher when pursuing deer and turkeys. Let’s face it, some of the much-needed skills that bring success when hunting deer or turkeys are first learned and honed while in search of squirrels. Whether it be sneaking through the forest without alerting game or learning patience in order to take the right shot, a lot of the skills and mindsets that make hunters better can be learned while trying to put the sneak on a bushytail. 

As is the case with fishing, when introducing youngsters to hunting, it is important to keep them interested and to have them experience some amount of success at harvesting an animal too. 

Squirrel hunting accomplishes this feat much easier. Sure, it may not seem like as much of an accomplishment to kill a squirrel as it is to kill a deer or a turkey, but the odds of success are also far greater, which is an important thing to remember when taking children hunting. 

By no means am I stating that for a hunt to be successful that an animal must be harvested because this is not true, but honestly as hunters, and for children especially, I think it is crucial to sometimes bring something home. Children need action, and patiently waiting for hours on end in the cold is not always the way to go if you plan to keep them interested. 

So, while many state Department of Natural Resources agencies were definitely on the right track by initiating youth seasons for deer and turkeys, they should just as importantly be seeking ways to increase involvement in small game hunting as well.

There is actually no better time to pick up squirrel hunting. Many DNR employees I’ve talked to, both in Indiana and surrounding states, say they see far fewer squirrel hunters now than they did years ago and that, due to this, squirrel populations are high while hunting pressure is low. This is the perfect combination to get either yourself reacquainted with hunting bushytails or introducing newcomers to the sport of hunting.

Try to make it a point this season to brush off the .22 and get back in the woods after squirrels. You might remember just how fun it really is - and how good they really taste.