Light hunting pressure, solitude draw squirrel hunters out of fields and into woods

Early November may find most Kansas hunters dreaming of grassy fields and pheasants, but for the die-hard hunter who prefers woodlands and solitude, cool weather means squirrel hunting. The leaves have mostly fallen, making the hunter more visible and the challenge of squirrel hunting greater. It's a time for patience, quiet, and heightened senses.

Kansas has two species of squirrels. Fox squirrels can be found throughout Kansas but are more common in the eastern half of the state. They are at home in shelterbelts and wooded streamsides, as well as larger forested tracts. Large, leafy nests in trees are a good indication of population density, and these are particularly visible after leaves have fallen. Fox squirrels are active at midday and spend a good deal of time on the ground. Mature fox squirrels may weigh as much as 3 lbs.

Gray squirrels are limited to the forested regions of eastern Kansas. They are smaller than fox squirrels, averaging just over a pound. They are also considered more difficult to hunt. Grays are most active around sunrise and sunset, usually spending midday hours in a tree hole. Both species are more active on calm, sunny days and may remain in dens all day when the wind exceeds 20 mph.

Squirrel are usually hunted with .22 rifles or sometimes with small-gauge shotguns. Due to sharp senses that help squirrels detect movement, many hunters select a stand -- near a nest or where squirrels appear to have been eating nuts or other forage -- and sit quietly to watch for quarry. Sitting still in one spot for a time, then moving to another if the action is slow, is the preferred method when foliage has dropped from the trees.

During this time, calling may be an effective method, often bringing squirrels into close range. The primary call is a distress call, which brings this curious species in for a closer look. Squirrels are nature's alarm signals, and when danger is sensed, they often seek out the source and send a scolding call through the woods. This offers a perfect opportunity for the patient hunter. A chatter or bark call can bring closer those squirrels that respond to a distress call but won't come into range.

Excellent squirrel hunting can be found on wooded public wildlife areas and Walk-In Hunting Access land, and hunting pressure is typically light. Permission to hunt on private land may also be easy to obtain due to lack of competition from other hunters.

Squirrel hunting is a great way to get away from crowded fields during the early days of upland bird seasons, and it's also a great way to introduce youngsters to hunting. Healthy squirrel populations coupled with liberal hunting seasons and bag limits add to the appeal. Squirrel season runs June 1 through Feb. 28. The daily bag limit is five, and the possession limit is 20.

A video clip on squirrel hunting in Kansas is available here.