By Derek Stoner, Hunting Program Coordinator
The hunting season kicks off in the Fall with great excitement among sportsmen and sportswomen. There is a wide array of game to be pursued in Penn’s Woods each season, and perhaps none can top the squirrel for abundance of opportunity. There is almost unlimited squirrel habitat statewide (especially on public lands), a long season, and a very abundant population of these small mammals.
The Eastern Gray Squirrel is by far the most common squirrel found in Pennsylvania, across a wide variety of habitats. But there are two other less-common squirrels that are also legal to hunt in our state: the Fox Squirrel (found in limited ranges that typically include agricultural fields) and the Red Squirrel (predominately tied to coniferous forests with abundant cones, their favored food).
The squirrel hunter headed afield can learn to tell the difference between these three species and take on the challenge of harvesting all three in one season. Check out this helpful Wildlife Note on squirrels to learn more about their habits and habitat preferences.
The Early Squirrel Season in Pennsylvania begins this Fall on Saturday, September 11. At this point in the year, while still in Summer and before the official start of Fall on September 22, squirrels are feasting on the abundance of fruits and nuts available in deciduous woodlands.
The early season squirrel hunter will experience limited visibility in the forest due to the leafy greenery blocking long-distance views. Although this will impact your ability to spot squirrels at a distance, it can work out in your favor as squirrels are much more approachable when you can use the dense vegetation to hide your approach.
Hunting with a partner is a smart approach during the early season in particular, since two sets of eyes and ears are more likely to detect squirrels that are hiding amid the dense vegetation. When squirrels are detected in the treetops, one hunter can circle around the tree to attract the attention of the animals while the other hunter remains stationary. Since a squirrel likes to hide on the side of the tree opposite the approach of a potential predator, eventually those squirrels will move around to the side where the other hunter is hiding. This tactic is safe only with shotguns and only with upward shots into the canopy. If a squirrel comes scrambling down a tree trunk or running away in the leaves, then no shot should be taken as the hunting partner is also on the ground.
One of the most interesting tactics to consider trying in the early season is using a squirrel call, a device that is used to imitate the excited chattering or “barking” of squirrels in order to prompt a similar response from squirrels in the area. This tactic helps you to identify the general area where a squirrel is located, which then allows you to formulate a plan to approach the animal and try for a shot. An enterprising hunter can also craft a call of this type using simple materials and online plans, or even make the sound with their own voice.
Squirrel hunting requires wearing a minimum of 250 square inches of blaze orange on your head, chest and back combined. An orange vest or jacket combined with an orange hat is the standard outfit for these seasons. Shotguns (10 gauge or smaller) are by far the most popular sporting arm for squirrel hunting, with size 6 or 7 1/2 shot being the preferred load. Rimfire rifles chambered in .22 and .17 caliber may be used, or in air rifles chambered in these calibers and using pellet projectiles. Archery and muzzleloading equipment is also legal to hunt squirrels with if you want a true challenge!
No matter how you approach squirrel season, there is much to be learned from heading into the woods during the early season. You may discover an area where the oaks are “raining acorns” that also attracts deer and will be worth visiting during the archery season, or you may learn more about the habitat diversity in your hunting area as you use your observation skills to scout for squirrels.
We wish you a safe and successful squirrel season. Visit our Learn to Hunt page for more ideas on how to improve your skills and maximize your encounters with wildlife this season.