Date: Tue, 16 Sep 1997 22:38:44 -0400
Subject: Steel shot for squirrels
One of my favorite ways to hunt squirrels is from a boat, a very productive
and relaxing method. This time of year in western Virginia the seasons for
resident Canada geese and squirrels overlap. Plus it's an opportunity to
take both species if you go to the right place.
I went out yesterday with a friend, and since it's to a location where we
have been stopped and had license checks done before, I suggested we take
no chances and carry only steel shot, even though our primary targets were
squirrels; there are few geese on this stretch of water, but a game warden
could cite us for using lead and let us plead our case in court that were
**really** hunting squirrels. This would be difficult to argue if we did
manage to whack a goose or two, so as a "CYA" move we made sure we had all
the appropriate licenses, stamps, boat registration, etc., etc. and carried
ONLY steel shot.
We both carried 12 gauges: Erik had The Valkyrie, my battered and ugly but
much-loved Mossberg 500, a "Chooser of the Slain" if ever there was one. I
was toting my Stevens 311 double, choked MOD right and IC left (And yes, I
know that's the reverse of how most people would do it, but one of the few
advantages of choke tubes is that you can set your double up the way you
want). The loads we carried were 1-1/8 ounce #4 steel, 3" Remington mags.
Heavy metal for bush-tailed rats, but the trees are in leaf and we wanted
to be able to punch through and put the rodents into the water reliably.
For the odd goose we might come across we packed a few T's and F's. I put
the 4's in my right barrel and the T's in the left (hence the choke-tube
"reversal"). As it happened the geese were nowhere to be seen.
The Little River in Virginia is dammed just above its confluence with the
New, and the damming created about 2-1/2 miles of deep, quiet, slow water.
The banks are very steep, almost inaccessible from the land side, and the
river fills an ancient gorge cut into the rock over the eons. Because the
banks are so steep they haven't been harvested for timber for decades, and
as a result there are lots of mature trees. Oaks, hickories, and
sycamores. Lots of dead standing timber and plenty of vines and creepers.
Although both banks have farms and houses along them, these dwellings are
invisible from the river. The trees have provided an abundance of food and
nesting cavities for squirrels and wood ducks, and both are there in large
We got out about 2:30. I have a Coleman Scanoe, a square-stern 16-footer
that I drive with a 3-HP Minn-Kota electric outboard. It's pretty much the
ideal rig for boat-hunting squirrels: very stable and roomy (for a canoe)
and virtually silent. Our tactic is to creep along the banks at trolling
speed, listening and watching for squirrels "cutting" in the trees. In
this type of hunting the target is small, usually 20-25 yards off, and hard
to spot. But you can hear them easily over the hum of the motor, and the
CRACK of a nut falling or the pattering of shells raining down is easy to
make out. Then it's a matter of drawing up to the bank and trying to spot
the critter, maneuvering the boat so as to get as close as possible without
We pick them out of the water with a long-handled fishing net, and believe
me, you have to be quick about it. A shot squirrel sinks pretty fast, and
if he gets below the surface far enough so that you can't see him, he's
fish food. I've lost too many that way, so our policy is that when we spot
a target one man shoots and the other handles the net as fast as he can.
If you hunt them in deep water you need to be right on top of them when
they land because you have perhaps 10 seconds before they are down out of
sight and gone for good. The longer the net the better; last year I spent
an hour circling a spot where we'd put one in 5 feet of water. We could
see him but couldn't reach him as the net was too short. I was ready to
undress and dive for him, but we lashed the net to a paddle and managed it
that way. This year I bought a longer net.
We want to shoot them so as to drop them into the water. In Virginia
virtually all rivers are public places and no one can keep you out of one;
but if the game is on land you are supposed to get permission to hunt it.
Nevertheless, the landowner's claim ends where the property line does; and
if the tree is out over the water, the squirrel is fair game. When we heard
one and had him spotted, if he was inland we left him alone.
Over the course of the 4-1/2 hours we were out, we traveled perhaps 5 miles
of river bank, and saw eight squirrels (we heard a lot more we never saw).
Of these, three were back in the woods too far, so we passed them up; we
missed one and killed four with four shots. All were clean kills, dead
coming off them limbs. The one we missed was due to bad shooting, not shot
performance; the angle was awkward and the boat was moving. We took two
big fox squirrels, both about 3 pounds live weight; and a couple of small
Steel shot gets a bad rap from most waterfowlers. I wouldn't know how it
compares to lead on ducks, because I've never used anything else; I started
waterfowling after it was mandatory. But whatever its drawbacks may be for
birds, it is **great** stuff for squirrels, and after having used it on
them for several years I prefer it to lead for the conditions under which
we were hunting.
If we could see the head, that squirrel was as good as dead. The MOD tubes
we were using gave pretty tight patterns, large enough to encompass the
entire squirrel and dense enough to assure several hits in vital areas.
I understand that in waterfowl the feathers slow the shot down and limit
penetration; but those steel 4's went all the way through a squirrel, side
to side and top to bottom, every time. It was BOOM and SPLASH a few
seconds later...and when we skinned them found that every one was hit in
the chest and head, as clean kills as one could wish.
I've been hunting this stretch of river for about 7 years or so, and in the
past 3 have used steel exclusively on squirrels out there. Partly because
I was usually hunting ducks, but also because of the reasons cited above.
We found that the comparatively long ranges made a tight pattern necessary;
and steel's inherently tighter patterning was an advantage it has over lead
shot. Nor was its reduced penetration compared to lead shot a problem for
us. There is a move afoot to require steel shot for any type of overwater
use in some states; although I'd be opposed to such a rule, I have to say
that I wouldn't find it too much of a handicap on small game.