Squirrel hunting is rapidly becoming a lost art


I managed to get in a few hours of squirrel hunting last Saturday morning. The season is one of Maryland's longest, beginning Oct. 4 and continuing through Jan. 31. It also features a liberal daily bag limit of six grays or eastern fox squirrels per hunter.

Pound for pound, the grey squirrel, the most common species found in central Maryland, is the most challenging of all game animals.

It used to be the area's most popular small game target and also served as an invaluable hunting teacher. I, like just about every hunter on the far side of 40, learned how to stalk quietly through an autumn wood lot, learned the value of patience, how to read game sign and how to handle a .22 rifle or shotgun while attending The School of Squirrel Hunting.

Alas, the sport has suffered greatly in popularity over the last decade or so, primarily due to the rise in deer hunting by bow hunters, who tend to want autumn woodlots to themselves.

Accordingly, the entire sport of hunting has suffered a a setback because youngsters, as well as legions of former squirrel addicts, have routinely been shut out of many woodlots teeming with bushytails by exclusive hunting agreements between landowners and deer hunters.

Youngsters wanting to hunt in this day have a far more difficult time and the blunting of small game hunting by all ages will do more harm to the sport of hunting than any animal rights activitist group.

Squirrels do their playing, loafing, washing, and resting on, in or around den trees. They nest in tree crotches, and on logs on the ground. They have main highways, side highways, and individual paths to reach any spot, just as people do.

Most often these highways are up and down any leaning tree, especially if it is a dead tree, on the top of any log or series of logs lying more or less end to end. They always cross streams on fallen logs or on overhanging branches because they do not like to get wet and are particular about keeping their long, bushy tails dry.

Squirrels feed in early morning, usually best on foggy mornings, up to about 10:30. Then they retire and come out again to feed around 3 in the afternoon to nearly dark.

Occasionally, on dark days they may be found out at all hours of the day, but I have found them reluctant to come out early on a dry, windy and cold morning. For the most part, you can forget about hunting squirrels from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily.

When I was a youngster and the squirrel season opened as early as mid-September, I would rush off the school bus, change clothes, grab Dad's old single shot Ranger .22 and a handful of long rifle hollowpoints and hunt the expansive woods behind my home until dinner time.

I still prefer afternoon hunting to morning bushytail stalking. I think I generally get better shots then, find more squirrels which offer a shot, and the leaves and underbrush are usually dry and not uncomfortable to tramp through.

For the most part, I squirrel hunt with a scoped .22 rifle and hollowpoint ammo. A modified or full choked shotgun teamed with No. 6 shot is probably the most popular choice of squirrel hunters, especially right now when leaf cover is still heavy. This fall's bushytail hunter will find an abundance of the tasty critters throughout Carroll County's thousands of woodlots.

Cleaning technique

Steven Russell of Eldersburg called this week to seek an answer to his problem of having difficulty in getting his new shotgun's barrel clean. Steven noted that the problem was confined to a new Sporting Clays gun and that tipped off the problem to me.

Many new shotguns, and especially new trap, skeet or sporting clays models, feature backbored barrels, which lessen felt recoil and improve shot patterns.

Backboring means that the interior diameter of the barrel is increased. In 12 gauge guns, the diameter actually approaches 10 gauge dimensions.

That's why your 12 gauge brush and patches won't do the job. Get a good quality phosphorus bronze wound 10 gauge brush and oversize patches and the cleaning problem will be solved.

Incidentally, the Mayberry Game Protective Association will host Sporting Clays Shoot to benefit the Carroll County Sportsman's Association from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 25-26. The cost will be $5 per 25 targets and full details may be obtained by calling 410-876-6595.

Pub Date: 10/12/97

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