Pet First
Squirrel Hunting: Gaining Popularity
By Mark Wallace

With the increase in cost of hunting for large game animals, such as deer, turkey, elk and mule deer, the interest in small game hunting has increased in popularity.

Most of us that were lucky enough to be raised in the rural areas enjoyed the times spent squirrel and rabbit hunting with our family, and in most cases this meant hunting with a dog. Now this dog wasn’t just the squirrel hunting dog, but was the watchdog for the farm, kept foxes out of the chicken house, and deer out of the watermelon patches. This was the same dog that followed the children through the woods and, unknown by the kids, kept the snakes out of their path.

Today the art of squirrel hunting with dogs is a little more specialized. The dogs are registered and bred just for the treeing of squirrels and in some cases the animals are doubled up as squirrel/coon dogs.

With many breeders getting into the business, it is very important that you take the time and make several hunts with offspring and parents of the cross you are looking to purchase. I like to see breeding operations and breeders that are not puppy mills, as some call it, but are true enthusiast about the art of squirrel hunting and are diligent in the breeding of their animals.

I have had the privilege to be best friends and hunting partner with one of the best in the business. Owen Brayson and I met at a local trial many years ago and we hit it off from the start. Owen has a true love for his dogs and the hunt. Owen raises Feist at his East Boley Kennels strictly for squirrel hunting and he has some interesting methods of starting his dogs even before their eyes are open.

To understand the method, you first must understand what senses and traits a squirrel dog must possess to become a Champion, or even a good dog. The sense of smell is the number one arsenal in the dog’s bag. To sharpen and ready the young pups when they are just a couple of days old, Owen will place a harvested squirrel in the brood box for the pups to smell and snuggle with while the mother is allowed some much needed running time.

With this early introduction to the squirrel, when it solely relies on its only sense it can use --- smell, it makes it easier for the dog to pick up the scent when you begin to work with the juvenile animal on sight and smell. The other reason that smell is important is because of the way the dog must work out what tree the animal is in. If you have ever watched a good squirrel dog work, they will run through the woods with their nose to the ground, in the air, and smelling up and down every tree they come in contact with. Do you know what they are smelling? Some believe that the squirrels have to hit the ground for the dogs to have a successful day or that they have to be feeding. Although both are sort of right and help the situation out significantly, it is not necessary for the squirrel to hit the ground, just that the squirrel’s bladder is full.

When the squirrel moves from tree to tree it is urinating, the urine falls to the ground and the dog can pick up the trail and follow it to a specific tree. When the dog hits a hot tree, he will usually check himself by making a circle around the tree to ensure that he has not over or under run the scent trail. When the dog is sure of himself he will stand and tree.

The other needed senses are sight and hearing. When a squirrel becomes treed and pressure is put on him, they will do what is known as timbering. Timbering is when the squirrel moves through the branches of several trees. A good dog must be able to then pick up the squirrel on sight and follow him until he can be treed again or the squirrel is holed up.

With the years I have spent in the woods with Owen and his dogs, I have become accustomed to accurate dogs and being able to put money on when his dogs tree. As with everything it comes down to invested time and effort. Purchasing a great bred dog and taking him out once or twice a month is not going to make a good squirrel dog. You have to be able to hunt the dog several times a week, even if only for a couple of hours.

If you have the interest in hunting squirrel with dogs, be it Feist, Mountain Cur, Black Mouth Cur or any of the other favorite breeds, be sure to get with your local squirrel hunting club and make a few hunts. It will bring back the glory days of your childhood and you will remember what fun it was to hit the woods with a great dog and enjoy the companionship of the animal and your friends. Be sure to take time with your young folks and teach them about the harmony needed for humans and nature to co-exist and, as always, get outdoors and enjoy what God has given us.