An Official Website of the Commonwealth of Kentucky
Welcome to the world of squirrel hunting! You are about to join the ranks of thousands of like-minded hunters - some of the best conservationists on earth. Each of them started right where you are today... as a beginner.
Kentucky has three species of tree squirrels, eastern gray (Sciurus carolinensis), northern fox (Sciurus niger), and southern flying (Glaucomys volans) squirrel . Gray and fox squirrels may be hunted in the Commonwealth and flying squirrels may not be hunted.
Distinguishing Between Species:
Squirrels usually breed twice a year; summer and winter. A litter of usually 3-4 young are born 40-45 days later. The young are reared, and then are on their own at about two months of age. Some females may produce litters during both breeding seasons and others only produce during one season. This is controlled mainly by the local food supply and age. Squirrels will most often be found feeding on nuts, twigs, buds, and fruits of the trees; although they have been observed preying upon bird nestlings and insects. They also are hoarders, meaning that squirrels will gather up food items and stash them away in what is called a cache. These caches are storage units for the squirrels to hold food for winter. Squirrels are solitary animals but can be very social where there is suitable habitat.
To hunt squirrels you need to take advantage of their diet: nuts from trees. The type of nut seems to vary from area to area or in some cases with each squirrel. The one exception is that acorns from red oak, which contains a chemical known as tannin, seem to be the last nuts eaten when squirrels have a choice. To find a good area to hunt gray squirrels, you need to be able to identify the following trees: hickory, beech, pecan, black walnut, and white oak. An area with these trees near a cornfield would be an excellent place for fox squirrels. Gray squirrels can typically be found in mixed hardwood forests with dense woody understory. Fox squirrels prefer dry upland forests or fragmented forests with more open understory. While both will use natural cavities in trees that are 16 inches in diameter or larger and leaf nests, fox squirrels will use leaf nests more than gray squirrels.
Squirrels are not dependent on a source of water. They meet their hydration needs from their food for the most part. They will drink from standing or running water if it is available, but are not required to go to water regularly as many animals are. A squirrel will use just enough of the tree in the forest to escape the predator at hand. When hunters enter the woods, the animal's sharp eyes and ears pick up the movement and noise. Therefore, a steady, quiet approach will allow for more successful shooting opportunities.
Squirrels are prey for many natural predators and the squirrel uses all areas of the tree to escape from them. For ground restricted predators such as most canines (gray fox are limited climbers), only a few feet of the trunk is sufficient escape habitat. When hawks attack and the den is not close at hand, the squirrel is much more agile in the thick branches than these larger birds. This area of a tree would not hide the squirrel from a bobcat, but the heavier cat cannot chase the squirrel into the small twigs of the branch. Finally, if escape routes of the present tree have been exhausted, a quick jump to neighboring trees offers endless shelter. Individual squirrels will normally range over approximately 10 acres for food. They may expand their home up to 40 acres during breeding.
The avid squirrel hunter takes a few hikes during the summer to locate areas where squirrel “cuttings”—shell pieces left behind where a squirrel has sat and eaten a nut(s)—are numerous. The number of cuttings will give the hunter an idea of how concentrated the squirrels are in that area. Early in the season you'll find squirrels in hickory and walnut trees. As the season progresses, they'll move on to beechnuts and acorns.
Squirrels may be hunted all day, but appear to be most active the first hours of daylight and late afternoon. Some research shows they feed during bright moonlight. The best days for squirrel hunting would therefore be expected after dark nights. While squirrels may be seen during drizzle or light rain, they may become more active just after a heavy storm. Squirrels are usually inactive during snowstorms, but soon after the storm passes, they will be searching for the nuts they have hidden. Their sensitive noses allow them to find these nuts through the snow.
Most hunters sit quietly in the woods and wait for squirrel activity. By hiding in natural cover or a blind, hunters wait for the squirrels to show themselves. Stalking should be done very slowly, moving from one tree to another, listening, and carefully scanning the area for activity. Once squirrels are located, stalking hunters might consider becoming still hunters.
You can find a full list of legal squirrel hunting equipment here:
It's important to practice with your equipment before going into the field. You can use these free, printable
Squirrel Targets when practicing.
Cody Rhoden, Small Game Biologist, talks about sighting in your rifle, shot placement and the pros and cons of using a rifle for squirrel hunting.
Cody Rhoden, Small Game Biologist, talks about patterning your shotgun, shot placement and the pros and cons of using a shotgun for squirrel hunting.
Use this equipment list to help plan and prepare for successful squirrel season in Kentucky.
While squirrel calls are available commercially, old time hunters used what they had. By striking two coins together, they imitated a feeding chatter.
There are many ways to clean and prepare squirrel. We recommend a method to clean a squirrel with no gutting that minimizes hair on the meat.
A squirrel dog is not a necessity for success, but may speed up the hunting. Squirrels will often spot a hunter and play a hide and seek game. They will sneak around the base of the tree to keep track of a hunter’s location and bark warnings to other squirrels. A squirrel dog circles the tree and the squirrel now tries to escape the dog. As the dog circles, he brings the squirrel into full view of the hunter for a clean shot.