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Can You Hunt Squirrels? Tips, Facts, & FAQ

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squirrel crawling on a tree

If you’ve eavesdropped on a conversation and heard the words “small game meets big game,” just know they are talking about squirrel hunting. Because that’s exactly what it is. This species’ gigantic leaps and unpredictable movements have made it the perfect prey for not only seasoned hunters, but also those new to hunting.

If you’ve never hunted a squirrel before, this is the guide for you. It has everything you need to know, including a few tips that will increase the odds of bagging a decent-sized squirrel. It’s not illegal to kill squirrels, but there will be consequences if you maim or kill a squirrel that happens to be a town or school mascot. Even if it was unintentional, you’ll still have a case to answer.


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Is It Illegal to Kill Squirrels?

For instance, nobody in the city of Olney is supposed to trap or kill the albino squirrel because they’ve always advertised themselves as the “White Squirrel Capital of the World.” Motorists who’ve run over squirrels have ended up paying $500, and those who’ve been caught trapping them have been arrested and charged.

squirrel on a tree
Photo Credit: asundermeier, Pixabay

Are Squirrels Pests or Game Animals?

This depends on who you ask. Nearly all states in the United States see gray and red squirrels as game species. And that means you’re allowed to kill them to supplement your diets. However, before you go out there, you’ll have to apply for a license and get approval.

The other caveat is most of the states that are okay with killing squirrels as game animals have banned the use of pellet guns. They don’t care if you’re looking to kill the animal so that you can harvest its meat or skin. If they catch you using a pellet firearm instead of the shot shooting iron, you’ll be prosecuted.

On top of that, discharging any piece near city limits is considered dangerous, and hence unlawful.

In other parts of the world, things are a little bit different. Take Canada, for example. Their residents aren’t allowed to trap, hunt, or kill native squirrels, but in British Columbia, you can be given a license to “humanely” hunt the non-native gray squirrels.

In the United Kingdom, there’s nothing humane about killing a squirrel, even if it’s meant to be food. They’ll only be okay with you if you’re caught up in a situation where you must kill them as pests. And even in that instance, headshots are the only shots permitted.

Shooting it anywhere else, electrocution, poisoning, and drowning are all considered inhumane animal cruelty. As such, you’ll be fined or arrested.

Is It Illegal to Kill Squirrels Using Bows and Arrows?

If you’re a resident in the District of Columbia, we have some bad news for you. You’ll be arrested if you’re caught with a dead squirrel in that territory. They adopted a law that ensures all the wild squirrels are protected from hunters or poachers.

That being said, archery as a method of hunting game animals has always been legal in all the other states. Just make sure you learn how to use it before preying on any wild animal.

squirrel on a tree trunk
Photo Credit: NadiaTighe, Pixabay

Which Dog Breeds Hunt Squirrels the Best?

Our bets are on whippets, seeing as hunting comes as second nature to them. The breed has a relatively high IQ, which makes it easier for them to quickly learn different commands. If you train them well, they’ll be able to hunt down as many as 20 squirrels on any given day.

You need to take note of something, though. Even though hunting with dogs is permitted in most parts of the country, training them to eat their kill is considered illegal.

And since it’s not easy for all breeds to tell the difference, cities that have squirrels protected by ordinance require pet parents to muzzle their dogs before leaving the house. 

Is Poisoning Squirrels Considered Lawful?

Absolutely not. We’ve never heard of a jurisdiction that makes it okay to poison any squirrel, domesticated or otherwise. And it doesn’t just have to do with the fact that there’s no poison lawfully registered to be used. It’s because such poison will have to be applied over an extensive range. Meaning that it will most likely kill all the other species in that ecosystem.

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The 7 Squirrel-Hunting Tips

1. Look for Their Food Sources

If you find a squirrel dining, they’ll be having acorns. They love eating white oak acorns during summer and red ones during winter. The few studies that we’ve come across believe that they prefer storing the red acorns because they have more bitter-tasting tannin and low amounts of protein. Hence, less nutritious.

But that doesn’t mean that they’ll starve to death if there are no acorns around. From what we’ve observed, black walnuts and hickory nuts are a staple as well. And if those nuts aren’t available, they’ll settle for anything that resembles or tastes like a nut. Including berries, seeds, and tree buds.

Nut husks atop logs are a clear indication that you’ve walked into squirrel territory. Set up your apparatus and quickly hide before they come back.

a squirrel eating
Image Credit: Pexels, Pixabay

2. Be Silent and Stealthy

Squirrel hunting should not be treated as a Sunday stroll. This is the one mistake that we see a lot of people make. And we’re not also asking you to stay in one spot for several hours, but to practice still-hunting.

It’s the act of being silent while stealthily walking through the game’s habitat. You’ll be required to stop from time to time, just to scan the ground ahead and listen for any movement. This technique is synonymous with big game hunting, but is also effective in unfamiliar terrains.

3. Don’t Be Quick to Change Spots

If the squirrel population in your area is dense, you should sit and wait a little bit longer before moving on to the next location. They are probably hiding because they heard your footsteps, and waiting to come out once they feel like the coast is clear.

Treat squirrel hunts the same way you do deer hunts. Wait, and keep waiting, until you’re certain nothing is hiding behind those bushes or trees. Give it 30 to 45 minutes before moving on.

4. Bring The Right Tools

Besides the rifle, there’s no other equipment that’s more important than a pair of binoculars. Even if your vision is 20/20, you’ll be blind out there without any optical device. They are critical to the process, seeing as they ensure hunters get a close-up view of whatever’s moving on the distant forest floor or atop trees.

For the record, very few animals rival the squirrel when it comes to hiding. They know how to take advantage of flat branches and tree forks whenever they sense danger. You’ll never find them if you don’t know where to look.

a binocular on tree trunk
Image Credit: Pat_Photographies, Pixabay

5. Bring a Friend Along

This might sound counterintuitive since more people mean more noise and a lot of unnecessary movements, but a partner who understands the game a lot better could boost your chances of success. As opposed to one pair of eyes, two pairs will be able to cover more ground fast and in two very different directions. Also, two rifles are better than one.

Fooling the slyest squirrel in that ecosystem will be pretty easy as well. While they are circling the trees with every step you make, they’ll realize once it’s too late that all they are doing is cornering themselves by walking into a trap set up by the other hunter.

6. The Early Bird Catches the Worm

For some reason, a lot of people think that these animals wake up very early in the morning, and start running around till late in the evening. But that’s not entirely true. Yes, they do spend most of their time looking for nuts—and stashing them for the upcoming winter—but in the middle of the day, you’ll find them snoozing in their dens.

What that tells you is, that you need to wake up very early in the morning and get busy, because that’s when they are most active.

7. Pick a Day

Avoid hunting on a cold blustery day. You might get lucky, and catch a squirrel or two, but is the hassle really worth it? Squirrels don’t like going out when the wind is howling. They’ll be cooped up in their dens, waiting for that storm to pass.

a man hunting in the woods
Image Credit: mtorben, Pixabay

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Final Thoughts

It’s okay to kill squirrels for food, but it’s not okay to kill them for the sake of it. If they’ve inhabited your attic—and are beginning to feel like a nuisance—just wait for them to go out foraging, and then block their entires.

Alternatively, you could use ultrasonic repellents or odorous agents. They are very sensitive animals so we’re certain that they’ll leave after a day or two.

Featured Image Credit: Ralphs_Fotos, Pixabay

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.