Want More Whitetails? Hunt Bushytails

February 20th, 2009 / Posted by edersbow.com
Want More Whitetails? Hunt Bushytails

By Brad Herndon

I was trapped. I was fifteen feet up in my treestand watching a 2-1/2 year old buck stare a hole through me. He had eleven points altogether, including two uniquely forked brow tines. He definitely was a deer I would like to put my tag on, but it didn’t appear my chances of doing that were too good since I expected him to bolt at any second.

Strangely, though, as I continued to watch him I could tell he wasn’t alarmed. He seemed to be looking at me, and at the same time, beyond me. In fact, if deer can have puzzled looks on their faces, it was for sure he was wearing one. After a minute or two of study, the buck turned and walked down the trail, relaxed but curious enough to glance back in my direction every so often, preventing me from shooting.

When he was perhaps twenty five yards away in a brushy area, a noise in the woods caused him to stop, diverting his attention away from me. Instantly I came to full draw, intently concentrating on the deer’s body that was almost totally obscured by brush. Quickly I noticed a fist-sized hole in the foliage. Subconsciously my mind plotted the course of the arrow, calculating a high lung shot as the probable placement of the hit.

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One moment the arrow was on the bowstring, then almost magically, it was passing into the buck’s lung area. It was high, as expected, creating a long, arduous tracking job due to a sparse blood trail. It was, however, a tracking job well worth while, rewarding me with my best whitetail to that date.

The just-mentioned hunting story occurred several years ago, and while I have used the bow to take several better bucks since then, the forked brow tine buck has significant meaning. It stands out in my memory because it was the first time bowhunting bushytails was directly responsible for my whitetail success.

During the early fall squirrel season I had whizzed flu flu arrows toward unsuspecting squirrels hundreds of times. Since a flu flu arrow is easily knocked off course by the slightest obstacle, each shot had to be carefully analyzed regarding limbs, leaves and trajectory. This in-the-woods practice allowed me to see the small–and only–opening I had to arrow the forked brow tine buck. Hunting bushytails has allowed me to take more whitetails. It will do the same for you, and just as importantly, you will have the time of your life while squirrel hunting with the bow.

Squirrel hunting gives you excellent practice at live game, it develops your senses of sight and hearing, and it also hones your stalking skills to a razor sharp edge. Toss in the fact squirrel seasons begin in late summer or early fall – immediately preceding whitetail hunting – and I can’t think of a single reason why a bowbender shouldn’t be out there flinging flu flus skyward. Another bonus comes at dinner time. Young squirrels, pan fried, provide some of the best eating you will ever lay your lips to (see attached recipe). Now let’s talk about equipment.

Any Bow Will Work

Hunting squirrels offers new challenges in the form of unique shooting angles and distances.

Hunting squirrels offers new challenges in the form of unique shooting angles and distances.

A long bow, recurve, or compound bow all can be used while stalking bushytails. Something in the 50 to 60 pound range will do nicely for all three types. Naturally the weight you use depends on your strength, but keep in mind two factors: First of all, drawing your bow and holding it back while aiming straight up in a tree takes considerably more strength than shooting from a tree stand at deer. Secondly, wooden shafts, which you probably will be using, are more readily available, and cheaper, in the 50 to 60 pound range.

Fingers or a release aid can be used, but when it comes to an arrow rest, one of a design which will let the spirally wound flu flu feather pass by it without catching will be required. Experiment with different rests to see which one works best for your setup. One that doesn’t work at all is a springy rest; it looks like an elongated noodle after shooting a spirally wound feather through it. Of course the shelves on recurves and long bows work perfect for shooting flu flu arrows.

Regarding arrows, if available and affordable, fiberglass arrows can’t be beat for squirrel hunting because they are both accurate and flexible. They shoot well, they won’t permanently bend like aluminum arrows, and another desirable feature is that they are hard to break. Unfortunately they are becoming a rarity in this day and age. Your next best affordable arrow option is the wooden shaft. I have used wooden shafts and found them to perform very well for flu flus, as long as you are sure to pick the correctly spined wooden shaft for your particular bow.

The author installs a small nail behind the head of wooden arrows and wraps wire around other types to add a little extra insurance.

The author installs a small nail behind the head of wooden arrows and wraps wire around other types to add a little extra insurance.

Regardless of which arrow you end up using, be sure to use non-skid field points for bushytail hunting. If using wooden shafts, install a small finishing nail behind the field point at a 30 degree angle. On other shafts, wrap a piece of 19 gauge wire around the field point threads, then screw the point in tight. Next cut off both ends of the wire to a length of 1/8″ and bend these barbs toward the nock. I do this because squirrels are tough critters. Only once in my life have I ever shot a field point equipped arrow through a squirrel, and rarely does one shot kill them dead.

Usually they will fall out of the tree, stop to fight the arrow, then tear off on the ground or up a tree. What the barb does is keep the arrow from pulling out, thereby increasing your odds of harvesting the squirrel. A “stun stick”, by the way, is one item you will need while bushytail hunting with a bow. This is simply a length of sapling 12″ long that you secure to your belt with a clip or chain snap. When you shoot a squirrel and he falls to the ground, he is a live ball of fury while temporarily fighting the arrow. The stun stick allows you to bop him on the head and quickly finish him off. You never will appreciate how important this little stick is until you start bowhunting squirrels.

And perhaps you wonder why I don’t recommend a blunt point for squirrel hunting. Very simple. They don’t work well. Regardless of what you read, you are going to loose a ton of squirrels if you use blunts. You will kill one occasionally, sure, but most often they will scurry off bruised and very much alive.

Building Your Arrow
Regarding how I set my arrows up, I use snap-on nocks and fletch my arrows spirally. Here are the methods that work well for me when attaching feathers. Starting at the tip of the nock, I measure down the arrow 6″. Next I mark the arrow in 1/2″ spacing back toward the nock. Since I’m right handed, I find right wing full length feathers work best for me. I use hot pink.

I cut these feathers to a length of 10″. A slight “combing” will be necessary to separate the feather before applying it to the shaft. I apply a drop of fletching cement to the big end of the feather and secure it with a plastic clothes pin to the mark 6″ from the nock. While holding the loose end of the feather, I apply a ribbon of fletching cement to the feather, then carefully wind it around the shaft making sure it hits the 1/2″ marks. The finished end is secured with a clothes pin. This finishes the arrow, which does take a little work. Still, it is fun to create something with your own hands.

The final item you will need for squirrel hunting is a back quiver of some type. I use a St. Charles type back quiver that holds fourteen arrows. Many of my friends make custom top load back quivers which hold twenty or more arrows. Either type gives you plenty of ammunition, because you won’t loose as many flu flu arrows as you think you will. Most of them only go a maximum of 70 yards, and amazingly, with the non-skid field points, most arrows bounce off the trees you hit. Now let’s go hunting.

The Hunting Methods

The author stands with his daily limit of 5 squirrels.

The author stands with his daily limit of 5 squirrels.

To be consistently successful at bowhunting for bushytails, a hunter must place himself in a position affording him a close shot. Early in the season this can be tough, since the squirrels are up in the trees. Early season food sources will vary, depending on what part of the country you live in. Here in the Midwest, squirrels may cut on yellow poplar, wild cherry, walnut, black gum, and pignut hickory in early season, but by far the preferred food for them is shagbark (small nut) and shellbark (large nut) hickory. I commonly hunt woods where these two types of hickory are abundant. I cover a lot of ground, staying up on my toes all the time. This is work, but it enables you to move quickly and quietly. If you plop your entire foot down every step, you are going to break a lot of sticks. Squirrels have keen eyesight and excellent hearing; they are instantly alerted by any unusual noise.

While stalking, I listen for the sound of hickory nut shavings falling from the trees. I am also alert for the sun illuminating these flakes al they fall from the tree. Many times you can see these cuttings before you hear them. Once I have located a tree the squirrels are using, my approach goes into low gear. I move slowly and quietly, all the while watching for any squirrels down low which might present a shot. If careful, usually you can slip undetected directly beneath the tree.

If the squirrels are up high, I wait a few minutes. In this early season, quite often an old squirrel will chase a young one down the tree, giving you a perfect shot. If they don’t come down, I send flu flus up. Although misses are more common than hits, occasionally I pick one off this way.

Incidentally, gray squirrels are a bundle of nerves, sometimes vacating the premises at the first shot. Fox squirrels, meanwhile, are very curious. Oftentimes a miss will only serve to bring them down the tree trunk, barking all the time, to check out what you really are. Again you have a good shot.

As the season progresses, the squirrel hunting pattern will change. The squirrels may start feeding on beech if available, or switch to oaks if the hickory nuts give out. Regardless, as late September rolls around, a strange urge, placed there by their Creator, will grip the squirrels. They will begin to carry and bury nuts. No, they can’t remember where they placed them, it’s just nature’s way of assuring a continual planting of various tree species. This presents the bowhunter with some dynamite squirrel hunting opportunities. Once you find a tree the squirrels are carrying nuts from, ease into position and determine their run tree.

For instance, assume the tree is a shagbark hickory. Due to the configuration of the bark, squirrels won’t use the main trunk of the tree, they will use a grapevine, adjacent brush or tree for a run tree. Simply determine the run tree they are using, wait for them to come scurrying down with a nut to bury, then draw your bow, or whistle. Most of the time the squirrel will stop, allowing you to whiz a flu flu at them. This is fun hunting, offering great shooting opportunities, one which may very well allow you to limit out if you are in a quantity of squirrels.

The Hunting Changes
As the leaves and nuts start to fall, the hunting again changes. Now the squirrels are on the ground, meaning you won’t loose near as many arrows. Still, though, this is a type of hunting which, while appearing easy, requires a great deal of expertise. While good hearing will allow you to hear the squirrels if the leaves are dry, alert, constant scanning with your eyes is most critical to your success. You must see the squirrels before they see you. Then you can slip right up on them, especially if they are preoccupied with burying a nut.

This type of hunting develops your observation powers and stalking abilities, making you a better whitetail hunter along the way. Someplace in all this squirrel hunting, you also will discover that the wind is your ally. Many people who squirrel hunt with a gun think a calm, quiet day is tops for bushytail hunting. Quite to the contrary, a windy day is unbeatable for both bow and gun. Sure, it’s hard to hear; remember, though, it works both ways. With the bushes and limbs swaying, a squirrel can’t hear you, and by moving slowly, your motion is extremely hard to detect.

As an example, one fall I was hunting a hilly region of southern Indiana where the oak trees were absolutely loaded with acorns. Unbelievably, the squirrels – both gray and fox – seemed almost as thick as the acorns. They were on the ground, and a 15-24 m.p.h. wind enabled me to ease up on them and get shot after shot throughout the day. I shot sixteen times at fourteen different squirrels before getting my limit of five – four gray and one fox.

It was a classic example of how the wind can aid your hunting. Also significant was the fact, on the same windy day, I still-hunted undetected up on a mature tom turkey, plus deer on three different occasions. One of the whitetails was a 3-1/2 year old 8-point buck. Again, bowhunting for squirrels had enabled me to learn something new, this time the location of a trophy whitetail.

Now, in my fifty fifth year, my beard is sprinkled with salt and pepper. A hat covers my thinning hair, and yes, the eyes aren’t quite what they used to be. Even the old joints are loosening up a bit. Still, I keep going by following my own advice: For more whitetails, hunt bushytails.

Skillet/Oven Fried Squirrel Recipe
Note! Use only young, tender squirrels for frying – save old squirrels for making squirrel dumplings. Serves 3 – 4 people
2-3 young squirrels
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon margarine
3 tablespoons bacon grease or vegetable shortening

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut each squirrel into 6 pieces, using the 4 legs and the meaty part of back to fry (save the rib piece for making dumplings at another time).

Roll the squirrel pieces in the flour until well coated.

While oven is preheating, put a 10 to 12 inch cast iron skillet on top of stove. Using medium-high heat, melt margarine and bacon grease or vegetable shortening in skillet. Melted shortening mixture should be about 1/4 inch deep in bottom of skillet.

Place cut up squirrel in skillet in a single layer and salt and pepper to taste. Brown on both sides (approximately 3-4 minutes for each side).

After browning, cover skillet with lid or aluminum foil and place in the preheated oven. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes depending on how young the squirrels are.

Then turn the squirrel over and bake for another 20 – 25 minutes. Test with a fork to see if done. If fork slips easily into the meat it is ready to eat. If you feel the squirrel is not quite done, turn it over again and bake for 10 to 15 more minutes.

Skillet / oven fried squirrel is excellent served with a side dish of homemade biscuits topped with white milk gravy made from the squirrel drippings.

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