In Missouri, hunters may pursue two species of tree squirrels — fox squirrels, called “red squirrels” by many, and eastern gray squirrels. Fox squirrels are the larger of the two species. They tend to be found near the edges of timber stands, in isolated woodlots and open woods without much understory, along timbered ridges and uplands, and even in hedgerows. Grays are more likely to occur in extensive tracts of forest and bottomlands, but it’s not unusual to find both species using the same area.
Few game species are as widespread and underused across Missouri as squirrels. Several decades ago, squirrel hunting was very popular, but today it’s common to have the woods to yourself. Squirrel hunting is a great introduction to hunting for young hunters. No specialized gear is needed, opportunities are frequent, and stealth and silence are not as critical as for deer or turkey hunting. Hunting squirrels is a great sport for seasoned hunters too. It hones observation skills and marksmanship, and it offers a chance to scout for other game such as deer or turkey. And, of course, a successful hunt results in some wonderful table fare.
Gray squirrels are early risers and become active at sunrise, while fox squirrels tend to come out later in the morning and are active during mid-day. The activity of both species slows consider-ably in the mid-day hours on hot, humid summer days.
Hunters new to squirrel hunting should remember to move slowly through the woods, scanning the treetops for movement, and listening for the sounds of bushytails jumping from limb to limb or cutting and dropping nut hulls. Upon finding a lot of fresh cuttings on the ground, find a comfortable spot nearby and sit down awhile — you’ll usually have a shot or two shortly.
Knowing what foods squirrels eat throughout the year may help you find them while hunting. Here are some commonly eaten foods that squirrels choose.
Below are suggested areas that offer squirrel hunting opportunities:
Lands are rarely managed specifically for squirrels, but some common management practices can be of benefit. Timber stand improvement (TSI) involves the removal of inferior or surplus trees to thin a stand and allow the remaining trees to experience better health and growth. An added bonus of TSI is that mast (acorns, nuts, or other fruiting bodies) production often increases, too, providing abundant food resources. Squirrels often nest in cavities and hollow trees, so some of these should be retained on your property. Squirrels will readily use nest boxes as well.
A plague of squirrels? There is an 1839 account of a massive squirrel invasion of Missouri farms near the Missouri River. Historic accounts report that hundreds of thousands of squirrels raided crop fields — many or most even swam across the Missouri River from the north! Likewise, in Wisconsin in 1842, we find accounts of a squirrel migration that lasted for 4 weeks and may have involved a half-billion gray squirrels!