"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Time To Get Into Squirrel-Hunting Mode
Copyright © 2004 by Bill Scifres

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 mode.

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 sight.

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 shot.

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 distances.

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.

All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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