Most youngsters who grew up in the rural Ozarks learned to hunt by searching the branches of an oak-hickory woodlot or creek bottom for squirrels. Bushytails are efficient teachers.
And when the leaves are only hinting of the upcoming fall season, squirrels have little trouble finding a place to hide.
Squirrel hunting in the early fall is a challenge, but it is made easier when squirrels begin to work the hickories. On a crisp, still morning in the Ozarks you can hear the grating of teeth on hickory nuts and the sound of small bits of hickory hulls falling to the forest floor.
As the weather cools a bit more squirrels stay out later in the morning and come out earlier in the afternoon.
When it's hot, their activity is lessened. But find a supply of hickory nuts this time of year and you'll usually find squirrels. Bits and pieces of gnawed hickory nuts beneath the tree give away their presence.
There are four methods of squirrel hunting that work all over the Ozarks.
The first one of course is "still hunting." When I was a youngster I'd take my old Iver Johnson shotgun down to the Tweed bottoms just off the Big Piney River and walk an old logging trail where gray squirrels were abundant. Occasionally I'd spot one by moving slowly along, but when I'd reach a certain spot on a rocky hillside, I'd find a comfortable boulder and sit still enough to be taken for a part of the rock.
Within 10 minutes, gray squirrels would have forgotten there was an intruder, and begin moving about. When one presented a good shot within 30 yards or so, the old shotgun would roar and the forest would be still again.
I learned if you stayed put, marking your downed quarry, that in 10 or 15 minutes things would return to normal again and squirrels would begin to scurry about. A still hunter could sometimes take three our four squirrels in less than an hour from one spot.
And there was always much more to see, as other wildlife passed through and birds flitted through the nearby branches. When things were slow, I laid back on the big flat rock and went to sleep, dreaming of hunting moose and bear in Canada someday. Still hunting had many rewards.
Then I learned that two hunters could effectively find squirrels if one hunter became the eyes and the other became the feet. Hunter number one moves slowly along, watching the branches as best he can, but traveling at a quiet snails pace.
Usually he won't see squirrels that have already heard him. When he's well down the trail, he stops and waits and hunter number two advances in the same manner moving on past his partner to take a new position. Squirrels react to a moving hunter by moving themselves, well-concealed by a tree trunk or branch.
And while they are concentrating on the moving hunter they expose themselves to the hunter who is still, and watching.
When two hunters hunt together, it is the best way to find squirrels in early fall, a perfect method for a father teaching a youngster to hunt.
A third method of squirrel hunting involves a real rarity -- a squirrel dog. Squirrel dogs are trained or developed, they are just born, small terriers and feists that have no pedigrees but learn quickly to pick up the trail of a squirrel on the ground and tree him. The best squirrel dogs have to stay close to the hunters or they are less efficient.
I've known some that were prone to leave the country on the trail of something.
Some squirrel dogs hunt by sight, actually looking for squirrels as well as scenting them. If things work as planned a squirrel dog may tree a number of squirrels in a morning or evening hunt. Unfortunately, many of those squirrels will find refuge in a hole or hollow tree.
Still, there are some who wouldn't hunt any other way and there are places in the Ozark hills where a good mongrel squirrel dog is worth more than a pedigreed show dog by a long shot.
A hunter who hunts squirrels with a shotgun has to try for good clean head shots in order to reduce the chance of damaging the meat with too many shot pellets in the body. Almost all hunters use No. 6 or No. 4 Shot.
The latter will give you cleaner kills with less shot in the body. Medium-powered shells are best. Don't use extremely light loads or you'll cripple and lose too many squirrels.
I like to hunt squirrels with a .22 rifle, but only in areas where I know there aren't any farms or livestock nearby. Where there are large blocks of timberland, or a stream flowing through national forest, it's a challenge to hunt squirrels with the small bore rifle, but always think of were that bullet may travel.
The gun made just for squirrel hunter is the combination .22/.410 or .22/20 gauge. I love the old Stevens over-and-under combo with a selector button giving the hunter a choice of rifle or shotgun barrel.
With such a firearm, sitting squirrels can be taken with a .22, and head shots insure undamaged meat for the skillet. But the shotgun barrel is always there when needed.
Whatever you hunt squirrels with, you probably will hunt with little competition because today there aren't many squirrel hunters left. But what hunter ever complained about being out there alone in the woods as fall comes on, and the squirrels are thick?