Many hunters remember their first deer or turkey fondly, but few recall their first squirrel. For many sportsmen and women, the very first game animal they chased in the autumn woods was a squirrel (now that you’re thinking about it, I’m betting you can remember those tall hardwoods, with leaves full of bursting colors, and the bark of a distant squirrel). Michigan has ample squirrel hunting opportunities for those of us looking to make new memories this fall.
Let’s face it, it’s not too hard to find decent squirrel hunting habitat in Michigan. With hundreds of thousands of acres of public and private forests, there is no shortage of opportunity. They tend to key on a few of the same things deer do, which is why deer hunters often complain about seeing squirrels. Oaks and beech trees are really popular squirrel hangouts, as they feed on acorns and beech nuts. They will also inhabit pine forests, as I see them in stands of red pines often on my own property. Wooded areas near agricultural lands are also safe bets, especially near corn and other grain fields.
When there are lots of leaves on the trees, calm days are very important for finding squirrels. With just your eyes, it can be very hard to find squirrels in the moving leaves. For those days, a good dog that has a hankering for squirrel hunting is invaluable. Finding a nice spot to just sit and listen is a great way to find some game. Think of all those times when you’re sitting in your deer stand and you hear something that sure sounds like a big buck coming in on your stand, only to have it turn out to be a squirrel. One of the best ways to find a squirrel is to do the same thing. Unlike many of the other game critters we have in Michigan, squirrels can be found in plentiful numbers from one end of the state to the other.
With the new structure of Michigan hunting licenses, you only need a base license to hunt squirrels or any other small game animal. You’ll also need some amount of “hunter’s orange” to wear into the field; a hat or vest is plenty.
There are two breeds of squirrels considered game animals: gray and fox. Gray squirrels are typically gray in color with some patches of white fur. There is also a common variant of the gray with solid black fur. Some think that it is a separate breed, but it is, in fact, a black-phase gray. There are plenty more odd-colored gray squirrels out there, with some sporting white, red, or brown patches in weird places. I have seen gray squirrels with red tails, white heads, and more.
Fox squirrels are typically larger and have gray and reddish brown fur, with tufts of hear protruding from their ears. The color variations and extra hairy ears give them a fox-like appearance and the basis for their nomenclature.
Red squirrels are the smallest variety of squirrel here in Michigan. They have thin tails, reddish-brown fur and have no closed season. Red squirrels have a reputation for being very destructive. They have been known to enter homes to nest and destroying insulation and electrical wiring. They also have a bad habit of chewing on seats and straps of tree stands, making them rather unpopular with deer hunters.
Arming yourself for squirrels
Man, you need some serious firepower for squirrel hunting! Okay, maybe not. My first squirrel gun was a .22 LR—a Marlin Model 60 tube-fed semiautomatic. I have taken many squirrels with my Marlin over the years. I’ve also become a fan of using my .17 HMR for still hunting. The .17 will make a mess of a squirrel, and some consider it overkill. I use mine when going on a sit and only use it for taking headshots, as it can destroy a lot of the little meat you find on a squirrel. The accuracy and range of the .17 HMR, however, make it very appealing.
Shotguns are great squirrel guns, especially when going for walking hunts. We have a .410 Mossberg 500 pump that gets a lot of use against squirrels. A 28 gauge will also suffice, but avoid going any bigger than that.
One thing that the Gamo Squirrel Master Classic taught me last year was that air rifles make for outstanding squirrel guns. I’ve used a Gamo Whisper G2 in .22 caliber topped with a Hawke Airmax EV scope for most of my squirrel hunts so far this year, and it has proven time and time again to be more than enough. The best thing about the Gamo air rifles is that they have no recoil, so my son can shoot all day long. They are also pretty quiet, so there is no need for ear protection. Plus, they are really accurate, so making a clean, ethical shot is easy.
The best part
The best thing about squirrel hunting is sharing the experience. You remember what it was like, I’m sure. My father-in-law, Brian Sheets, and I took my son TJ out for his first squirrel hunt and it is something I’ll never forget. Making memories in the great outdoors is what Michigan hunting is all about. Take some time to reintroduce yourself to the long-forgotten pastime of squirrel hunting Michigan’s vast woods. You’ll be very glad you did.
This article was produced in partnership with Pure Michigan.
Images courtesy Derrek Sigler