By Mark Hampton
Like most everything else in life, the escalating expenses involved with pursuing big game continue to burn a hole in our wallets. Non-resident hunting licenses and tags, hunting leases, guide and outfitter costs, travel expenses, even our guns, ammunition and equipment continue to eat away at discretionary cash. Luckily we have options, and some of those options are downright fun.
Small game hunting provides a handgun hunter a variety of opportunities at a fraction of the cost of tackling a big game hunt. And in many states, the seasons are liberal. Here in Missouri, we can enjoy squirrel hunting from late May until mid-February. That’s a lot of quality time you can spend in the woods with your favorite rimfire. Plus, our daily limit is ten squirrels per day. The table fare is a bonus! It’s too bad small game hunting is often overlooked.
Without trying to sound too philosophical, I’ll tell you if more young kids were exposed to small game hunting instead of the proliferation of buzz-box, bonehead video game stuff, the world would be a better place!
Look Ma, no guide, no expensive gun, no travel visa,
no malaria pills and no jetlag — just fun close to home!
The target area of a squirrel’s head is relatively small, so an accurate handgun will help fill your limit. I’ve had a lot of fun lately with a Ruger Mark III and can recommend one without hesitation. This fine semi-auto has undergone a special Volquartsen treatment with the addition of their Pistol Competition Kit, which includes accurizing and bolt tune-up, among other goodies. This valuable kit produces a crisp, clean trigger, making it an absolute joy to shoot.
A good trigger helps most of us in the accuracy department too. The fine folks at Volquartsen also installed an extended bolt release, Picatinny scope mount and a beautiful set of target grips. Those eye-pleasing, comfortable grips incorporate finger grooves and a thumb rest. The enhancements have made this handgun a top-notch small-game getter.
The Mark III Target is mounted with an Ultra Dot optic. The Matchdot II is becoming one of my favorite red-dot systems for woods hunting. With aging eyes, those early morning hunts, especially when it’s a bit overcast, can be a challenge. Trying to hit a squirrel’s head at the top of a tall white oak with open sights was almost impossible. I simply couldn’t see the sights well enough. Thanks to the Matchdot II with four dot sizes — 2, 4, 6 and 8 MOA plus two reticle patterns — those challenging shots have become common. The dot brightness adjustment has eleven settings. You can adjust the intensity according to conditions, and this is surely a helpful feature. I especially like the smaller 2 MOA setting for most circumstances.
There are two basic strategies for hunting squirrels. Find a nut-producing tree and wait, and keep in mind at certain times of the year squirrels will concentrate on acorns. When you find the honey hole, just sit there and wait for the action. I prefer the early hours of the morning or the last couple of hours before dark, especially during the warmer months.
Sneaking quietly through the woods watching for any movement in the trees is often productive. When the wind is gusting it’s time to mow the yard because you can’t see movement in the trees. Shooting opportunities are varied, from the very top of the tree to ground level. I like to sit with my back against a tree for support and I can rest my forearms on my knees. If standing, getting a rest from the side of a tree will help steady your aim.
Mark’s Ruger Mark III has had the Volquartsen treatment with the addition of their
Pistol Competition Kit. It’s a real tack-driver with a wide cross-section of
ammo, and the custom grips are a perfect fit.
Mr. Nice Guy
Finding access to hunt small game is probably easier than securing private property where monster whitetails hide. The same landowner who won’t allow big game hunting may very well permit small game hunting. It’s always a good idea to share your harvest with the landowner, even though in most cases they will likely decline. It’s the thought that counts, though. Oh, and during the summer months, ticks and chiggers are a concern. Treating your clothes with a permethrin-type spray can alleviate those itchy-itchies that drive you crazy!
The last time I walked out of the woods with a few squirrels in-hand, I realized I didn’t need a plane ticket or expensive charter to get to the area. I didn’t need malaria pills, a visa, special gun permits, expensive tags or a satellite phone.
I didn’t need a guide or an outfitter either — and I didn’t need to recover from jet lag! All I needed was a .22 and a sharp knife — followed by a platter of biscuits and gravy!
For more info: www.americanhandgunner.com/index and click on the company name