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Air gun hunting for squirrels---- the basics

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Air gun hunting for squirrels---- the basics

Old 12-02-2004, 05:27 PM
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Location: Rockland County, NY
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Default Air gun hunting for squirrels---- the basics

As the autumn months fall away and the leaves of every tree lay motionless and flattening against the ground awaiting the comfort of a cold winter blanket, a faint but unmistakable "Chuck, chuck chrrrrr" is heard in the distance. An intense scan in the direction of the call illuminates nothing as the blur of the panorama blends together. The great Oaks dull luster against the threatening grey winter sky hides our prey in the oblivion. "Chuck, chuck chrrrr", again the squirrel of winter calls out in defiance of you as if to say " I am hear, I have survived them all, try to get me". And in fact, that squirrel has a point. He has made it through the gambit of fall hunters, he's a hundred yards out and his grey coat and sharp senses are working just like they should. There is a wide open mind field of crunchy leaves and snappy twigs with no cover between you and him. When you finally locate him you realize he is perched 50 feet off the ground, against a massive tree trunk atop a sturdy limb with his tail in an "S" over his shoulders. And not three feet away is an undeniable hole in that massive trunk. As an airgunner, you have just begun the stalk of stalks where every move matters and your chances of a harvest grow slimmer with each step.
Winter among the Northern hardwoods can provide some of the most challenging squirrel hunting an airgunner can enjoy. While cold weather and snow can illuminate the activity of other game like rabbits, it really serves to benefit bright eyed bushytails that have the best and safest vantage point of all game in the woods. Some of these long stalks have served to remind me of National Geographic footage of an Inuit stalking a white seal across the featureless white ice. I have felt just as exposed stalking bushytails through the winter woods only to be rewarded with a fleeting glimpse of that tail as it disappears into a massive oak that might as well be an armored fortress. So how do you harvest these winter squirrels? Here are a few methods to get you started. Some of them came to me as advice passed on from hunters of lore and some of it is the benefit of failure. And there was a lot of that.
First of all, tromping through the woods hoping to come across an unsuspecting squirrel and shooting it is not likely to happen. The woods are noisy this time of year and the squirrels are as jumpy as they can get. Remember, even the September brood has grown up by now and you are dealing with veteran prey animals living in a very sparse environment without the benefit of all that fall cover. If you spook one now, that squirrel is going to start running and keep running until he is long gone or in his hardwood hideaway. Instead of being an opportunist you are going to have to learn how to be an ambush predator. This means you are going to do a bit of sitting and waiting and being quiet but if you do your homework it'll pay off. Did I mention camo? Camo is your friend for this type of hunting. Of course be careful if there are other hunters in the area. Also, a temporary blind can come in handy as well. I prefer just to stick with camo because it is one less thing to carry. Now you could go into the woods and sit on a rock all day and see nothing but if you recall I mentioned "Homework". You'll need to do a little reconnaissance. You can go to an area that produced a lot of squirrels or find new ones by looking for their tracks, digs and chewing waste they leave behind when processing food or building nests. Also some big old trees with holes will offer them winter quarters as many of the leafy nests have been abandoned by this point. Once you have a good spot the next thing to do is pick a vantage point where you have some cover that will allow you to move about a bit and that is quiet. A tight briar or scrub oak won't work because they are too noisy. Instead find some light cover that will help your camo to work, is quiet, comfortable, keep your movement somewhat hidden, and put you in range of the area that you now has been active with squirrels. The next step is to pick the right time of day. A lot of hunters will tell you to get in the woods before dawn and wait for them but if it is really cold and the day looks like it will warm up those squirrels will most likely stay snuggled in there holes conserving energy until the sun warms things up a bit. When they can sun themselves and warm up they'll start down the trees onto the forest floor to feed. This is good to know because it means you can have a nice breakfast and a chance to freshen up before you get out in the woods. It makes for a much more pleasant experience. Now this is the most important, once the squirrels start moving don't shoot the first one you see. Let them come down out of the trees and start foraging. On the ground they can't figure out what is going on when you shoot and they can't really tell where the shot came from especially if you can stay quiet after you shoot. And if you miss you may even get a second shot. Sometimes, if you stay calm after a missed shot, they will halt their frantic climb halfway up a tree trunk as if to think "What the hell was that". In addition, the non-targeted squirrels will freeze up or run to the base of a tree without climbing. You have a chance to let things settle down and they'll go back to feeding and you can repeat the process. Also important, don't let any of the other squirrels see you shoot. Once you have shot a squirrel, let him lay there but remember where he fell so you can pick him up later. Stay in your hide and shoot another one. In a good spot you can fill your limit if you keep quiet and let the winter squirrels do what winter squirrels do without to much interruption. That also means head shots are a must. So make sure you and your airgun are an accurate team and you know the limits of your team's abilities.
This seems like a good time to talk about some of the different airguns you might want to use on a hunt like this. First, leave the C02 guns at home. In the bitter cold they will not shoot with the power you need to dispatch bushytails at any distance. This is because the C02 gas will not convert itself to energy as efficiently in the bitter cold because the cold gas does not expand well.
A pumper like a Benji 392 is deadly accurate out to 45yds but you'll get the whole woods freaked the first time you have to start pumping it. It's possible to pump them quietly but it takes a lot of energy and you have to move around quite a bit. It's still a great gun but there are better options if you hope to take multiple winter squirrels. A spring piston airgun will offer a shooter power and reliability in the cold woods and movement upon reloading is unlimited. There are many varieties of spring piston airguns available in a myriad of price ranges and multiple calibers. Some popular makes are Beeman, RWS, Gamo and BSA as well as some of the Chinese guns that are on the market. With a springer you can become a self sufficient winter woods hunter for as little as $70 and as much as $1000. Today's springers are accurate out to 50yds and can shoot at velocities of over 1000fps. However, the double recoil caused by the heavy spring in these guns warrants some practice and getting used to before you go out in the field with one. The newest guns on the market are PCP's (Pre Charged Pneumatics). These guns offer high velocities in larger calibers with no recoil and are infinitely more accurate than any powder burning rifle on the market. They have effective ranges that exceed 75yds. In addition, many are manufactured with shrouded barrels offering extremely quiet shooting which is a real benefit in suburban hunting environments. PCP's operate off of onboard air tanks that are compressed to 3,000 psi or more. They are filled with air using a manual high pressure pump or a scuba tank. Many models offer multiple shot magazines of 6 to 8 shots and the .22 cal is the most popular caliber for this type of hunting airgun. Popular PCP brands are BSA, Logun, Sumatra, Career, Air Arms and Airforce.
As a rule, I like to use a .20 caliber or .22 caliber air rifle for hunting. The .22 just carries more "Womp" and "Umph" than the smaller .177 caliber. There are tons of ballistic calculators available on the web to back up my very non-scientific description. That doesn't mean you can't hunt with a .177. They are very effective and can shoot at very high velocities. But for winter hunting of squirrels you really want to drop them like stone on the spot and the larger caliber accomplishes that more effectively.
I started this tale by describing the "Stalk of stalks" so let's get back into that scenario. We are 100yds out on a Grey squirrel sitting in a big Oak and he is a few feet away from his safe hole. Let's say for the sake of argument that an average airgunner is capable of hitting a walnut sized target (squirrel's head) at 35yds. The question here is how does the airgunning team (hunter and gun) get within range in the very sparse winter hardwood forest? Well, you could try to sneak up on him and stay out of site. But most likely this very sneaky behavior will spook him if you go too fast and go directly at him. I find the best method is to never look at him again once you spot him. Try to seem completely disinterested in the treetops and meander slowly and quietly in an indirect fashion getting closer and closer. Pick your path and make sure it is one that doesn't require climbing, barging through brush or any real exertion that will get him nervous. The squirrel will become a spectator and he is thinking that he sees you but you haven't spotted him. Your goal is to get within range to a shooting position where you have the advantage. For example, if that squirrel is perched on a branch facing East you will want to make it to a large tree a bit west of him. As you come around the back side of the tree you will have your gun raised and if you have done everything right you should be able to put one right in his cheek. Sometimes you can do everything right and you still won't get a shot. But that's what hunting is. Winter squirrel hunting in the North woods will offer any airgunner a challenge and an opportunity to test his hunting and shooting skills. Above all practice and patience are the key. Bundle up and get out there this year. Bushytails huddled under winter grey skies can offer you all the excitement and satisfaction of a trophy hunt.
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Old 12-02-2004, 05:38 PM
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Default RE: Air gun hunting for squirrels---- the basics

So what kind of gun do you use. What about something like a .22lr. I only have heard you mention pelet rifles
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Old 12-02-2004, 05:41 PM
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Default RE: Air gun hunting for squirrels---- the basics

I use a Gamo Young Hunter. It shoots 640 fps. I can't use a .22 where I hunt ( suburbia ) . Too dangerous.
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Old 12-03-2004, 06:41 PM
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Default RE: Air gun hunting for squirrels---- the basics

yea when i go out to michigan i got small game hunting with my gamo shadow 1000 supreme in .117 its velocity is over 1000 fps
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Old 12-03-2004, 06:45 PM
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Default RE: Air gun hunting for squirrels---- the basics

sry i meant to say when i go out to michigan i go no got......sry it wouldnt let me edit it just came up to a black screen sry bout the double post fellas, damn fingers lol
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Old 12-04-2004, 08:45 AM
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Default RE: Air gun hunting for squirrels---- the basics

The second Firearm season for deer is going on this weekend....actually the 2nd through the 5th....so I can't squirrel hunt till that season is over, per Illinois DNR, so waiting till Monday, then depending on the weather head out. I was waiting for my buddy to get his FOID card so he could go with me, but I'm chomping at the bit too much to wait. SOO, come this week I'll be heading back out, alone, to hunt the willie squirrels... can't wait!!

Just out of curiosity, do you guys like hunting alone, or with others.
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