In 2012’s blockbuster hit movie “The Hunger Games,” Peeta Mellark is selected along with Katniss Everdeen to represent District 12 in the 74th annual Hunger Games. The Games (as most of you already know) is this sadistic competition held in an outdoor arena where kids fight till the death.
Right from the beginning, it’s clear Everdeen has some game when it comes to survival because she can hunt. When love interest and friend Gale Hawthorne comes to say goodbye before Everdeen leaves the District for the Hunger Games, he reminds her that her hunting know-how alone gives her a chance. Then later, as a way of justifying why Mellark believed Katniss could win the Games, he explains her excellent marksmanship by telling mentor Haymitch Abernathy, “My father buys her squirrels. He says she hits them right in the eye, every time.”
This is rather profound when you consider that most of the hunting covered in today’s media — hunting shows and outdoor magazines — most typically highlight the hunting of big trophies like elk, bear, monster white-tailed bucks and exotics. But true woodsmanship is put to the test in more practical ways, like taking a bow and arrow and aiming so true that you manage to bag a small and shifty squirrel.
It’s refreshing to see “The Hunger Games” choose squirrel hunting as a way to validate a young hunter’s prowess in the woods. It’s also igniting interest in small game hunting once again.
So, if you’re longing for some details about what it takes to bag a squirrel, read on.
Squirrel Hunting Primer: An Orientation
Becoming a successful bowhunter begins with knowing the woods and wildlife you’re planning to hunt. Big-game animals like white-tailed deer, mule deer and elk are typical targets for bowhunters, but hunting squirrels can help you become an excellent hunter, whether you use a gun or a bow.
Squirrels are considered small game, which means they are regulated and you can only hunt them during certain seasons. Seasons vary based on each state’s wildlife laws. To learn the proper time to hunt squirrels in your state, contact your local department of natural resources.
Mark Hatfield, a wildlife biologist with the National Wild Turkey Federation, has hunted squirrels for 25 years. He says squirrel hunting is the best way for any hunter to learn woodsmanship.
Squirrels exhibit crepuscular activity, meaning they are active around sunrise and sunset. Hatfield prefers morning hunts and says paying attention to the times of day animals are active will help bowhunters in their scouting efforts.
“You can double the amount of land you scout by hunting one route on your way into the woods and a different route as you head out,” he said. “I hunt squirrels 15 to 30 minutes after sunrise because temperatures get so hot during afternoon hunts. I’ll start a hunt by listening for what sounds like someone dropping pebbles from a tree, and will hunt until the squirrels get quiet around 9:30 or 10 a.m.”
Look for persimmon trees or trees that are dropping acorns and you’ll likely find a spot used by many types of wildlife. Walk along old wood roads and look for deer scrapes and rubs. Bucks create deer scrapes on the ground, and rubs on trees, to announce their presence and mark their territory. Ridge lines and creek bottoms are likely places to find antler sheds.
“Scouting deer while squirrel hunting is like a big game of hide and seek,” Hatfield said. “You must learn to identify trees and figure out what animals eat at various times during the year. If you can find them and understand why they’re in a certain area, you’ll be a better hunter. Plus, scouting while hunting is fun.”
While Scouting For Big Game (Like Deer), Hunt For Squirrels
Let’s say you’ve already done a little hunting, but you’ve never spent any time hunting for small game, like squirrels.
“Long before I hunted deer, my uncle took me squirrel hunting in Kentucky,” Hatfield said. “Once I learned woodsmanship skills like identifying different types of trees, raccoon and bobcat tracks, antler sheds and deer scrapes, he let me hunt by myself.”
If you’re planning to hunt squirrels and scout for deer at the same time, take a notepad, a bow, rifle or shotgun, ribbon or flagging and an aerial photograph of the area you’re scouting.
“Some hunters scout one day and don’t return to that area until the day they’re planning to hunt,” Hatfield said. “Mark where you see scrapes, rubs and other deer signs. Flag trees where you’d like to hang your hunting stands so you can find them easily in the dark, early mornings before you hunt.”
Squirrel hunting can add wild game to your freezer if you’re low on deer, bear and turkey meat, improve your woodsmanship, extend your hunting season and help you learn the best times for successful hunting.
If you’d like to learn more about squirrel hunting, look for upcoming posts on squirrel hunting strategy, using squirrel dogs to tree squirrels and find out how to use squirrel meat as a food source.
To find the best hunting equipment, visit your local archery shop.
— Amy Hatfield contributed to this article.