"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
About Bayou Bill
Wild Recipes
Squirrel Habits and Hunting Tactics
Copyright © 2002 by Bill Scifres

Probably the greatest feature of Indiana’s squirrel season setup is the fact that it offers something for everyone--every type of hunter.

When the statewide season opens at mid-August each year squirrels are cutting (feeding on) hickory nuts. This has always made the opening of the squirrel season the exciting event that it is.

At this time of year squirrels are mostly interested in filling their tummies with hickory nut kernels and sundry other natural foods, then lazing around through the hot part of the day before having din-din late in the afternoon. It is a wonderful laid-back life for both the hunted and the hunter.

But as the cool nights (not to mention some likewise days) of September roll around, Mr. Bushytail wisely starts thinking of din-din through the cold winter months and he acts accordingly--storing food for the winter in the best possible place--the good earth, more precisely the floor of the woodland where he lives.

When this natural phenomenon occurs, the habits of squirrels take a decided turn toward all-day (or at least most of the day) activity. To compensate, the successful hunter must change his hunting tactics accordingly.

Then comes winter . . . even late winter . . . and squirrels (although they remain active) change their life styles again.

For many years our statewide squirrel season opened at mid-August and closed October 31. Several years back the Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) started experimenting with an extension of the squirrel season later into the winter on selected state fish and wildlife areas. That has led to an even greater extension (to January 31) on state areas and to all lands south of U.S. 40. The general season extends to December 31 north of U.S. 40.

Squirrels start spending more time on the ground than in trees when they start storing food for winter. This continues through the winter months as they dip into their larders of nuts, acorns and other products of the growing season that are stored individually in the forest floor.

Incidentally, fox and gray squirrels, the most numerous of our tree-squirrel species, and the black squirrel (though not widely distributed in Indiana), bury their food for the winter in the forest floor, one nut or acorn at a time. The red squirrel (also known as the piney) tends to cache its food supplies in hollow trees, limbs or even such non-natural places as the gutters and down spouts of houses.

Thus the fox, gray and black squirrels earn their title of original foresters because they bury more nuts and acorns than they dig up. Their “leftover” nuts and acorns later sprout and turn into new trees in the forests.

How do squirrels find their buried morsels? In view of the fact that not even an Einsteinian mind could remember the location of all of the nuts squirrels bury (about half an inch deep in the forest floor), it would seem logical that squirrels--like many other animals--possess a keen sense of smell. They use it to find buried food.

Proof of this keen sense of smell will be found in the forest floor. Just note that squirrels do not dig speculative holes in their search for buried morsels. They go straight down to the food.

But they probably are not picayunish about whose nuts they dig up--a philosophy of  “any old nut will do.” 

Still, these habits of the so-called “tree squirrels” dictate that they spend a good part of their busy days on the ground. The better a hunter understands this facet of hunting, the more successful he/she will be.

My point, the thesis of this story, is simply that the successful squirrel hunter must: (a) interpret the changing behavior of squirrels, and (b) be able to adapt his hunting modus operandi to meet the changes.

This, in essence, is nothing more complicated the bank’s slogan on serving its customers: “Whatever It Takes.”

Thus, in the early part of the squirrel season (when squirrels are interested chiefly in their immediate dietary needs) the successful hunter slips quietly through the woods while checking trees that he knows, or suspects, are offering good food early in the morning and late in the afternoon. This is true squirrel hunting, Hoosier style.

The hunter most often pins his hopes on finding squirrels cutting on hickory trees, and he tries to detect the presence of a squirrel--or squirrels--long before he is close enough to shoot. This requires a step-at-a-time stalk with eyes and ears alert to every sight and sound.

There are many sights and sounds that indicate the presence of feeding squirrels. The most common of these may be cuttings from the outer husks of nuts as they fall through swaths of sunlight . . . the sounds cuttings make (like the gentle patter of rain) as they fall through the leaves, or the sound of a squirrel chiseling with those big front teeth through the hard inner nut to get to the kernels.

Even noting the sway or bend of a limb under the weight of a squirrel will mark the presence of game. And certainly the bounce of limbs as squirrels jump from one tree to another will tell a story. 

If the hunter fails to detect the presence of a squirrel as he approaches a tree, but finds cuttings on the forest floor that are so fresh they ooze moisture when squeezed, another story comes to light. The squirrel has outwitted the hunter and may be flattened out on a big limb somewhere near, watching the proceedings. In this case, the hunter takes a seat or stands quietly behind a tree in shooting range to allow more squirrels to come to the tree that offers food.

During the early weeks of the squirrel season, the hunter goes to the squirrels--or at least to the trees where they feed. But when squirrels start storing food for the winter, the hunter will do well to find a tree that is offering good, mature nuts, take a seat within shooting range and let the squirrels come to him. This hunting method can be applied to many of the oak species, too, or even black walnuts. Any nut or acorn that stores well in the soil is a candidate for the winter larder.

An important factor in determining the order in which the mast (seeds) of various tree species will be used for food and storage by squirrels will be dictated by their order of maturing. While hickory nuts and black walnuts are mature enough to provide food for squirrels at mid-August, many other forms of mast are not well enough developed until later. This is especially true of beechnuts and many of the oaks.

However, in years when hickory and black walnut trees are not bearing good crops of nuts, squirrels will use many other forms of mast--even field corn. Squirrels eat what Mother Nature produces--at times even bark. This, incidentally, is not a good year for hickory and black walnuts, and a less than fair year for the oaks

As fall turns to winter, squirrels probably spend more time on the ground than at any other time of the year. But it makes sense. The forest floor is the pantry. 

[Note: This contribution was written for publication in the Raghorn News.]

All columns 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: Scifres Family, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038

Return to beginning of document
Return to Bayou Bill's Home Page