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Hounding Squirrels


A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to tag along on a squirrel hunt unlike I am accustomed. It seems that in certain parts of the southeast, hunting squirrels with the aid of a well-bred and trained dog is just the ‘cat’s meow’ as it were. David Catoe of Lugoff, SC has a young dog he calls “Tater” that loves nothing more than catching the scent of an eastern grey squirrel.

Young hunter and some squirrel dogs

Young hunter and some squirrel dogsn grey squirrel and giving him a chase.

We stood near a creek and listened as Tater gave chase to a scent that his nose picked up, barking and yelping all along the way, he followed this scent until he had the squirrel up a tree and holding fast until we could arrive. Once we arrived, we circled the tree searching for the little quarry holding tight to the branches high in the branches. One of the hunters claimed to see the squirrel and a well-placed bullet sent the little guy tumbling to the ground. No sooner had the squirrel hit the ground than Tater was on it, grabbing it and shaking it so violently that I could barely see what was happening. If that squirrel had any life left in him at all, Tater shook it all loose!

Tater then trotted over to David, head held high as he proudly deposited the dead squirrel at David’s feet. No sooner had the squirrel hit the ground than Tater was off again looking and sniffing for more squirrels.

The action was fast, furious and a lot of fun. As we ambled behind the echo of Tater’s voice through the woods, we enjoyed a nice cool walk, and some fine hunting. All told we killed eight squirrels that morning. A fine day in the field. Tater was certainly worth his weight in gold this day.

Squirrel hunting with dogs is not as popular as it was in days gone. But there are some circles that still keep the tradition alive and well. Breeders of fine squirrel lines are around and some quick searches can find them. Most of the breeds for squirrels are of the Feist, Mountain Feist, Cur, Mountain Cur, and Stephens Cur variety. A lot of individuals have some combinations of these to suit their own particular taste and desire for specific traits unique to each one. Tater is a Stephens Cur Mountain Feist cross and one of the finest squirrel dogs I have ever had the pleasure to hunt behind.

Much of the instinct to chase is bred into the dogs, But Catoe offers some tips for getting a puppy trained on chasing and treeing squirrels specifically. “I like to get my puppies on squirrels as soon as I can” Catoe offers. Using live cage traps, he catches squirrels from his yard and sets them loose in front of the puppy. This gives the puppy a chance to see, smell and watch the squirrel high tail it for the nearest tree. “It does a lot in a short distance.” Catoe says. “They can see the squirrel in the cage, smell it and then when I open the door, they can chase it up the tree and learn to hold the squirrel in the tree.”

Another tactic is to use squirrel tails or hides tied to a fishing pole and casting it across the yard. By dragging the hide across the yard, it leaves a scent trail the dog will get used to following. “Then I drape the tail over a limb and reel it up the tree and watch the puppy bark at the tail in the tree. The last technique Catoe uses is a GPS shock collar. Catoe believes that using this is critical to ensure the dog is chasing the correct game animal. “I don’t want them jumping a deer and getting into a chase with a deer. So when I suspect he is on a deer, I send a little correction to tell him that is the wrong animal.” Catoe says that this lets the dog associate the negative feeling with the deer and prevents them from chasing deer.

Hunting squirrels with dogs is a lot of fun. The comradery of hunting with a few fellows listening to the dogs chase the squirrels is addicting. The only caution I offer is to be careful that you do not stop on your way home to buy a squirrel dog.