Monday, January 30th, 2023
Monday, January 30th, 2023

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What a Squirrel Wants

In my last post, we discussed ways to get ready for squirrel
season, which included inspecting hickory trees to get a clue about
the where and when of the squirrels’ yearly feeding frenzy. I’ve
been doing my homework in this regard, and I’m sad to say that it
doesn’t look encouraging. Some of the hickory trees which produced
so well the last two seasons are completely barren this year, and
the others aren’t exactly drooping to the ground under the strain
of a bumper crop.

Bad years for hickory trees make it tougher on squirrel hunters,
creating a much shorter window of good feeding activity and leaving
squirrels less distracted. But I’m not in panic mode just yet. Even
in bad years you’ll find a tree or two with a big crop, and if
you’re under one of them when the squirrels decide to swarm, you’re
in for an exciting morning. I’ve found one such tree to keep an eye
on already, as well as a grove of walnut trees hanging heavy with
prime squirrel food. The acorn crop looks to be down this year in
my neighborhood as well, but I’m holding out hope that some
varieties of oaks will be fruitful enough to provide
decent hunting.

Hopefully you’re finding better prospects in your woods, but
some years simply produce poor nut and acorn crops. A squirrel has
to eat, though, and when the mast crop is lean or the nuts are late
in getting ripe, they turn to other sources to fill in the
gaps.

Berries:

A number of years back during a season when nuts weren’t
plentiful, I recall coming upon a young hackberry tree which had a
number of very busy squirrels bouncing around in its branches.
Characterized by rough bark and teardrop-shaped leaves, the
hackberry tree produces round berries which turn purplish-brown
when ripe and offer a strong temptation to hungry squirrels.
Mulberry trees are also frequented by squirrels (as well as monkeys
and weasels, if you believe the nursery school sing-alongs).
The mulberry, which looks much like a small blackberry, is more
popular with birds than squirrels, but it is a food source that
bushytails will use.

Grain:

Raccoons and deer aren’t the only corn thieves that farmers have
to worry about. Walk the edge of a woodlot that sits adjacent to a
corn field and you’re likely to find corn cobs aplenty lying at the
bases of large trees. Prior to the harvest, squirrels will climb
corn stalks to get to the ears, and they continue to forage around
for the ears that were missed after the fields have been cut.

While generally planted as a means of attracting doves,
sunflower fields can generate some squirrel activity as well.
Several years ago my wife planted a handful of sunflowers in our
yard but soon found that trying to raise them in our
squirrel-infested neighborhood was an exercise in futility. The
first of the flowers had just begun to look nice when a local
squirrel rode the stem to the ground and demolished the head to
get the seeds. I’ll bet he was the same rascal who stole our little
bird feeder – also full of sunflower seeds – and carried it 40 feet
up one of our maple trees.

Weird Stuff:

These squirrel fodder oddities won’t impact your hunting
strategy, but since we’re on the topic, I think they’re worth
mentioning to emphasize the variety in a squirrel’s diet… 

Pinecones: It may not be odd for a squirrel to eat seeds from
pine cones in the coniferous forests of the West, but in Illinois
it isn’t something you see often. Still, I’ve seen it a time or
two.

Sweet gum balls: Last year, to my delight, the squirrels in
my neighborhood flocked to my sweet gum trees and cut hundreds of
gumballs into tiny bits so that they could get to the seeds within.
It was the only time I’ve ever seen them do this, but as the guy
who has to rake and mow grass beneath those trees, I wasn’t about
to complain.

Hedge apples: I’ve seen this just one time, and the squirrel
that did it was an absolute mess when he finished. Seems nasty to
me, be he liked it.

If your squirrel hunting spot is like mine, then sitting beneath
your favorite hickory tree all morning won’t be the most productive
tactic this season. In lean years, finding squirrels can be more
complicated than that, and you may need to cover some ground to
locate productive food sources. Be flexible, too, as squirrels can
pick those spots clean in a big hurry. Once they’ve moved on,
you’ll need to go back on the hunt.

Be safe, protect yourself from bugs, and have a great squirrel
season.

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