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Squirrel hunting: Rifle or shotgun, which is the best?

October 2, 2010
By Kenneth Cobb

No one can deny that squirrels are cute, frisky and interesting little critters to watch. In a park or the residential areas of any city, they should always be considered public pets. In the forests or woods, however, they are game animals.

I have been hunting squirrels since 1955. In West Virginia, shotguns, rifles, handguns, even bows and arrows are legal weapons for hunting squirrels.

The type of gun best for squirrel hunting has been debated for many years, long before I came into this world; and it will probably be continued to be debated for years after I leave this place on earth.

Some of the gun and hunting writers are quick to say, "There is no sport at all in shooting a squirrel with a shotgun." I am not in complete agreement with this statement. For example, when I was living with my parents in the Tyler Mountain area of Kanawha County in the mid1960s, Dad would tell me, "If you go hunting on the hill behind the house, only use a shotgun." I would be in agreement with this because there were several houses within a half mile of this high ridge where there were some squirrels. In this situation, there is nothing unsporting about shooting a squirrel with a scatter gun.

My grandfather enjoyed hunting squirrels up until he was 75 years old. In the last 30 years of his life, his eyes required strong correction. Papa would only use a shotgun. There is really nothing unsporting about hunting squirrels in this kind of situation.

In the early part of the season, when the leaves are still heavy, I will most likely use my grandfather's shotgun to squirrel hunt. I do not consider this one bit unsporting. I have to openly admit that my eyes are not nearly as good as they were 20 years ago or even five years ago. This does not mean that I will be only using a shotgun for hunting squirrels this year.

Right now, I have an inexpensive .22 rimfire bolt-action repeating rifle that I have owned since 1957. At the present time, I have bagged more squirrels with this rifle than any other gun or any combination of firearms. In 2008, I took 16 bushy tails with this rifle. Last year, I only got two squirrels, and one was with this rifle. While my eyesight has gone downhill to some extent, I am still looking forward to the challenge of bagging a few squirrels with a .22 rimfire.

From my own conversation with sportsmen who enjoy hunting squirrels with a rifle, most of them try to get a head shot. Over the years, I have most often aimed for the shoulder when I have a broadside shot.

When I am using my favorite squirrel rifle, the ammunition I will most likely be using will be high-speed Long Rifle hollow-point bullets. I have tested this rifle on a shooting range several times, and the ammo that appears to group the best at 50 yards is the 37-grain mini-mag hollow-point by Cascade Cartridge Incorporated (CCI). I have another .22 rifle that is very accurate, but it groups best with Super X hollow-point ammunition made by Winchester.

I have said in past columns that all people need to get out to a public range and get some practice before the squirrel season opens. We are all a year older, and practice is just as important for a senior hunter as it is for a youth hunter.

Speaking of youth hunters, the youth small game season will be today. I hope the weather is favorable for all of the young hunters who are looking forward to this day. There is nothing more disappointing to a youngster than to wake up early in the morning to the rain pouring down and have his dad or whoever was going to take him hunting saying they are not going out in this. I have had this experience, and it was disheartening.

The regular squirrel season opens Oct. 9. This will be the day of the Mountain State Forest Festival Grand Feature Parade. My daughters are no longer in the band, so if the weather is good, I just might try to be in the woods all day.

As for the answer to the question of rifle versus shotgun, which is best, I don't think there is a real answer. Any true squirrel hunter could not be in disagreement with either one. I have had several people to tell me when I was growing up, "A .22 goes too far creating a dangerous situation." I cannot disagree with this. At the same time in areas with low population densities like we have in Randolph County, a .22 rimfire should be considered quite safe. A few years ago, I knew an elderly gunsmith in Elkins who would go squirrel hunting with a .32 caliber muzzle loading rifle with open sights. Now, this would be very sporting.



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