Early Squirrel Hunting Season
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By Don Gasaway

If you can cope with the heat and mosquitos moving quietly, but swiftly, through the lush green of the brush and trees squirrel hunting is for you.  Giving a cursory glance into the overhead canopy it's possible to find some squirrels for dinner.

Look for the yellow leaves.  This time of the year there is only one species of tree that has mature nuts, Hickory!

In late summer the first species of trees to change color is the hickory.  This change in color also means that it is dropping the hickory nuts that are a favorite with treetop rodents.  The bright yellow stands out in the southern forests among the other hardwoods that remain their summer green.

Within an hour drive for Williamson County there is an estimated half million acres open to free public hunting of squirrels.

Squirrel season in southern Illinois begins August 1st.  A hot sticky task, it is the first chance hunters have to take to the woods and sharpen skills.  It is a time to sit tight and let the quarry give away his position.  Vocalizations are an important factor.

Because squirrels are difficult to spot in the treetop canopy, one cannot rely on sight alone to find a target.  A vocal squirrel is an aggravated one.  He will sound off and display a flickering tail as a threat to potential enemies or rivals.  The noise and tail movement give away his position.

Early season squirrels have a feast of food from which to choose.  The greedy little creatures are busy storing up food for the winter.  Hunters seek travel lanes from the nest to nearby food supplies.  Claw marks on the bark of trees are a sign of activity.

Another good location to find squirrels is near standing corn.  Squirrels love ripening corn and will raid fields if given the opportunity.

If the squirrels do not want to vocalize try a call.  Calling squirrels, unlike other game calling, is not to get the animal to come to the hunter.  Squirrel calling to aggravate the animal and get him to expose his position.

The two basic types of squirrel calls on the market consist of a reed call with a small rubber bellows attached and a squirrel whistle.

The hunter strikes the reed call on the bellows end making a clucking sound.  The idea is to imitate the sound of another squirrel trespassing on the territory of the quarry.  The resident’s response then gives away his position.

The whistle is to imitate the distress call of a youngster.  It is a small metal whistle.  As the hunter sucks air through it, he rattles branches or swats branch on the ground.  This imitates the sound of a hawk catching a squirrel.   The idea is to sound like a hawk striking and the squirrel crying out in fear.

The exact routine consists of five whistles with the first being longer than the following four.  The first whistle is about three quarters of a second and the rest about a half second each in length.  The hunter strikes the branch on the ground during the first three whistles and continues with the last two.  A green, leafy limb is best.

Calling works best in the morning after the squirrels have fed.  The little rascals become very excited and run around giving away their location.

Even if a squirrel is spotted, chances are that he will move quickly and the hunter will have to change positions.  Squirrels are notorious for moving around a tree keeping the trunk or limb between himself and the hunter.  A hunter in full camo can move around and get a good location for a shot.  It is best to move slowly.  When the squirrel is barking away, he does seem to lose any fear.

Early season squirrel hunting is a great getaway and a good way to tune up for the other upcoming hunting seasons.