Black Powder Squirrels, the Ultimate Woods Challenge
Looking for the ultimate hunting challenge? Or maybe you hunt large game with your favorite black powder gun, but you would like to use it more often than limited muzzleloading seasons allow?
Then take up black powder squirrel hunting.
You probably won’t fill the freezer, but you will have lots of fun trying. And the familiarity you gain with your rifle will come in handy if you hunt larger game with the same gun. A trip to the squirrel woods makes an outstanding way to introduce young or new black powder hunters to the sport as well.
[Editor's note: Please click through Michael Pendley's photo article below.]
Image 1 of 6
1 | Black Powder 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 squirrel hunt with your large game rifle, do what they did, either aim only for the head, or aim at the limb just under the squirrel. The concussion from the ball striking the limb, along with the flying wood and bark, will reliably knock the stunned squirrels to the ground, allowing for a quick dispatch.
If you really get serious about small game hunting with a black powder rifle and decide to buy a squirrel-specific muzzleloader, then 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 charge is to start with half the caliber in grains. The .32 would get a 16-grain charge, and work up from there. Check out options from Davide Pedersoli and Traditions for .32 caliber rifles.
Image 2 of 6
2 | Shot Size
If you are hunting with a caplock gun, modern black powder substitutes like 777 or Pyrodex work well. If you are using a flintlock, stick with traditional black powder in a 2F or 3F formulation. Ammo for squirrels in these rifles consists of simple .31-caliber lead round balls that weigh in at about 45 grains.
If you hunt in thick cover or early season, single- or double-barreled black powder shotguns make a great choice.
The Pedersoli Classic Side-by-Side 12-Gauge Black Powder Shotgun is a classically styled piece that features 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.
Many longtime black powder shotgunners recommend going up a shot size from what you would shoot in modern cartridge. If you are using a double-barreled shotgun, take the time to tamp the unfired barrel with your ramrod when you reload the fired barrel. Often, the recoil from the shot will loosen the card holding the shot load in place, possibly causing the shot to leak from the barrel.
Image 3 of 6
3 | Ultimate Gun?
Perhaps the ultimate all-purpose black powder squirrel gun is the large-caliber, smoothbore rifle. Mike Anthony [pictured here] regularly hunts everything from squirrels to turkey to deer and bear with his .62 smooth rifle Christian's Spring style gun, built by his father, custom rifle maker Rick Anthony.
Anthony says the great thing about a smooth-bore rifle is the fact that you can load it with shot for small game and turkeys, or a round ball for large game. Mike 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 black powder shotgun, Anthony loads the powder first, then tops it with a paper overshot card. Next, the shot goes in and another paper card goes in to hold the load in place.
Some guns perform better with a lubed, cushioned wad between the powder charge and the shot.
Image 4 of 6
4 | Choices
Not sure you want to invest in a new gun for black powder squirrels? Then channel your inner Daniel Boone and use your deer rifle.
If you do hunt with a large-caliber rifle, try cutting your powder charge down to about a third of your normal load. 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 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 powder charge. Aim carefully and choose your shot placement wisely. Despite the reduced charge, a .50-caliber round ball will tear up a lot of meat on a body shot.
Even with a lowered powder charge, pay particular attention to what might lie behind your target. Should your shot go astray, even a slower load will send a round ball over a long distance.
Image 5 of 6
5 | Kids and Squirrels
Squirrel hunting with black powder guns is great fun for the whole family and the perfect way to introduce kids or hunters new to muzzleloading firearms.
Image 6 of 6
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 be a better shot than you were before.
Check out Michael Pendley's Timber 2 Table recipes here.