"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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The Lifestyle of Squirrels
Copyright © 2008 by Bill Scifres

The arrival of September brings a number of interesting changes to the Hoosier outdoor world, and one of the most important is the change of the lifestyle of squirrels. 

When our squirrel season opens at mid August, squirrels – both gray and fox – for the most part are content with rising early for breakfast, then lolling around in the shade through the warm hours, before their tummies tell them it is time to eat again late in the afternoon. Grays may even feed at night – especially if the moon is bright. There are exceptions.  

But, the arrival of September – and the sun heading south – brings a whole new ball game to squirrel hunting; a more sedate, sedentary hunt as squirrels start thinking of food for winter. Grays, and fox squirrels are burying critters. The red squirrel (piney, not hunted) caches. That is to say gray and fox bury individual morsels of food (primarily shelled hickory nuts, black walnuts and acorns) in the forest floor, one morsel in each dig.          

Incidentally, the digs are neat little holes – just large enough for the item they are burying. Also incidentally, the scientific guys tell me, squirrels are not mental giants enough to remember all the places they put food. I am told they operate by smell.

When nights grow cold, squirrels will most often first fill their tummies early in the morning (but a bit later than in summer), then again late in the afternoon. But, for the most part, the mid-day siesta of summer is out. Instead, they while away the hot part of the day, which usually is cool and may be breezy, by storing food for the winter – thus, the change in behavior. 

So the way to hunt squirrels at this time of year is pretty much the same in early morning and late afternoon, even if those chilly nights and daybreaks prompt them to sleep in a bit. However, through the mid-part of the day, it is a good idea to employ the “sit-and-wait” type of hunt. They are on the ground then and working leisurely at storing food for winter.

Just find a hickory tree with lots of pithy outer shells, but few of the hard, inner nuts beneath it, and you can sit on pay dirt (your back against a tree) and wait for the game to come to the tree. They prefer picking nuts to those on the ground. Those on the ground may not be filled with good kernels. 

When a squirrel is burying food, it may do instant replays on his visits – each visit traveling almost the same route. Once, when I found such a repeater, getting a shot (as the squirrel carried nuts to the ground and away) with my .22 was difficult. However, I observed that the squirrel stopped at the same places on each trip. I zeroed in on one of these spots and the next time it stopped was its last. 

Usually a fox squirrel will remove the quartered outer husk high in the tree, the shells cascading to the earth in a not-so-quiet fashion. Then the squirrel comes down the tree (often on the trunk or a nearby sapling) to reach terra firma). A gray is less predictable although they, too, are critters of habit. 

A good plan – especially if several squirrels are coming to the same tree to collect nuts, is to mark your game down and dead, then wait to pick up the game. Repeated trips to pick up game may spook other squirrels. But you have to be sure the squirrels don’t crawl off and die, especially if steel (crippling shot) is used. 

Aside from the fact that fall squirrels usually are very plump and fat (excellent in the pan), one of the great features of this kind of hunt is the fact that it may bring a parade of the wild critters very close.

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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