One of the ways to get better at something is to do it often; practice, as they say, makes perfect. Big game hunting isn’t something you can do a lot of because your freezer will only hold a limited amount of meat, and because big game hunting opportunities are limited.

For real hunters — I’m not talking about those who sit on a high seat or snipe from a shoot house — the skills needed revolve around stalking and shooting abilities. Fortunately, you can easily practice those things while you’re hunting smaller game and collecting good food.

Hunting small game or varmints such as squirrels, rockchucks or groundhogs, can make you a better big game hunter.

Being able to move through the timber undetected is a skill. So is being able to shoot accurately from field positions. Both are tedious to practice if you’re not hunting because humans like to have fun and avoid difficult situations whenever possible. In most locations, squirrels abound and hunting them on foot with a rimfire rifle is a challenge that will develop your big game hunting skills. This applies to tree squirrels in the timber, or ground squirrels in the prairie.

Hunting with a handgun is very challenging because you need to get close. Try varmints, squirrels and maybe prairie dogs in the off-season to perfect your skills.

“It’s all about the shot” has sort of become my tagline, but it’s more than that. The purpose of hunting is to work yourself into a position to take the shot and then make it.

You might have never considered squirrel hunting with a muzzleloader, but is great preparation for big game hunting with the same rifle.

Yeah, I know, we talk of camaraderie, interaction with nature, and the acquisition of fresh protein as the reasons we hunt. However, if you knew a hunt would never present an opportunity for a shot, you would probably stay home. After all, that’s why you lug an 8-pound rifle around all day. Squirrel hunting teaches you to work in close for a shot opportunity, and to develop your field shooting positions.

While squirrel hunting, you learn how to utilize the concealment of trees, rocks, bushes and the like. It also helps you develop your abilities to utilize terrain to your advantage. When you’re squirrel hunting, you also learn when to move and where to step to minimize noise. It teaches patience, and the lack of patience has spoiled many big game hunts.

Other varmints such as rock chucks or groundhogs with a rimfire rifle provide the same challenges as big game. You have to work close to get a shot, and the shots you take are from field positions.

Squirrel hunting is also a great way to develop skills for shooting in the field. You learn to use trees and tree limbs as a rifle rest. You develop your ability to shoot from the prone, sitting, kneeling and standing positions, with and without a rest. You also learn to be ready and have your rifle ready. Big game opportunities are often squandered because a rifle was slung or because the riflescope was set to a magnification too high or too low to make the shot.

When you are on foot pursuing big game, good stalking and field shooting skills will lead to success like this.

And then there’s the food part of the equation. In the eastern United States, tree squirrels, when properly prepared, make for fine eating. One of the greatest pleasures of my youth was bringing a batch of squirrels into camp and then dining on the fried squirrel legs, squirrel gravy, and biscuits my father would make. Yep, squirrels are rodents, but they are rodents that taste good.

Squirrel can be delectable table fare, and hunting them can make you a better shot on big game.

For you westerners, I’d not recommend dining on ground squirrels or prairie dogs, but you can take comfort in the fact you’re helping local ranchers with the elimination of a pest that terrorizes their pastures.

It is mostly all about the shot, and hunting squirrels can help you develop the skills you need to get a shot and then make it. Find a good 22 rifle and give it a try. You’ll have more fun than you would if you were on the range, and squirrels, at least the eastern variety, taste better than paper targets.

Images by Richard Mann

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