6 Reasons Why Kids Love Squirrel Hunting with Dogs

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A lively Mountain feist, a nice autumn day, and a favorite .22 or single-barrel shotgun make a great combo for young hunters

Fast-Paced

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1 | It's Fast-Paced

Unlike deer or turkey hunting, where a young hunter might spend an entire day in one spot and not see game, hunting behind a good squirrel dog means covering some territory. Since everyone follows along as the dog hunts, kids get to experience a variety of wildlife and nature.

When the dog strikes a trail, excitement builds as the chase nears the tree. The tone of the bark goes from chase mode to excited tree yelp. Once you make it to the dog, the search for the squirrel starts, with all eyes peeled to the treetops in hopes of spotting a tuft of hair or a twitching tail. While the squirrels often sit tightly, offering plenty of time to find a rest and take careful aim, they will sometimes bolt from limb to limb, offering only fleeting glimpses and split-second opportunities for a clear shot. 

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Social Event

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2 | It's a Social Event

Squirrel hunting with dogs usually involves a group of hunters. Friends can tag along, making the hunt more fun for all involved. In fact, having more hunters along increases the odds of spotting the quarry. Being able to surround a tree often makes a wary squirrel move from its hiding place to get away from the hunters below, offering someone a chance at a shot. Friendly competitions on marksmanship often break out to see who can make the best shot on the small and mostly hidden targets.

Unlike other hunting methods where silence and being still are paramount, squirrel hunting behind dogs allows hunters to talk openly and move around. 

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Not Firearm Specific

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3 | You Can Shoot What You Want

This isn't firearm specific. Shotguns ranging from .410s to 12-gauges will get the job done, allowing young hunters to choose a firearm that fits both their frame and recoil tolerance. Any action, from single-shot to semi-auto, will work, too. Since following dogs often leads to long hikes, many experienced squirrel hunters choose lightweight single-barrels to cut down on the amount of weight they carry.

Later in the year, once the leaves have started to fall, a scoped or open-sighted .22 or .17 rimfire is the perfect firearm for squirrel hunting. Using a rimfire for squirrels is the ultimate way to learn marksmanship. Once a young hunter can make shots on a target as small as a squirrel’s head, opportunities at big game with a centerfire rifle will seem easy.

Bonus Read5 Great Squirrel Hunting Rifles

Looking for a challenge? Try squirrel hunting with a handgun. You might not take a limit, but you will have a great time trying.

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Whenever

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4 | You Can Hunt Whenever

You don’t have to be out at the break of dawn to chase squirrels with dogs. If your teenagers are anything like mine, you know how much of a benefit that is, because it hard it can be to roust them out of bed on a weekend morning. While the first and last hours of the day are most productive when hunting by yourself, a good dog will find squirrels all day long, making later starts still productive.

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Meat

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5 | Squirrels are Good to Eat

It’s a fine way to fill the freezer. Well, maybe not fill one up, unless it is the Magic Chef Realtree Xtra Portable Freezer, but hunting with dogs is a great way to kill a limit of squirrels. It's effective. Our recent hunt took place on a hot, windy and dry day, poor conditions for any hunting dog, and we were still able to kill enough squirrels for a few family meals.

Check out Timber2Table for squirrel recipes that will turn your kill into outstanding table fare. 

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Pure Hunting

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6 | It's Pure Hunting

Today’s kids spend a lot of time sitting in front of screens of one sort or another. Following a squirrel dog through the woods gets them on their feet and moving. While a good dog will cover four times or more area than the hunters, even a short hunt requires quite a bit of walking. In most states, squirrels are in season for months on end, offering plenty of chances to get out to chase bushytails. It’s hunting in its purest, simplest form.

Aside from the dog, squirrel hunting doesn’t require a lot of specialized gear. A small pair of binoculars is about all you may need in addition to your firearm and ammo. Bring a water bottle on warm days, and share with the dog if conditions are dry. They are working hard too.

There is no such thing as a trophy squirrel, no antler scores to worry about, and no measuring tapes involved. Squirrel hunting with a dog takes you back to when hunting was simple and pure.

My youngest son Potroast has talked about our hunt for days, and he is now convinced he needs a Mountain feist of his own.

I’m inclined to agree. 

More Realtree small game hunting. Follow Realtree on Facebook.

Editor's note: This Realtree.com post was first published Oct. 31, 2017.

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Tobby Oaks neared his tailgate, and the excited whine coming from the dog box on the other side reached a crescendo. We were gathering our gear as Oaks unclipped the latch, and a flash of gray fur burst through the dog box door and past us.

Rocky and Miss Squall, so named for her high-pitched squeal when she sees a squirrel, hit the ground with an incredible burst of energy. As soon as the obligatory marking of the territory was finished, both dogs made a bee line for the waiting boys. Between the grins, ear rubs, stubby tail wags and face licking, it was hard to tell who was enjoying the meeting more.

That interaction is just one of the things that makes squirrel hunting with dogs so attractive to kids. Both Miss Squall and Rocky are Mountain feists, a breed known as much for its love of people as its desire to chase and tree squirrels.

Oaks, owner of Mighty Oaks Kennels, says the breed makes the perfect family pet. “They are more than content to live inside with the family, but they are all business in the squirrel woods,” he says, adding that the breed’s popularity is soaring right now. “Now we have a breed-specific organization, the Mountain Feist Association. The MFA holds breed-specific hunts, keeps lineage details, and spreads the word on hunting with Mountain Feist," he says. The organization holds its annual “Feist Days” event in late October, with hunters from New York to Louisiana descending on southeastern Kentucky for a weekend of hunt contests, fun hunts, shows and trading of squirrel dogs. In 2015, the MFA successfully petitioned the UKC to recognize the breed and helped define the standards.

Regardless of the dog breed, a hunt with squirrel dogs is the perfect trip to get kids involved in the outdoors. Besides the unmistakable bond between kids and dogs, this type of hunt holds a lot of appeal for young hunters.