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Wintertime 'Bushy Tails'
Winter Squirrel Hunting in Michigan
By: Tom Lounsbury
Steve Kunnath with some nice Michigan
winter 'Bushy Tails'
[Tom Lounsbury Photo]
Wintertime 'Bushy Tails'
By: Tom Lounsbury
Normally when I attend the Michigan Outdoor Writer’s Association (MOWA) winter rendezvous, I opt for the rabbit hunt.
This gives me the opportunity to sample the bunny hunting at various places in the state. This year however, one of the many
activities available to writers in the Baldwin area was a winter squirrel hunt, and I couldn’t resist.
Wintertime bushy-tail hunting is still a relatively new pastime in this state. It wasn’t that long ago that Michigan’s annual
squirrel season was extended through to March, opening a whole new winter avenue for avid small game hunters.
And it’s not easy, either. Combine snow, frigid temperatures, and a more barren landscape minus foliage, with a sharp-eyed
and wary quarry, and you have a very challenging atmosphere.
There were five of us going squirrel hunting, and we were gathered around the crackling fireplace at the Pere Marquette
River Lodge when our guide, outdoor writer Don Ingle, hailed us from the door that it was time to go. This is Ingle’s home
stomping-grounds, and he led our two vehicles down a secondary road that was kept open more by wheeled traffic than the
occasional snowplow. When our guide came to a stop I was pleased with the lay of the ground.
A large quantity of oaks with their still-clinging russet leaves, were prevalent in the predominate hardwoods, with a nice
smattering of cedars thrown in. While fox squirrels can be found in the Baldwin area, the main species there is the gray
squirrel, which includes the melanistic phase (black squirrel) that some folks think is a completely different species. Actually
both gray and black color phases can be found in the same litter.
When were getting out our gear for the day I had a chance to view the squirrel-hunting armament of my companions. This
entailed a scoped combination gun, two scoped bolt-action .22’s, a single-shot .410, and my scoped GAMO air rifle. The
combination gun was a vintage Savage with a .22 magnum on the top barrel, and a .410 shotgun barrel on the bottom. This
firearm was no doubt the most versatile of the lot, and was being carried by a former Marine Sniper, Steve Kunnath of Royal
Oak. I had the feeling right off some of the bushy-tails might be in trouble in his regard.
The temperature was just above freezing, and the snow not quite knee-deep, and we all opted to leave our snowshoes
behind for more adept stalking in the brush. Without much ado we simply split up and headed five different directions into
the dense forest, and each of us were soon swallowed up and left to our own solitude. Not a bad way actually, to spend a day
whether or not the quarry is sighted.
Finding a place to sit wasn’t difficult with the presence of frequently uprooted cedars about, but with knee-deep snow on the
ground, the same was on the level trunks. I found a handy perch and used my foam seat-pad to scrape the snow away. Once
positioned, I began my vigil, which in regard to squirrels required my ears as much as my eyes. My technique was to setup
near several leaf nests and wait for some of their occupants to make an appearance, or hear one chattering and stalk in on it.
A game leg kept me from venturing any further.
A key focus of squirrels during winter is finding food, and this causes them to be constantly about, sometimes anyway. They
also can take frequent naps in their snug abodes, and they are on their own time schedule. I’ve headed for the squirrel
woods to be in position at the break of day only to have the squirrels sleep in, according to their mood that day.
The GAMO air rifle I was using is not a typical BB gun. With one cock of the barrel, which is required to load it for each shot,
the unique rifle is charged enough to hurl an extremely accurate .17 caliber lead pellet at 1000 fps. I’ve made kills on small
game at up to 60 yards, and the key is to select a proper hunting pellet, with my favorite performer being the hollow-point.
Topped with a 3-9X Bushnell air rifle scope, the GAMO makes a dandy piece for pursuing squirrels.
Motion through the underbrush caught my attention, and it soon became obvious one of my hunting companions had rousted
several deer. They moved like gray ghosts, with their expelled breath puffing up above their heads like the smoke from an
old locomotive. The freshly fallen snow partially covered each deer’s back and muffled their noise as they came loping by,
and I savored the moment.
Soon the telltale barking of a squirrel broke my reverie and I got up and began my stalk, but to no avail. No doubt it saw me
before I saw it, from its lofty position and held tight. But that is squirrel hunting. I didn’t hear any shots from my companions,
and figured they were having the same luck as me, despite the excellent habitat and fresh squirrel sign. Winter squirrel
hunting is clearly unpredictable.
All too soon it was time for me to head back out to our parked vehicles, where all of us but one convened in a matter of
minutes. Our Marine Sniper friend was still out. We were sharing our experiences when we spotted Kunnath coming around
a bend in the road with something big and dark dangling from the clenched grip of his left hand. It turned out to be four
squirrels, almost a daily limit.
It turns out Kunnath topped over a pine-covered ridge and stepped into some sort of gray squirrel convention in the oaks
below. He shot the first squirrel out of the crotch of a tree at 60 yards using the .22 magnum barrel. He reloaded and shot a
second squirrel on the ground, again using the rifle barrel. Then he moved in closer and took two more squirrels as they
clambered in the branches overhead, by switching to the .410 barrel. This clearly defines the versatile nature of a
combination rifle/shotgun system, something I have long admired.
Due to the forested hills being heavily cloaked in fresh snow, none of us had heard Kunnath’s shots.
The .22 magnum bullet Kunnath was using is Remington’s AccuTip-V, which has a pointed polymer tip, and according to him,
offers a flat trajectory per that caliber and consistent shot to shot accuracy. I could tell such factors can be very important to
former Marine Snipers. This bullet has notable expansion characteristics, but I was surprised by the minimal tissue damage,
no doubt due to the light structure of the squirrels.
Typical of gray squirrels, of the four taken by Kunnath one was gray, one was half gray and half black, and the other two were
There is little doubt that I will be returning for more squirrel hunting adventures in the National Forest land in the Baldwin
area, not far from fabled Pere Marquette River.
It is well worth the trip.
Steve Kunnath's Savage .22 magnum/.410 combo
gun and his 'bushy tails' [Jerry Kunnath photo]