This is one of my absolute favorite times of the squirrel season to hunt. Don’t get me wrong, I love each and every month during the nearly six-month season — actually, it’s five months and 17 days, or a 170 day-long season, if you are curious or counting.
September is a great time to be in the field with its warm afternoons, plenty of food sources to identify and scout and always a joyful month to start the season with. October heats up with mast foods and cooler days and can be some of the hottest squirrel hunting times in the season. November and December are fine to hand-pick a few outings but, in our state, as with most, deer hunting is king and those are the prime months for deer.
But come January and February, the woods are wide open and there is no greater time for a squirrel hunt, especially following a great squirrel dog. Why, you may ask? Simple enough, mating season for squirrels generally falls during this time and often multiple squirrels will be located in the same tree or area of the woods.
It is not uncommon to follow the sounds of a dog treed to look up in the tree’s canopy and see more than one squirrel. That is generally not the case in the early season when food-source and denning trees are primarily where the squirrels are located. Also, the mating season, just like the deer rut, can cause increased activity throughout the day for the squirrels, providing more opportunity for us.
But more importantly to me, this time of year feels much more like a gift or bonus days to be afield. Sure, there are days when it’s gray outside and of course, there are days of snow and slow going, but there are also plenty of days when the sun’s rays warm the air enough to make your nose and cheeks glow.
Knowing that I am a squirrel hunter, I often get references by early-season deer hunters, especially bowhunters, that their particular hunting grounds were loaded with squirrels to the point that they were driving them crazy while perched in their treestands. I have often returned to their spot later in the season and was not successful in assisting them with their perceived squirrel problem. In fact, most of my wintertime squirrel hunting grounds are completely different than the grounds I walk on in the early season of September and October.
Although I am not an expert, a biologist or a trained wildlife manager, I have paid attention over my nearly 40-year squirrel hunting career to know squirrels migrate to food sources and they are very good at finding that available resource. And there is no quicker way to find out where the squirrels are or are not, than following a well-seasoned hunting dog.
A dog that is bred and seasoned to hunt squirrels will teach you more about what the squirrels are doing and where they are located in a short amount of time. I don’t care if you saw 196 squirrels from your deer stand last fall, the dog will let you know quickly if they are still there or have moved along to a new food source area. Oh, but when you do locate the wintertime hangout on a perfect sunny winter’s afternoon, you and your dog are in for some fast action and, for me, often the best squirrel hunting of the season.
Our season in West Virginia is open now and closes Feb. 28.