Guide to Blackpowder Squirrel Hunting

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For the ultimate old-school challenge, head to the hardwoods for bushytails with your muzzleloader

Blackpowder Rifles

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1 | Blackpowder Rifles

What rifle works best for squirrels? Early colonists and explorers in this country regularly squirrel hunted with whatever they had on hand. You can too. Just tailor your load to the game.

If you really get serious about small-game hunting with a blackpowder rifle and decide to buy a squirrel-specific muzzleloader, look no further than a .32-caliber rifle. These little guns shoot much like a .22 Long Rifle and are perfect for small game. The rule of thumb on powder charges is to start with half the caliber in grains, and work up from there. The .32 would get a 16-grain charge to begin with. Check out options from Davide Pedersoli and Traditions for .32-caliber rifles.

 

 

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Shot Size

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2 | Shot Size

If you are hunting with a caplock gun, modern blackpowder substitutes like 777 or Pyrodex work well. If you are using a flintlock, stick with traditional blackpowder in FF or FFF formulation. Ammo for squirrels in these rifles consists of patched .31-caliber lead round balls that weigh in at about 45 grains.

If you hunt in thick cover or during the early season, single- or double-barreled blackpowder shotguns make a great choice. The Pedersoli Classic Side-by-Side 12-Gauge is stylish, with exposed hammers that fall on No. 11 percussion caps for ignition. Load the gun with the powder charge, followed by a card wad, a thicker felt cushion wad, up to an ounce and a half of shot, and cap it off with another card wad. If you're using a double-barreled gun, take the time to tamp the unfired barrel with your ramrod after taking a shot with the other barrel. Often, the recoil from the blast will loosen the card holding the shot in place, possibly causing it to spill from the barrel. Many veteran blackpowder shotgunners recommend going up a shot size from what you would shoot in a modern shotshell.

 

 

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Smoothbore Rifle

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3 | Smoothbore Rifle

Perhaps the ultimate all-purpose blackpowder squirrel gun is the large-caliber, smoothbore rifle. Mike Anthony [pictured here] regularly hunts everything from squirrels to turkeys to deer and bears with his .62-caliber smoothbore Christian's Spring style gun, built by his father, custom rifle maker Rick Anthony.

Anthony says the great thing about a smoothbore rifle is that you can load it with shot for small game and turkeys, or a round ball for large game. He regularly carries both in his possibles bag, just in case he decides to shift gears during a hunt.

His standard load for squirrels is 70 grains of FFg black powder under an equal volume of No. 5 or No. 6 shot. This load is about the equivalent of a high-brass, 20-gauge shotshell, and is more than sufficient for squirrels. As with the blackpowder shotgun, Anthony loads the powder first, then tops it with a paper overshot card. Next, the shot goes in and another paper card holds the load in place.

Some guns perform better with a lubed, cushioned wad between the powder charge and the shot.

 

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Choices

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4 | Choices

Not sure you want to invest in a new muzzleloader just for squirrel hunting? Then channel your inner Daniel Boone and use your deer rifle. If you go that route, try cutting your powder charge down to about a third of your normal load, and spend some time on the range before hunting. You might need to adjust the powder charge up or down a bit for maximum accuracy.

Most .50-caliber rifles will pattern well with a powder charge as low as 30 grains. Patched round balls are sufficient for squirrels. Larger bullets aren’t needed and probably won’t fly accurately with the reduced charge. Aim carefully and choose your shot placement wisely. Even with the light charge, a .50-caliber round ball will tear up a lot of meat on a body shot. And be careful of what is beyond your target, since even these light loads can send a heavy round ball a long distance.

 

 

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Kids and Squirrels

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5 | Kids and Squirrels

Squirrel hunting with blackpowder guns is great fun for the whole family, and the perfect way to introduce kids or new hunters to muzzleloading firearms. 

 

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Tasty Squirrels

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6 | Tasty Squirrels

You might even bag a few tasty squirrels for the freezer along the way. Even if you don’t fill the dinner pot, you will have a good time and become a better shot than you were before.

Check out Michael Pendley's Timber 2 Table recipes here.

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If you're looking for a challenge and enjoy a white plume of blackpowder smoke, then you should try squirrel hunting with your muzzleloader. You probably won't fill the freezer, but you'll have guaranteed fun trying. And the familiarity you gain with your rifle will come in handy if you decide to hunt larger game with the same gun. A trip to the squirrel woods is an outstanding way to introduce young or new hunters to blackpowder shooting as well.