First signs of squirrels cutting (feeding on) new mast--primarily acorns--started
showing up last week, and that translates into getting in a squirrel-hunting
True, the squirrel season opener will not open for another three weeks--August
15 to be exact. But when cutting activity gets into developing acorns,
black walnuts, and other entrees of the squirrel smorgasbord, it is time
to start checking the sights on your rifle, the pattern of your shotgun,
and sundry other chores that lead to fried-squirrel dinners (with the country
trimmin’s, of course).
Finding squirrels may well be requisite to a successful hunt, but if
you can’t hit them when you shoot, the whole affair becomes moot.
Thus, making sure bullets fired from a rifle hit the point-of-aim, or
that the pattern of a shotgun leaves no holes large enough to cause misses,
should top the list of every squirrel hunter’s preparedness chores.
Checking the sights on a rifle is as simple as firing test shots at
flat targets that will show where the projectiles are hitting in relation
to the point of aim. Paper targets with a bull’s-eye are best.
Also important is being able to rest the forearm of the rifle (not the
barrel) on some solid object that will make it easier to hold the rifle
steady and squeeze off the test shots. Rifle manufacturers say resting
the barrel of a rifle on a solid object can bring about strange vibrations
in the rifle barrel as the slug passes through it, and can cause misses.
Changing the setup on a scoped rifle is as easy as reading the instructions
and turning the dials a few clicks to bring about the right amount of elevation
or lateral movement of the projectile. With open sights, the process is
not quite so simple, but it is not complicated.
To move point of impact to point of aim should be accomplished by moving
only the rear sight in an iron- sight setup. The front sight of many rifles
is not movable. But it is not intended to be moved. The best way to move
point of impact for either elevation or laterally is by moving the rear
I didn’t have to worry about setting the sights on my little Springfield
.22 when I was a kid. My dad kept the sights in order, testing it by shooting
through the mouths of pop bottles to break out their bottoms at 20 feet.
To move point of impact laterally, the rear sight is simply moved in
the direction of desired change. Most rear sights are fit in slots and
can be moved by gently tapping them with a small hammer. But in most cases,
moving the rear sight (up/down or left/right) should be done in small increments.
Test firing is important after every movement of the sight to avoid overcorrection.
To raise or lower point of impact, the leaf of the rear sight is moved
up or down.
Learning the best loads and shot sizes for a shotgun is a simple as
firing shells loaded with various powder charges and shot sizes, but generally
best shot size for killing squirrels cleanly is no smaller than No. 5.
In the ten years or so since steel (non-toxic) shot has been required for
waterfowl hunting, I have learned that shot of a size or two larger in
diameter than comparable lead shot may be required to avoid crippling of
squirrels. The problem with hunting squirrels with steel shot tends to
be that the shot passes through the squirrel’s body and the animal runs
away to die and be lost and wasted.
This is clearly an undesirable thing, but thinking of the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service (not to mention our own Division of Fish and Wildlife)
are afflicted with an acute (not a cute) case of tunnel vision. The only
thing these organizations know for sure is that ingested lead shot can
kill waterfowl. Forget the waste factor of hunting squirrels with steel
Sheets of white or brown wrapping paper the size of a double spread
of newspaper make excellent targets for “patterning” a shotgun. One shot
should be made for each piece of paper, with varying loads of shot-size
and powder charge, and details of the loads written on each target. Range
should vary, too, because patterns will be tighter and smaller at short
The tests should, of course, include shots at ranges from 10 or 15 feet
to 30 or 40 yards, even further. Most shots at squirrels fall into the
40-yard range, but gray squirrels may require longer shots than fox squirrels.