Outdoor report: Squirrel hunting in Virginia

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Squirrel hunting should be the first activity to pursue when introducing youth or the inexperienced to the outdoors and hunting. It’s engaging, it’s educational, and it’s definitely stress-relieving. Nothing beats listening to the wind whirl through the treetops of the forest while looking for a bushy tail on a late-afternoon hunt.

Photo courtesy of VDGIF
Squirrel hunting season has officially kicked off in the Commonwealth.

It’s Fun & Action-packed

Squirrel hunting is active because it requires walking, listening, and stalking squirrels in their habitat. They are abundant and move quickly. When they spot you, they’re gone. You must be quiet and camouflaged when trying to sneak-up on a squirrel. They move a lot, which means you’ll likely have to. And when it’s time to shoot, they don’t pause for long. You need to pull the trigger as soon as you aim the gun at your target.

It Makes a Wise Hunter

If you’ve never been hunting, then the deer stand is probably not the best place to start. Squirrel hunting will probably not be attractive to the modern hunter because it’s not hunting for a trophy class buck or a banded pintail, but it is the foundational activity that makes a wise hunter. We need wise, experienced hunters who have made the woods their second home. Hunting squirrels requires a lot of walking, stalking, patience, persistence, determination, and eagerness to learn and understand the woods. All of these combined is what makes a great overall hunter. It creates a skilled woodsman.

All of these components are vital for hunting any type of wild game, from ducks to deer and bear. Squirrel hunting ultimately teaches marksmanship, woodsmanship, firearm safety, hunting ethics, and how to clean and prepare game.

Hunting Squirrels can be Challenging

Squirrel hunting can be tough, which is what makes it fun. We all need to be challenged– that is what makes hunting what it is. Squirrels can easily spot you, and they’re gone as soon as they see you. It’s important to move quietly through the woods while looking for them.

Know where to look for them before going into the woods. During the spring, they may be higher in the trees feeding on buds. During the fall, they’re usually found near mast-producing oaks scrounging for winter forage.

For a more challenging hunt, try hunting fox squirrels in the mountains. They’re wilier, smarter, bigger, and are found on the ground more frequently than in trees.

Hunting Squirrels is Cheap

When compared to other types of hunting like waterfowl or big game, squirrels are relatively more affordable. It doesn’t require much equipment like tree-stands or a trail camera, or heavy, mandatory hunting clothing like waders, which can get pricey. Squirrel hunting simply requires lightweight camouflage and a small gun like a varmint rifle such as a .22, which means cheaper ammunition and little equipment expenses.

Squirrel Meat Tastes Good

Despite the presumption of eating squirrel, this small game makes delicious fare and they are simple to skin and clean. Squirrel casserole with stuffing and sautéed vegetables is my personal favorite.

But the list is endless. And, you don’t need to reach a harvest limit of squirrels to be able to have enough meat for a meal.

Looking for a recipe? Check out this Squirrel Gumbo featured in DGIF’s Fare Game recipe section of this website.

Get outdoors, take someone who has never been, and get after some squirrels this season. It’s different than hunting deer. It’s a breath of fresh air, literally.

Bag Limit:

All squirrels combined – six per day.

Fall Seasons:

Gray and Red Squirrels: September 1 through February 28 – statewide

Fox Squirrels: September 1 through January 31 in the following designated areas only: Counties west of the Blue Ridge and in the counties of Albemarle, Bedford, Culpeper, Fauquier, Franklin, Greene, Loudoun, Madison, Orange, Patrick, Prince William, and Rappahannock.

Spring Season:

June 1 through 15, 2019: Closed on National Forest lands.

Gray and red squirrels may be harvested statewide, unless otherwise posted, and on the following wildlife management areas: Amelia, Big Survey, Big Woods, Briery Creek, Cavalier, Chickahominy, Dick Cross, Doe Creek, Fairystone (including Fairystone State Park and Philpott Reservoir), Featherfin, Gathright, Goshen, Hardware River, Havens, Highland, Hog Island (Carlisle Tract only), Horsepen, James River, Lake Robertson, Lands End (Salem Church tract only), Little North Mountain, Mattaponi, Merrimac Farm, Oakley Forest, Pettigrew, Phelps, Powhatan (including the Goochland Tract), Rapidan, Short Hills, Stewarts Creek, G. Richard Thompson, Turkeycock Mountain, Ware Creek, and White Oak Mountain.

Fox squirrels may be harvested on all lands, unless otherwise posted, in all counties with an open fall fox squirrel season and on the following wildlife management areas: Big Survey, Gathright, Goshen, Havens, Highland, Lake Robertson, Little North Mountain, Merrimac Farm, Phelps, Rapidan, Short Hills, Stewarts Creek, and G. Richard Thompson.

–Emily George, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries