I started hunting squirrels at age 12 using a 20-gauge bolt action shotgun purchased from a Sears Roebuck catalog with paper route money, and I have great memories of those days.
Typically, I’d overnight with my uncle Ernie in Sciotoville, near the Ohio River, stay awake half the night too excited to sleep, then after a bacon and eggs breakfast head for a favorite woodlot before dawn. Usually a couple of Ernie’s brothers would be waiting and my instructions were often “Dick, you head up to this ridge top. There’s a bunch of pignut hickories up there, and Carl says they’re cutting them pretty well. You should get some.”
Then it was off to the ridge top using a flashlight to get there, and hopefully bag three or four greys before heading down again. Next step was to dress and skin our kills, quarter them up, and Ernie’s mother would fix the ultimate meal, which was crisp fried squirrel and gravy, hand mashed potatoes, collard greens, and biscuits with real butter and homemade jam. It was a meal fit for a king!
Since then I’ve done most of my hunting in north and north central Ohio, but some things never change, and squirrel habits don’t either, whether it’s greys in the tall timber of southern Ohio or fox squirrels in the woodlots of central and northern Ohio.
When the season opens on Sept. 1 this is what you can expect. During the first weeks of the season the bushy-tails will be feeding in their favorite hickories if any are present. Shagbarks, shell barks, pignuts, and more with their sweet and nutritious meat are always first choice, and this is where you should seek them, checking first to make sure there are cuttings on the ground and nuts left on the trees.
They feed heavily in beech too, especially when the hickories are gone, and like to nibble on dogwood berries, wild grapes, and even field corn when it’s available. Keep in mind that while foxes and greys are both squirrels, their habits are different.
Greys like to get an early start on their day and will often be in the trees and eating breakfast to the sound of falling nut fragments when the sky is just beginning to grey up. They’re nervous animals, especially when hunted hard, and if they see you will often hide in the treetops for hours or leave the tree in a grey blur, so I usually hunt them with a shotgun.
Fox squirrels are lazy and not as smart as greys, so they’re often not moving around much until well after daylight. I’ve frequently hunted these with a scope sighted .22 and hollow points, trying hard to make head or ribcage shots.
And I’ve always hunted greys by sitting down in a good spot and waiting quietly, but for fox squirrels I’ll walk a few steps and stop to look around, covering plenty of ground and slipping up on feeding customers.
Here’s a final thought: while you’re watching the trees, watch the ground, too, partly for poisonous snakes in southern parts, but also for the red berries of ginseng. The ginseng season also opens Sept. 1, so check your hunting brochure for ginseng regulations and go for squirrels and this valuable plant, too. Good food and money make a nice combination.
Dick Martin is a retired biology teacher who has been writing outdoor columns for over 30 years. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Martin writes a weekly column published in The Logan Daily News. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.