For me, shooting squirrels is like my own personal Superbowl, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, and Taco Tuesday all rolled into one. This article will be the first of many about shooting ground squirrels in the west, and will establish a basic overview of why we do it, and what it's like.
The western ground squirrel
On average, the standard ground squirrel stands between 6-10", and measures between 1.5-3 inches wide at the widest point. Usually they are grey in color, but sometimes are a light brown, with some yellow mixed in.
In Nevada amongst ranchers and farms, ground squirrels are little assholes. They dig multiple holes and tunnel systems that not only damage the fields, but also damage equipment when it runs it over, and cripples cattle when they fall in the ground squirrel holes. Along with the holes, they can also ravage the crops that the ranchers grow. At the ranch we shoot at, there are barren areas around some of the more active squirrel mounds. With all of these things combined, ground squirrels can cause tens upon thousands of dollars of damage to a ranch every year.
To control the population, and attempt to lessen the damage on the fields, there are two main methods used. One is poison. With poison, depending upon the type used, it can be expensive and cause secondary kills. Secondary kills are what happens when another animal eats the carcass of an animal that was poisoned. Say for example, if it is an eagle that eats it, that becomes a pretty bad day. The other method used to control the population is shooting them, and that is where my area of expertise falls.
Shooting ground squirrels
Being that you are shooting in springtime in Northern Nevada, the weather conditions can vary greatly. Each year when we go out, we usually have at least one day where it rains on us, or where the wind is blowing so badly that all the squirrels go back into their holes. Temperatures can be near freezing in the morning, then up to the 70's by noon. Needless to say, layering is important. Hell, by most afternoons I am in shorts, after being bundled up with a runny nose all morning.
Distance: I have shot squirrels from less than five feet, all the way out to 600 yards. On average, you will be taking shots from 50 to 300 yards. Personally, I find that there are enough targets of opportunity to keep most of my shots between 50-200 yards. Sometimes I feel frisky and start shooting out from 300-400 yards, but for the most part I like the easy shots, and find no need to be shooting them past 300 with so many within that distance. Keeping these distances in mind, it is nice to have something that shoots flat so that holdover is minimal, and you do not have to think much when shooting multiple squirrels.
Volume: This is the big thing to consider. There have been times where I have went through over 150 rounds of ammunition within 10 minutes. When you are maintaining this volume of fire (accurate fire) at that, you have to really choose something that is efficient and is easy on the barrel. Another method is to rotate rifles, so that way once your barrel gets to the point that you can brand cattle with it, you can move on to another rifle.
Optics: Since you are potentially going to be spending 8-10 hours behind a scope, it really pays dividends to have great glass. For me I have found that inferior glass gives me a headache after a few hours. Inferior glass also makes it hard to make distance shots, since the squirrel becomes a greyish brownish blob, so you do not really know exactly where you are aiming. For the distances I shoot, I like a good 4-12 or 4-14 power optic.
Coming in part II