Learn to talk the language of tree rats, and you’ll fill your limits every time out.
Your squirrel call doesn’t work,” I told Shannon Talkington, the inventor of the Mr. Squirrel whistle call.
Talkington had sent me the quarter-sized, bottle-cap-looking squirrel call the year before and asked me to try it. I’d taken it on three different squirrel hunts, blown it several times and never had a squirrel answer it.
So the following year when Talkington called to ask what I thought of his squirrel call, I told him, “It doesn’t work.”
Squirrel calls should cause bushytails to bark and give away their locations. Then the hunter can slip in close and take a shot. However, when I blew the Mr. Squirrel, I heard nothing but dead silence in the woods.
Talkington sounded disappointed and confused.
“Mr. Phillips, if I come and hunt with you and prove to you that my squirrel call makes squirrels bark, will you believe in it then?”
“Absolutely,” I said, and we set a date to hunt together.
Talkington, my son, John, and I traveled to a swamp where I’d previously tested the Mr. Squirrel. We walked about 100 yards into the woods, and Talkington broke a leafy limb from a tree.
“What are you going to do with that limb?” I asked him.
Surprised, he looked at me and said, “Did you read the instructions on the back of the Mr. Squirrel package?”
“No,” I replied. “Nobody ever reads the instructions on anything.”
Talkington laughed and grinned.
“If you don’t use a leafy limb to whip the ground, the squirrel call won’t work,” he said. “Beating the ground with the limb mimics the wings of a hawk trying to maintain its balance while killing a young squirrel that it’s caught and taken to the ground.”
As I watched, Talkington began to beat the ground with the limb and blow on his squirrel call to sound like a young squirrel in distress. Three different squirrels barked. I went after one, John went after another, and Talkington waited.
Although John and I each bagged bushytails with our .22s, I still needed convincing. After we picked up the squirrels, we walked about 150 yards deeper into the woods, and Talkington blew his squirrel call and whipped the ground with his limb again.
This time one squirrel answered with a coarser and deeper-sounding bark than the squirrels we’d heard earlier.
“That’s a fox squirrel,” Talkington whispered.
John went on a mission to take the fox squirrel, and we heard him shoot. Then he returned and showed us the big red squirrel. We’d planned to hunt all day. But we all three limited out on squirrels by 11 a.m.
Remember, if you purchase a Mr. Squirrel (produced by Haydel’s Game Calls) or any other type of squirrel call, read the instructions on the packaging before you hunt with it.
Squirrels also will give away their positions when you use a squirrel barker, a small bellows-type call that you either pat with your hand, bump on the side of your leg or gunstock or shake to make the sounds of a barking squirrel.
Most squirrel hunters who use barkers slip into an area where they expect to find squirrels, begin to bark and wait for the squirrels to bark back to them before they stalk the bushytails.
However, a few years ago while hunting with my friend Ray McIntyre, we tried a new technique to call squirrels. Since I had two Lohman’s Bark Squirrel Calls, I gave one to McIntyre and told him, “Let’s get about 75 yards apart and move through the woods quietly in the same direction. You bark, and then I’ll answer you with a bark. Hopefully we’ll sound like two squirrels barking, cover more ground and locate more squirrels.”
As we moved through the woods, we’d occasionally stop. McIntyre would bark, and then I’d bark back to him. After double barking like this, each of us usually heard a squirrel. The closest hunter would sneak in for a shot. Then we’d get back together, move about 50 yards and double-bark once more.
Using this technique, we located and took a limit of squirrels each in a short time. If you have a squirrel-hunting buddy, you’ll often find double-barking twice as effective as using one barker.
When To Bark
Although squirrel calling works at any time of the day, I’ve found barking the most productive early in the morning and late in the afternoon.
However, a squirrel distress call yields the best dividends for me between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. I’ve actually seen squirrels come running out of holes and nests when I’ve blown a squirrel-in-distress-call. When squirrels hear that call, they usually leave their hiding places to see what’s happening and bark, giving the hunter the opportunity to move in close and take a shot.
Using squirrel calls means hunters can hunt successfully throughout the day, not just during the bushytails’ most-active times.
“The chatter is a form of rapid-fire barking,” said Harold Knight, one of the founders of Knight & Hale Game Calls. “Squirrels chatter most often when they see a hawk, an owl, a bobcat or a fox to let the other squirrels in the area know that there’s a predator nearby.
“When I’m calling squirrels, I usually start off by barking to the squirrels. If I don’t get a response, then I’ll give them the chatter call by holding the plastic tube part of the barker and shaking it back and forth to create a chuckle.
“The real secret to using squirrel calls effectively is to find a hot food source like hickory nuts, black gum trees or acorn trees that the squirrels are feeding on, go to that food source and use your call.”
The Cutter Call
A cutter call sounds like squirrels cutting nuts. At one time, Lohman’s made a cutter call that consisted of a plastic screw with a small plastic paddle. By pulling the paddle down the threads of the screw, the sound resembled short- and high-pitched pops and snaps like a squirrel’s cutting an acorn.
I’ve found cutter calls the most useful after I take the shot. If I locate two or three squirrels in a section of woods and either take or miss a squirrel, the other squirrels quickly go into hiding.
After picking up my squirrel or moving to the place where I’ve missed the squirrel, I’ll sit down, let the woods calm down for about 10 minutes and use the cutter call to simulate a squirrel that’s come out of hiding and started to feed. Then the other squirrels in the region will leave their hiding places and offer me another shot.
Sometimes, I’ll locate the squirrels by barking and then use the cutter call to make feeding noises. On several occasions, I’ve had squirrels come to me on the ground and/or through the treetops by combining these two calls.
You Can Do It
To learn to call squirrels, buy a combination squirrel call with a video, like the Knight & Hale Squirrel Magic Calling Kit or a call with a cassette tape like the one H.S. Strut offers.
Even better, buy both because with a video you can see and hear how to use a squirrel call, and with a cassette you can listen to squirrel calls and learn how to call while you’re driving.
Here’s a step-by-step list of what to do if you want to learn to call squirrels:
• Go squirrel hunting like you normally do. Look for feeding areas where you either see bushytails or find plenty of nuts cut on the ground. Move quietly and slowly, kneel down, and begin to call. Listen for the squirrels to answer back.
• Stalk quietly and take the shot once you’ve pinpointed a squirrel’s location.
• Sit down and start using the cutter call, or move to a new location and begin to call again if you miss the squirrel.
• Pick up your squirrel, if you take one, move 75 to 100 yards into the woods, and start calling.
• Change locations, and call once more, if you don’t get a response to your call within two or three minutes.
• Switch locations again if you still fail to get a response within a minute.
My family considers squirrel hunting as much of a family tradition as getting together for Christmas.
I grew up squirrel hunting with my father and brother Archie. Then when John became old enough to squirrel hunt, taking him into the woods to hunt bushytails was natural. I’d much rather see my son stalk and take a squirrel than bag a bushytail myself.
I’d bark or use a squirrel-in-distress call. When we’d hear a squirrel bark back, I’d send John to locate and take the tree rat.
If the squirrel stopped barking while John stalked, I’d call again to cause the squirrel to bark and to enable John to relocate the squirrel. Usually after John had bagged three or four squirrels, he’d say, “Dad, let me call, and you go shoot.”
Squirrel calling became as much fun for us as squirrel hunting. But more importantly, John learned that the true essence of hunting meant sharing a squirrel hunt with a family member, not just taking game.
If you’ve never used squirrel calls to locate bushytails, you’re like a duck hunter who’s never used a duck call to bring in the high-flying webfoots. Sure, you can take ducks without using a duck call, but you’ll take more when you learn to blow a call.
You’ll also bag more squirrels and have far more fun once you learn how to use a squirrel call.