Early-season squirrel hunting is a warm-up in more ways than one. A week into the season and temperatures were still hitting daytime highs in the triple digits. The only way to get some relief and comfortably catch bushytails feeding in the hickories was to hunt in the mornings.
I had a new .22-caliber Marlin XT-22 bolt-action and a Trijicon 1-4X AccuPoint scope that needed a new partner, so it made good sense to mount it for squirrel hunting. After bore sighting, I loaded the magazine with Winchester Dynapoints and made final adjustments to strike dead-on at 40 yards.
The next morning found me sitting at the base of a hickory tree that had produced its share of bushytails over the past three years. Still dark, I heard frantic gnawing overhead as shards of hickory nut began hitting the leaves just feet away. A couple of minutes later, I heard the unmistakable sound of leaves rustling overhead as another squirrel landed in the canopy overhead from an adjacent tree. By the time I had enough light to see to shoot, four squirrels were feeding within range. Two quick shots had the same number of squirrels in the bag. A third made a break for it and I put the post on him as he paused in an adjacent tree.
By the time I had enough light to see to shoot, four squirrels were feeding within range. Two quick shots had the same number of squirrels in the bag. A third made a break for it and I put the post on him as he paused in an adjacent tree.
Nearly 20 minutes passed as I sat there not moving, not even retrieving the squirrels I had shot. Another squirrel moved through the canopy toward my hickory. When it settled in and started to feed, the limb-hugging tree rat I had in my sights relaxed enough to start moving and feeding again. I put the tip of the Trijicon’s illuminated post on the squirrel’s head and squeezed the trigger. I worked the bolt and switched to find the newcomer in the scope before the other one hit the ground, tagging my fifth bushytail.
The morning warmed quickly and the action slowed with it. To pick up the pace, I started stalking and listening for feeding squirrels. The Marlin XT-22 carries well, as I spent the next two hours covering ground. The local squirrel population had other food sources: white oak acorns and walnuts. Instead of feeding in the canopy above, they seemed to prefer the deeper shade of the forest floor to find fallen mast. That made them easier to hear than see. I had to slip into close range to find them sorting through the duff for acorns amid thick brush. Most shots were less than 15 yards, but the AccuPoint picked them up well and allowed the Marlin to nail three more with headshots. The temperature made me call it quits, since skinning and getting my game on ice were my now at the top of my to-do list.
Marlin’s simple hardwood stock on the XT-22 helps keep the cost low on what should become a great starter gun for youth and novices alike.