Although I cut my hunting cuspids on rabbits and ringnecks with my beagle, I’m no longer much of a small game hunter. I remember shooting my first squirrel under my grandfather’s tutelage, but I didn’t bag many in those days.
That’s about to change. I was invited to hunt squirrels this Saturday with Randy Ent, a high school classmate from long ago and now hunting buddy. We’ll be tramping the rugged hills of the Allegheny National Forest west of the Kinzua Reservoir near the Pennsylvania/New York border. (By the time you read this the hunt will be past tense.)
Candidates for our game bags are gray squirrels (including the black phase) and the bigger fox squirrels. (See accompanying photo, courtesy of my friend Ron Spomer. For some of the most expert outdoor content anywhere, check out RonSpomerOutdoors.com, Ron Spomer YouTube channel, and Ron Spomer podcasts.)
These hardwood ridges grow tall oaks that scatter millions of acorns on the ground. And this is a bumper-grade year. I’m looking forward to it as much as I looked forward to that day with Grandpa.
One change from that long gone era — this year’s Pennsylvania squirrel season opener is September 12, earlier than ever. That adjustment was a smart move on the part of the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Maybe the PGC is following the lead of New York, though New York starts even earlier, on September 1. A longer season isn’t going to deplete the supply of squirrels, which often bear two litters a year.
With declining hunting license sales, it makes sense to offer hunters more time in the woods, especially younger hunters during the weeks when autumn’s transitional breezes rustle the treetops and the weather is still comfortable.
Property access is not an issue when it comes to squirrel hunting. Northern Pennsylvania and southern New York both have public land aplenty. Besides the Allegheny National Forest, the Keystone State has lots of State Game Lands. New York hunters can wander the sprawling South Valley State Forest and the Allegany State Park. Public lands hold countless oak and hickory trees, keeping bushytails busy. Like the land, the squirrels on it belong to everybody. That sets up the hunter for a great day afield.
I’ll be carrying a rimfire, although small centerfire rifles and shotguns with mild loads will do the job. My .17 HMR is a tack-driving Savage Model 93 with a heavy barrel and a laminated thumbhole stock. I bought that rifle to hunt woodchucks in small fields where I’m reluctant to use an ear-splitting centerfire. It will be perfect in the squirrel woods. Chances are, you have a weapon fit for the task.
One motivation I have is to spend some time on hardwood ridges in anticipation of the deer season. Whitetail deer will be feeding on the same acorn crop the squirrels are now gathering, so in a couple of months rutting bucks will be searching out doe groups. That makes a squirrel hunt also a scouting trip for deer season. And black bears will cover the same ground as they fatten up on their share of those high-carbohydrate acorns.
Squirrel hunting and big game scouting do not mean spending time with Randy is in third place. Randy is a champion metallic silhouette shooter and I learn a lot from him about rifles, shooting, woodsmanship, and what he calls “Randy-thinking” — his clear, simple, down-to-earth philosophy. Everybody needs more of that these days.
On a beautiful September day, what could be better than hunting everybody’s squirrels on everybody’s land with a friend like everybody should have?
When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.