Squirrels can offer a great day's sport using a variety of shooting techniques.
There is no denying that our fluffy-tailed friends have tried the patience of many a farm owner, forester and ordinary householder and it is true that they need to be controlled. But rather than vilifying them, I actually look forward to my days out squirrel shooting, as it presents a good challenge mixing and matching the guns to the style of squirrelling required.
A moderated rimfire
Shotguns have their uses but, as with corvid shooting, I favour a rifle for precise squirrel ambushing. I sometimes use my .410 Yildiz shotgun, but a moderated rimfire or air rifle with the correct ammunition is almost always the best tool for the job. We all know how tough these little critters can be and a single projectile carefully placed in the vital organs is often the most humane option.
By now, I can hear some readers saying shooting rifles at squirrels means firing into the air and that’s a no-no for safety reasons. I only shoot squirrels in trees or atop farm buildings if there is a safe backdrop. Furthermore, such locations are where reduced-velocity rimfires and air rifles (whether 12ft/lb or FAC-rated at 25ft/lb) come into their own.
Different types of squirrel shooting require a variety of tactics, equipment and techniques. I either shoot squirrels out of dreys, set ambushes on the woodland floor where the squirrels forage, or set up near farm buildings, where squirrels use roofs as runways.
Ammunition for woodland
With regard to rifle types (i.e. bolt-action, straight-pull, pump-action or semi-automatic) there is little difference, especially at the ranges you shoot squirrels. Nevertheless, I prefer bolt-actions, as you can use reduced loads that may not work in repeating rifles. If you are shooting squirrels in the trees, safety and stopping power need to be considered when choosing ammunition.
In such situations, I load my bolt-action Sako Finnfire .22 rimfire rifle with reduced-velocity rounds, as the ranges are less than 20 yards. I also use an air rifle, but the Sako is faster to load when I put CB long ammunition in the magazine, which cycles well through the magazine.
I use CCI CB long ammunition in the rifle rather than long rifle rounds, as it has a shorter range. From my 14.5in barrel it has a velocity of 705fps and delivers 32ft/lb energy with a 29-grain bullet. That’s a good 20ft/lb more than a 12ft/lb air rifle. It is more effective and because the bullet is travelling slower than a standard .22 rimfire round it is safer to use. I also use Eley Zimmer rounds. These shoot a heavier 30-grain bullet at 797fps producing 42.3ft/lb, so they hit harder, but I only use them when the squirrels are foraging on the woodland floor.
If you fancy making your squirrel forays slightly more challenging, an unusual calibre rifle can offer great sport. If a shot into the woodland is impossible due to too much leaf cover, you can safely extend your range for shooting squirrels in rides with the laser-flat trajectory of a .17 Mach 2 round. I have a Venom Arms stainless steel barrel that simply slides into my Sako Finnfire custom in place of my usual .22 LR barrel. This gives you a squirrel rifle capable of ranges of 100 yards. If you use a high-velocity frangible bullet, it is both safe and humane.
I also find my .14 Walker Hornet rifle reloaded with a .22 Hornet cartridge case shortened and necked down to take a 0.144 calibre bullet is both safe and effective. The 15-grain bullet travels at more than 4,000fps and is safe to use, as it expands so rapidly that you rarely get exits on squirrels. Since it is such a light bullet, it loses energy quickly beyond 100 yards, thus becoming safer in that regard, too.
Shooting near buildings
I have a lot of luck with squirrels around farm buildings. There are obvious safety issues here, however, so I usually only shoot between daybreak and 8am. The other thing to avoid is damaging machinery, windows or roof materials.
In these situations I still use a rimfire rifle, but switch from long rifle or long ammunition types to CB and BB caps and short rounds which are all low-velocity short-range rimfire ammunition. They have to be loaded one at a time in a bolt-action rifle so you only have one chance for a head shot but they will not go through a squirrel, meaning that you can safely use them about the farm.
The BB caps have a 15.5-grain bullet that travels at 887fps and produces 27.1ft/lb energy. The CB caps have a 16.1-grain semi-coned bullet with a velocity of 959fps and 32.9ft/lb energy. These are more than powerful enough for squirrels but accuracy past 20 yards is often poor. I shoot on one farm where the squirrels emerge from the treetops shortly after daybreak and use the farm buildings close by as aerial runways on their way to the next feed. You can hear them scampering over the corrugated roof. Here, I load the CB caps, or CB longs if they venture on to straw bales. Bales make a great backdrop and it is a good idea to have a magazine loaded with CB longs for a quick switch. As they run, I chatter at them to make them stop and if it is a safe shot, it’s lights out. Air rifles are also ideal for shooting near buildings and standard-power air rifles are adequate. I never feel undergunned with an air rifle, rather, I see it as offering good sport, demanding greater accuracy on the shooter’s part. Any of the four calibres are suitable, .177, .20, .22 or .25. Smaller calibres may offer a flatter trajectory, but at these short ranges this is not a great advantage and they can go through a squirrel and could break a window, unless you are careful.
Grey squirrels take animal feed, damage trees and birds nests and they have reduced our native red squirrel to a few small populations. Therefore, squirrel shooting does a valuable service for conservation and provides some of my best days out.
I like to set out specifically to shoot squirrels rather than on general pest control outings and a bag of three or four is very rewarding. They are tricky, tenacious little critters that demand a well-aimed shot from a rifle.
As far as squirrel shooting is concerned, I am hooked and I would encourage you to take it up, too.