A Real Threat to Bowhunters
I’ll never forget. Ten years ago I rounded a large fir tree and spotted a 180-class buck bedded in some deadfall at thirty yards and facing directly away from me. But before I could even pull an arrow, a nearby squirrel lit up with a world-class barking fit. The buck instantly stood up and walked into the deep woods without offering a shot. Since then, I’ve had innumerable stalks thwarted by these cursed tree rats, some ending entire seasons in failure by a single squirrel.
Aside from using other deer as sentinels, big bucks use a myriad of other forest creatures for safety too. As you travel through the woods you might notice that squirrels, chipmunks, and a variety of birds are continually announcing your presence. They do this to warn their own species of danger, but the deer pick up on their calls and use them to their advantage. Big bucks, especially, are completely aware of their surrounding and pick notice anything out of the ordinary.
How Deer Use Squirrels
If you’ve had the chance to observe many deer in the deep woods, then you’ve probably noticed that every time a squirrel fires up, the deer will stop whatever he’s doing and stare in that direction. Squirrels don’t bark randomly; there’s always a threat, even if it’s just another squirrel in their territory. Either way, if you agitate a squirrel, then just know that any deer within earshot is now looking for danger. Conversely, squirrels bark at deer as well as people. Several times I’ve found deer in places where I’ve heard a squirrel fire up. So don’t be afraid to investigate random squirrel barks.
Like elk, big bucks enjoy the security of bedding in thick, over-grown conifer forests. The problem with conifers is the abundance of squirrels and chipmunks that inhabit them. Like most animals, squirrels are territorial. Long ago I noticed that the whole conifer forest is gridded in squirrel territory. When you leave one barking squirrel behind, you’ll likely run into another and another as you move through the woods.
Squirrels aren’t too noisy early season, but it gets progressively worse in September as the squirrels begin to amass food stores (pinecones) for winter. In my neck of the woods, August 25th is the beginning of mayhem.
If you have an abundance of chipmunks in your area, you might notice they’re equally bad, erupting with a myriad of alarming noises that deer pick up on. One time I stumbled upon a crabby 4×4 buck feeding off a trail at 15 yards. Immediately, a cantankerous chipmunk situated between us erupted into a machine gun-like, high-pitched chirping fit. The buck stopped feeding and spent the next five minutes scanning the woods for danger. Eventually he marched nervously away. Just last year my eight-hour, once-in-a-lifetime mountain goat stalk was nearly blown by a single chipmunk who threw an alarming fit in a nearby tree.
Knowing that squirrels and chipmunks are such threats to bowhunting success, what do you do? I’ve tried everything, but here are a few tried-and-true techniques that might help you.
Squirrel Avoidance Techniques
Unless you are sitting in a fixed ambush position, your best strategy is to just get up and move. Once out of sight, squirrels will soon shut up and go about their business. Fortunately, not all squirrels are bad. Some will even allow your presence, like if they’re too busy gathering pinecones to notice you.
A second option is to wait the squirrel out. Squirrels will generally bark for 30 minutes or less, during which time no deer will enter the area, guaranteed. After 30 minutes squirrels will tire out and go back to their business. Another effective technique is to walk directly towards the squirrel’s tree. Most squirrels will get nervous as you approach and shut up—but not always. Some just get louder! Fortunately chipmunks are more skittish and scare easily.
As a last resort, feel free to shoot the wretched beast. You don’t necessarily have to kill him, just whiz an arrow past his head. When he realizes he’s in danger, he’ll likely run off. For this reason, I always carry a cheap, aluminum “squirrel arrow” in my quiver—because you’re not likely to get your arrow back; believe me, I’ve shot at a lot of squirrels. My Spanish name is actually Squirlero! Okay, it’s not, but it should be.
Again, it depends on the squirrel you’re shooting at. Some just climb higher and bark louder. For this reason, a more lethal method might be in order. I know one hunter who carries a lightweight BB pistol in his pack…just in case.
If you hunt long enough, you’ll inevitably have an entire hunt go down the toilet thanks to a random tree rat. So be prepared by using the aforementioned squirrel-avoidance techniques. On a side note, I’ve actually eaten more squirrels than the average person. It was a long time ago, but eat them I did. They’re actually quite tasty; like chicken but with a nutty overtone. Bon appétit!