Don’t be squirrely about hunting squirrels.
Minutes after they bolted from the truck kennel, the dogs started barking hysterically a couple hundred yards away before we could even load our guns.
We rushed to the sound as fast as we could. Beneath a tree, dogs jumped and barked at their unseen quarry perched somewhere high in a white oak. We positioned ourselves around the tree looking up into its leafy branches. The “gray ghosts of the forest” can easily disappear anywhere in a tree.
“I’m going to shake some vines going up into the tree to see if the squirrel will move,” advised one of our companions. “Get ready. It might come out running.”
After our partner shook the vines, three gray blurs rocketed from cover and scattered in different directions. Watching the ruckus and our poor marksmanship, the dogs chased after the bushytails, possibly to tree them again.
“Hunting squirrels with dogs is an old tradition in Mississippi,” said Mark Beason, who learned to hunt squirrels with dogs from his grandfather. “It goes back a long time. I grew up hunting squirrels with dogs.”
Most squirrel hunters stalk quietly through forests, pausing periodically to stop, look and listen, but hunting with dogs seems more like a rowdy cross-country steeplechase than a stalk. Dog handlers release one or two animals at a time and swap them out periodically throughout the day to avoid excessively tiring them. Humans, on the other hand, must keep up with the boisterous energetic creatures as best as they can while running up hills, down ravines, across creeks and through swamps.
Most dog hunters enjoy watching and listening to their animals more than shooting at squirrels. An experienced handler knows when a dog crosses a hot scent, sees, or trees a squirrel by the sound it makes. When hunting with more than one dog, handlers can distinguish the unique sounds of their individual animals from the cacophony of chaos surrounding a tree, even from great distances.
By late winter, most of the acorns and other squirrel foods dropped to the ground already. Therefore, squirrels spend more time foraging on the ground. That leaves more scent for dogs to follow.
Mississippi sportsmen can hunt two squirrel species, gray and fox squirrels, and two subspecies of fox squirrel. The Bachman, or “hill country” fox squirrel, prefers upland forests. The delta fox squirrel primarily lives in thick mature hardwood bottoms along the Mississippi River. Fox squirrels can come in variations of white, black, and red coloration with some almost entirely black, possibly with white ears or noses.
When hunting with dogs, sportsmen can talk and move around rather than remain still and quiet. Some dog fanatics even engage in a little friendly bantering over whose dog treed the first, fastest and most squirrels.
With more action and less need for quiet, chasing squirrels with dogs offers an exciting way to introduce children or novices to hunting. On a good morning, youngsters can probably fire more shots than sitting in a deer stand all season.