Squirrel hunting is a great way to enjoy California’s outdoors, put some delicious meat on the table, and have fun with family and friends. But before you head out into the woods, there are a few things you need to know. Here’s your complete guide to squirrel hunting in California.
Squirrels are small mammals that belong to the family Sciuridae, which includes chipmunks, marmots, flying squirrels, and prairie dogs. If you’re thinking about heading out into the woods to try your hand at squirrel hunting, there are a few things you should know. In this guide, we’ll cover everything about squirrel hunting in California.
Things Needed for Squirrel Hunting in California
First and foremost, you’ll need to purchase a hunting license. You can do this online or at any California Department of Fish and Wildlife office. Once you have your license, familiarize yourself with the state’s hunting regulations. These regulations will outline the areas where you’re allowed to hunt, the season dates, bag limits, and other important information.
Decide what gear will be needed on your hunt. In addition to your license, you’ll need a shotgun or air rifle, ammunition, and something to transport your game after you’ve made a successful kill. You’ll also need to wear appropriate clothing for the weather conditions. It will be hot in California during squirrel season, get yourself a good backpack cooler to wear when walking around.
It’s also important to research the area where you’ll be hunting. Familiarize yourself with the terrain, and be sure to bring a map. Knowing where you are and where you’re going is critical for a safe and successful hunt.
Squirrels can be found in most of California’s forests, but they’re most common in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Look for areas with a mix of coniferous and deciduous trees.
California Squirrel Season and Regulations
Tree Squirrel season in California is split into two sections. Archery and falconry run for a month, starting the first Saturday in August and ending the day before the general tree squirrel season. The general squirrel season in California runs a little longer, from the second Saturday in September through the last Sunday in January. You should check the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website for specific dates.
|Species||Season/Area||Season Dates||Daily Bag Limit||Possession Limit|
Zone Map (PDF)(opens in new tab)
|General||Sep 10 – Jan 29||4||4|
|Archery/Falconry||Aug 6 – Sep 9|
As you can see, the daily bag limit for tree squirrels is 4, with a possession limit of 4. Another important note, in California, it is illegal to use lead ammo while hunting. Ensure that your shotgun bbs and pellets are lead-free. This applies to any hunt anywhere in CA.
Squirrel Hunting Zones
You may be surprised to learn that tree squirrel hunting is not permitted throughout California. There are two zones in California, counties that allow squirrel hunting and counties that do not. Below is a map of the archery/falconry zones in California. Permitted areas are in blue.
As you can see, hunting squirrel hunting is allowed in the following counties during this time;
Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Del Norte, El Dorado, Fresno, Glenn, Humboldt, Lake, Lassen, Madera,
Marin, Mariposa, Modoc, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Solano, Sonoma, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity, Tulare, Tuolumne, and Yuba; and that portion of Kern County lying east of Interstate 5.
During the season, the squirrel hunting zones change slightly and are reflected in the image below in blue.
Counties the squirrel hunters may take squirrels to include the following;
Alameda, Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Contra Costa, Del Norte, El Dorado, Fresno, Glenn, Humboldt, Kings, Lake, Lassen, Madera, Marin, Mariposa, Mendocino, Merced, Modoc, Monterey, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta,
Sierra, Siskiyou, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity, Tulare, Tuolumne, Yolo, Yuba, and that portion of Kern County lying east of Interstate 5.
Preferred Methods of Taking Squirrel
While a few methods have already been discussed, the topic needs a little more detail. Three ways are preferred when hunting tree squirrels. Shotgun is the most common, followed by archery, and finally falconry. While each has its place, using a shotgun for hunting squirrels is the favorite.
Shotguns for Squirrel Hunting
The preferred method of taking squirrels for most hunters is a shotgun. This is due to the larger spread that a shotgun produces. There are three reasons that the spread of a shotgun benefits hunters.
The first is that squirrels are not as easy to hit as one might think. They’re shifty, fast, can run to the back side of trees, and jump far in milliseconds. The pattern of a shotgun covers more area, increasing the odds of hitting a squirrel.
The second advantage to using a shotgun is meat preservation. Quite simply, the spread covering a given area may only hit the squirrel with one or two bbs if you are lucky, preserving meat and not destroying the little tree rat. Imagine hitting a squirrel with a deer rifle….not so good.
A third reason that shotguns are the preferred method of take for tree squirrels is safety. The distance traveled when hunters shoot into the air is far less than other rifles. It’s reckless to shoot other guns, such as .22 caliber rifles, into the air. Those bullets travel long distances, and it’s unreasonable to know what is behind your target at that point.
Archery Hunting for Squirrels
The good old-fashioned primitive bow and arrow may be the most sporty way to hunt squirrels. One must be proficient with their weapon in order to take squirrels in this way. A few tips to consider when hunting squirrels with a bow include;
- Use small broadhead arrows.
- Mind you’re shot, so you don’t pin squirrel into the tree where you cant retrieve it.
- Be mindful of your surroundings.
Using a special small game broadhead arrow or my favorite, small game hammer broadheads. These are blunt-tipped interchangeable heads perfect for taking squirrels. Bowhunting squirrel is a great way to test your accuracy while adding a higher level of sport to the hunt.
Falcons or Raptors
Watching a falcon hunt is an amazing experience. It embodies a majestic lost art of hunting that has made a resurgence as of late. While training and using falcons to hunt is foreign to me, it is extremely effective and I can only imagine very rewarding.
A distinct advantage of using falcons to take squirrels is the long-term cost associated with it. There are no firearms to malfunction or bullets to buy. There could, however, be vet costs associated with falconry that may even out the cost of it.
Squirrel Hunting Tips and Tactics
It wouldn’t be a hunting article without a few tips and tactics to send you into your hunt with. While every area can present a distinct challenge, squirrel hunting in California is not all that difficult.
Visibility and Accessibility
Hunt areas that have decent visibility and not dense, thick brush. This will give hunters a clean shot and the element of surprise. Squirrels are not as dumb as some might think, but they’re not hard to sneak up on either.
Walk and Stalk
As with many animals, a slow walk and stalk approach will often work. Move in the same manner that you would when deer hunting. Walk a short distance, stop, and listen. Use all of your senses to track squirrels down. Grey squirrels are not quite creatures when talking to other squirrels or feeding. They make a bit of noise, so if you’re quiet, you should be able to hear them.
Body position matters when hunting tree squirrels. Using objects like other trees, large rock outcroppings, and the sun can mask your approach. When possible, put the sun on your back, hiding your presence in the glare.
Squirrel hunters should take extra caution while out in groups. There have been many occasions where accidental discharge or reckless gun safety in dense brush have resulted in injury or death. This often happens due to the squirrel’s quick, shifty movements and unaware of surroundings. To prevent accidents, have a plan, determine shooting lanes beforehand, and wear blaze orange.
Squirrel Hunting California
Squirrel hunting is a blast, and California has a lot to offer, especially northern California. Squirrels live in every county in California, but take the time to pre-plan, find hunt areas off the beaten path, use the right method of take for your skill level, and be safe doing it.
It’s always a good idea to plan for emergencies, mine is the Garmin InReach Mini. The GPS/emergency activation unit is versatile and will work anywhere in California. You can learn more about the Garmin InReach full review.