“Let’s go chase after a fox squirrel,” were the last words I remember Hunter saying to me before we wandered down the logging road that cut through the top of Brush Mountain. I was cramming my brain with communication law-court cases for an exam. He knew exactly how to escape the books.
In a sudden dart down the mountainside, Hunter vanished into the fall foliage. I scuffled through the leaves behind him the best I could in rubber boots to find him encouraging me to hurry. He handed me the .22 Magnum.
“It’s a fox squirrel,” Hunter whispered.
The squirrel was frozen high up in the oak tree.
I aimed the gun to the sky. It took me too long to steady my shooting position; I was certain the squirrel was going to move. He had been concentrating for too long.
But he remained a statue, and with a soft click of the gun, the squirrel descended through the autumn air. Its fur was auburn and delicate, and felt like silk as I brushed my hand down its tail.
The Southeastern Fox Squirrel
In Virginia and most of the southeastern region of the U.S., fox squirrels are most prevalent in the Blue Ridge mountains or in open pine forests. Marc Puckett, small game project leader for the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries, says squirrels foraging for longleaf pine cones is a common theory that describes how they evolved.
Fox squirrels are twice the size as gray squirrels and they have various colorations but are most of the time a red-orange color. Squirrels found in regions more south in big open pine forests have a blacker coloration. Both are claimed to be the “southeastern fox squirrel.”
I felt fortunate that the squirrel gave me what seemed to be an unusually long opportunity to pull the trigger, but Puckett says that fox squirrels generally do not move as much in the treetops as gray squirrels.
“The fox squirrel will sit still in a tree more than a gray squirrel, trying to hide,” says Puckett. He says that fox squirrels generally prefer to run on the ground.
“They have bigger home ranges, bigger homelands, and they like open understory like burned pine,” says Puckett.
How to Hunt Southeastern Fox Squirrels
Fox squirrels love woodlots and open woodlands, not-so-much deep wilderness areas. They are commonly found on the edges of farmlands near cornfields and open pastures. In open forests, they are mostly found in hardwoods or longleaf pines.
Like gray squirrels, fox squirrels will most likely be munching on acorns, hickory nuts, and berries. Puckett says that fox squirrels tend to eat fungi above or below ground because of their tendency to roam the ground frequently. They are also famous for eating walnuts. Ed Lewis, a member of the Central Virginia Squirrel Hunters, says he frequently finds them near walnut trees.
“If you want to hunt them, find good mast trees in the woods, or especially walnut trees on the edge of timber,” he says.
Carefully walk the edges of timber near a field, or through open forest on a non-windy day. Moisture on the ground is ideal to make for a quieter hunt. Search the ground ahead for fox squirrels before browsing the treetops. When hunting them in the open forest, listen for falling acorns or hard mast.
“You can hear them cutting hickory nuts if you sit quietly. On a quiet day in the woods, you have to scout and look for cuttings and sit still in those areas, and you can hear the shells falling,” says Puckett.
“Listen for them calling and key in and move closer to get a sighting,” says Puckett. Fox squirrels have a deeper-sounding call. He says they are most active during the fall in September, October and November. Wait until the weather cools, and you’ll find them cutting and calling in the hickory trees.
When squirrel hunting, it’s ideal to tree a squirrel on an outer limb with minimal brush for a clean shot. Try to flap a hat around the tree to move the squirrel to an easier shooting location.
Fox Squirrel Hunting: Conservation and Heritage Preservation
Hunting fox squirrels is important for future conservation because it generates funds to enable the research that helps manage the species.
“It’s a huge economic impact in the state because of competition hunts that people travel to, and a lot of money is spent in the state on licenses, dog food, state forest permits, and other elements that are required to hunt squirrels,” says Lewis, who frequently participates in competition hunts with his children.
Like any type of hunting, fox squirrel hunting contributes to conservation and wildlife management of all game and non-game species in a state. License funds, ammunition, hunting gear, and firearm purchases impact the revenue given to state wildlife agencies to continue protecting and managing all the state wildlife.
“All that walking with the constant action of hunting squirrels teaches them gun safety and good marksmanship,” says Lewis. Small game hunting should inherently be the first type of hunting to introduce to youth. It helps them understand the woods and wildlife by practicing using their eyes and ears to learn how animals move before progressing through to big game.
Ed Lewis introduced his children to squirrel hunting initially, and it remains their favorite hunting activity to pursue. Lewis and his children hunt all types of Virginia game.
Fox Squirrel Information
Fox squirrels are a rare, but growing species in most parts of the Southeast. Check your state hunting regulations on squirrel season, as harvest limits and seasons for fox squirrels might be different than gray squirrels.
Learn it, try it, get involved and introduce it. One of my most admirable moments was on that long haul across the mountain as the moon rose over Blacksburg, with a plush trophy tail in the pack to rest with other hunting remnants scattered across my vanity at home, and a squirrel casserole dish to prepare for game day that weekend.