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A Hunter’s Guide to Squirrel Behavior and Habitat

Hunting squirrels is a tradition that spans generations, offering both a challenging pursuit and an opportunity to connect with the natural world. Although we love hunting large game, this small game gem is one of the most challenging and exciting hunting adventures.

However, to be a successful squirrel hunter, you have to know and understand the habitat and behavior of the small game. You have to learn where to find them and how they think because they’re small, agile, and fast.

Understanding squirrel habitats.

Squirrels are adaptable creatures found in a wide range of environments, from rural woodlands to urban parks. In fact, you probably have a few living just outside of your own home.

However, their ideal habitat is among mature, dense forests all throughout North America, where food sources such as nuts, seeds, and fruits are abundant. These environments provide squirrels with the necessary resources for building nests called dreys and storing food caches to survive the winter months.

It’s not to say you can’t find squirrels in other places; it’s just that this is the ideal habitat for these small creatures.

Different species of squirrels are more prominent in varying regions throughout North America. 

SpeciesProminent Regions in North America
Eastern Gray SquirrelEastern United States, parts of Canada, introduced areas in the western U.S.
American Red SquirrelNortheastern and north-central United States, Alaska, Canada
Fox SquirrelEastern and central United States, parts of Canada and Mexico
Western Gray SquirrelWestern United States, particularly in California and the Pacific Northwest
Douglas SquirrelPacific Northwest, coastal and mountainous areas of California, Oregon, Washington
Northern Flying SquirrelAlaska, Canada, northern United States, parts of California, Appalachian region
Southern Flying SquirrelEastern United States from Maine to Florida, west to Missouri and Texas

Deciduous and coniferous forests are prime squirrel territories.

Deciduous forests, with their rich variety of nut-producing trees like oaks and hickories, are particularly favored by squirrels.

These environments offer a plentiful supply of food, especially in the fall when nuts are abundant, and the small game is storing up their winter supply.

Coniferous forests, too, can be good habitats for squirrels, especially those species that can make use of pine cones as a food source.

Squirrels adapt well to urban and suburban settings.

In urban and suburban settings, squirrels adapt remarkably well, exploiting bird feeders, gardens, and trash for food. We often find ourselves defending our homesteads from these creatures.

While these environments can support large populations of squirrels, hunters must navigate legal and ethical considerations, ensuring that their pursuit respects local wildlife regulations and community standards. We’re not advocating hunting in your gated community; we’re just highlighting that these animals can be found just about everywhere.

However, if you have a problem with squirrels in your residential area, trapping and releasing them is an option you might want to try.

Understanding squirrel behavior.

Now that you have a good idea of where to find squirrels, you also have to know how they act so you can always stay at least one step ahead of them. 

As we mentioned, they’re a difficult hunt if you don’t know what you’re doing or what to look for.

Squirrels are primarily diurnal, meaning they are active during the day, particularly in the early morning and late afternoon. This behavior pattern is crucial for hunters to understand, as these are the prime times to spot squirrels foraging for food.

Seasonal changes affect behavior.

The changing seasons significantly impact squirrel behavior, especially their foraging habits.

In the fall, squirrels are busy gathering and storing food for the winter, making them more visible as they move about more frequently. You’ll often see them scavenging at the base of trees, gathering fallen nuts to haul back to their drey.

During winter, they may venture out during warmer parts of the day but tend to stay close to their nests. They don’t have tons of body fat, though their furs do a fairly decent job at keeping them warm in the colder months.

Understanding the social structure.

Squirrels are generally solitary creatures, though you may occasionally see them in groups during the breeding season or when food is abundant.

While squirrels tend to breed throughout the year, the peak is typically around October to January. It may be a little earlier in the year, the colder you are.

This solitary nature means that, when hunting, you’re likely targeting individual animals rather than groups, requiring patience and precision. On top of that, once you take a shot at one squirrel, the other ones will most likely scatter, giving you only one chance to bag a squirrel.

Tips for Successful Squirrel Hunting

When it comes to squirrel hunting, a mix of strategy, patience, and the right gear can make all the difference.

Here are some tips to help you up your game—

  • Use a quiet approach. Squirrels are susceptible to noise. Approach your hunting area quietly to avoid spooking them. This method is effective because it allows you to get closer to squirrels without them detecting you, increasing your chances of a successful hunt.
  • Master the art of sitting still. Patience is key. Find a comfortable spot near an area with high squirrel activity and sit still. Squirrels will eventually resume their normal activities if they think the danger has passed, giving you a clear shot.
  • Understand squirrel behavior. Squirrels are most active in the early morning and late afternoon. They often forage for food during these times. Planning your hunt around their active periods maximizes your opportunities to spot squirrels.
  • Use the right equipment. A .22 caliber rifle or a shotgun with a small shot is ideal for squirrel hunting. These weapons are effective for taking down squirrels without causing excessive damage to the meat. After all, most squirrels yield around 6-8 ounces of meat.
  • Practice shooting accuracy. Squirrels are small targets, often on the move. Improving your shooting accuracy through practice ensures that you’re more likely to hit your target when you do have a shot. This is crucial for ethical hunting, providing a quick and humane kill.

By focusing on the best times to hunt, mastering the art of stealth and patience, and equipping yourself with the right tools, you’ll increase your chances of a successful squirrel hunting outing.

Ready to hunt squirrel?

Understanding the behavior and habitat of squirrels is fundamental for hunters seeking to engage with these nimble creatures ethically and effectively. 

By respecting their natural patterns and habitats, hunters can enjoy a challenging and rewarding experience in the great outdoors, contributing to the hunting tradition while fostering a deeper connection with nature.

What do you think about this?

About the Author

Matt Johnson Avatar

Matt Johnson

Master Outdoorsman

Matt is a seasoned outdoorsman with expertise in fishing, hunting, and wildlife. With a Master's degree in Wildlife Science, he combines his passion for nature with conservation efforts, sharing his knowledge through his writing for Fish and Game Report.

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