Most squirrel hunters stalk quietly through forests, pausing periodically to stop, look and listen. As the season progresses, many sportsmen turn to canine help for locating illusive squirrels.
“Hunting squirrels with dogs is an old tradition in Mississippi,” stated Mark Beason, who learned to hunt with dogs from his grandfather. “It goes back a long time. I grew up hunting squirrels with dogs. Everybody in my community had a dog or knew someone who hunted squirrels with dogs. I have photos of my grandfather hunting with dogs in the 1920s.”
At times, hunting with dogs seems more like a raucous cross-country race than a stalk. Dog owners release one or two animals at a time and swap them out throughout the day to avoid excessively tiring them. Humans, on the other hand, must keep up with the boisterous energetic creatures as best as they can while running up hills, down ravines, across creeks and through swamps.
When dogs tree a squirrel, hunters rush to take up shooting positions around the tree and start intensely looking for the bushytail. Dubbed the “gray ghosts of the forest,” squirrels can hide incredibly well. They frequently flatten themselves against branches or tree trunks to put as much wood between themselves and the humans as possible. Sometimes they crouch down in nooks between branches, drop into a hole or disappear into a leafy nest. A pair of binoculars helps sportsmen detect squirrels hiding in thick cover.
“Many people think hunting squirrels with a dog should be easy, but it can be extremely challenging,” Beason explained. “Squirrels are cagy animals. They camouflage well and can be hard to spot even when treed by a dog.”
Gray squirrels tend to explode from cover, hitting the branches with afterburners wide open at the first sign of danger. Larger, more colorful fox squirrels typically prefer more open country and rather hide than run. A wily old fox squirrel might stay put in a single tree for hours without moving. In parts of Mississippi, lucky sportsmen might spot a black fox squirrel.
When hunting with dogs, sportsmen don’t need to keep quiet like in traditional squirrel hunting. Therefore, most dog aficionados enjoy socializing. The sport also creates an excellent way to introduce children or novices to hunting. Youngsters frequently grow bored sitting for long stretches and seldom keep quiet. Dog hunters generally enjoy more action, if nothing else than following a pack of baying animals through all types of terrain with little time to grow bored. On a morning dog hunt, a youngster can usually fire a lot more shots than in many other hunting situations.
“In my opinion, hunting squirrels with dogs is the best way to involve youth in the outdoors,” opined Harold Robison, Jr., a dog trainer and avid hunter. “We carry a lot of kids hunting and they thoroughly enjoy it. Kids can be kids and enjoy the woods. When we turn the dogs loose, we have constant activity. We’re walking and talking. We usually do a lot of shooting.”
Covered with forests of varied habitat types, Mississippi offers sportsmen many public and private places to let their dogs out. Many dog enthusiasts prefer to hunt later in the season as weather turns cooler, foliage dies off and squirrels spend more time foraging on the ground.