Squirrel Hunting photo

A guest post from Executive Editor Mike Toth.

Most of us well know the inverse relationship between hunters collaborating on a squirrel and the squirrel itself. That is, the more the hunters collaborate, the less squirrel there is when the shooting is over. This rule was made abundantly clear earlier this week when Senior Editor Colin Kearns and I went after bushytails on a Wildlife Management Area in central New Jersey.


Jersey is a shotgun-only state (with exceptions for muzzleloader), and my favorite squirrel load is …

… 1 ounce of No. 6 shot out of a Modified choke on a 12 gauge. This gives me an effective but not too dense pattern, decent penetration without overdoing it, and, when I need it, enough range.

The problem is when you don’t have enough range. That’s what happened on our hunt.

Colin puts the same amount of effort into still-hunting squirrels as he would looking for a six-by-six bull in the Grand Tetons, so any squirrel that pops up in his path is likely burying its final acorn. Not ten minutes into our hunt (we had decided to walk the woods together), Colin surprised one at the base of a tree and shot immediately, but the squirrel moved as he pulled the trigger and the pattern hit its hind end. I came around the far side and saw the bushytail hiding on the other side of the tree, where Colin couldn’t see it. I started backing up to give my load a chance to spread out. But the squirrel–surprisingly mobile–started to move toward a dense tangle, so I shot just above it, hoping to edge it with the pattern. Miss. Another high shot. Another miss. The squirrel was still moving toward the brush, and I hated to think that we’d leave a wounded creature in the woods, so I put the bead on its head. I did not miss.

Boy, did I not miss.

There was enough meat to salvage, but most squirrel recipes don’t include decimals in the ingredients, if you get my drift. Fortunately Colin got another one later in the day (shown here), which gave him enough meat to make a small pot pie.

We all love cleanly killed animals that look great for the camera, but the reality is that once in a while, you are going to mangle game, no matter how hard you try not to. On this hunt, I deliberately shot at close range so I wouldn’t risk losing the squirrel. But I do admit to occasionally having taken close shots purely out of choice–and greed. After a long day in the field with nothing to show for it, it’s difficult to hold your fire on an animal that appears right in front of your gun, because waiting for it to move farther away may result in your not getting a shot off at all.

My resolution from here on is to wait for all close-flushing (and non-wounded) game to move farther from my muzzle before I shoot. If I get a shot at a range that won’t tear up the meat, terrific. If not, I will learn to accept the game as lost, and move on. The animals we hunt, even when they’re dead, deserve that respect. –Mike Toth