The old saying of “be careful what you introduce yourself to” is very much true, especially in the case of squirrel hunting with dogs. Anytime I am introduced to a new method of hunting and fishing, I quickly become obsessed and passionate about it. For instance, one of the first times I was introduced to hunting wild hogs with dogs I became obsessed. Day in and day out all I could think about was having my own dogs, watching the dogs work, and produce wild hogs for me. After a few days reality started to sink in and I realized even if I bought the best dogs the world has ever seen, I still had no land to hunt them on. Even though hogs are considered a nuisance, it is still an arduous task to get land owners permission to hunt on their land. When it comes to ideal hunting locations, either someone else already has permission or the land owner is not too privy to someone being on their land. So, in the end I dismissed the idea of having hog dogs and continued on with my squirrel dogs as I have since I was 15 years old. But I said all that to say this, just because you are introduced to a new and exciting method of hunting does not necessarily mean it fits you as a hunter or maybe even your lifestyle.
I went squirrel hunting with dogs for the first time when I was around 10 years old and it stuck with me like cheese sticks to bread. It only took a few times of going for me to say “one day I will have a squirrel dog”. I would imagine anyone that goes on a good hunt would feel the way I did. I had no clue at the time the dedication and commitment it took to being a successful squirrel dog hunter. But I meant what I said at 10 years old. On my 15th birthday I was given a mountain feist puppy that I named Bo. He was mostly black with a tan belly, mouth, and feet. I was over the moon excited and couldn’t wait for training to start. The very next week I started working with him by tying a squirrel tail to a cane pole and making him chase it. That session mixed in with some minor obedience training went on for about a month. Then I started playing hide and go seek with the tail, which was sprayed with some store bought squirrel scent. Once I felt like he was getting the hang of it and right before he started to show signs of losing interest I moved on to live squirrels. I would trap live squirrels in a cage and basically let him torment the squirrels almost to death(not joking had many squirrels die on me before I could release them). I would then release the squirrel in a location that I was certain which tree he would run to while Bo would do his best to run him down. Once the squirrel made it to the tree, I would tie Bo to the tree with his leash so that he stayed on the tree and barked. I would let him bark for a good period of time but not long enough he would lose interest then shoot the squirrel down and give Bo a quick taste of the squirrel in his mouth then skin the squirrel and put him in the freezer. These activities went on until he was around 8 months old before I started taking him into deep woods. Not long after that Bo disappeared. I came home from school one day to find that he had escaped his kennel. It was not unlike him to dig out. He dug out several times before so we dug a trench and put chicken wire around the perimeter of his kennel and that stopped that. Not long before he disappeared I awoke in the middle of the night to him desperately howling, I ran outside to find that he had climbed halfway up the kennel and had gotten his legs stuck in the fence. I helped him back down and went back to bed. A few weeks later when I came home and he wasn’t there my family and me just assumed he was able to climb out(either that or he was stolen but we didn’t want to jump to conclusions). We looked for months to no prevail. Not only was I upset I lost my future hunting companion but all the time and work that was put in to him was snatched away in the blink of an eye. Things can just happen when you have dogs for hunting, you can lose them in the woods, they can contract various diseases, can be stolen, killed by other animals, hit by vehicles, females die giving birth, etc. I have ran into many different situations where I have lost dogs. It is always something to take into account when deciding if you want to take on the responsibility of a hunting dog.
The years rocked on after Bo’s disappearance. I bought and have hunted many dogs since then. If you have gotten the bug so to speak of wanting to get a squirrel dog by no means do I want to discourage you, but I want to be truthful with you. That feeling that you get when you go out and put the smackdown on the squirrels does not need to be the reason you do it, that feeling only makes up about 10%, if not less, of the time that you have squirrel dogs. When making the decision you really have to consider the other 90% of the time. I won’t get into the feeding and caring for the dog because that should be a given. Most breeds of squirrel dogs are high energy and require a lot of attention and exercise. They don’t take well to certain forms of training and environments. You can’t work with them aggressively with shock collars or verbally like you can some hounds. They will remember how you treat them forever. With that being said I don’t come home everyday and swaddle them with love and affection, as I see dogs as a hunting companion not as a pet. I treat them like you would treat one of your fishing buddies not as a infant child that I find adorable. Also, do not try to convince yourself that it is some sort of good investment. If an accountant did an expenses vs. return spreadsheet for you they would probably advise you to file for bankruptcy.
On a positive note, squirrel hunting with dogs has great opportunity when it comes to land access. I can take my dogs to just about any WMA or National Forrest land in Georgia as long as small game season is in. So whether you own 1,000 acres of land or live in an apartment, you have access and the opportunity to hunt. If you have read this article and have gotten the impression that I want to discourage people from owning squirrel dogs, it is the opposite. I want more people to have squirrel dogs and to continue the tradition. I do not want it to die out like a lot of hunting and fishing is nowadays. One of the main reasons I want others to do it is… I am on my way out of the tradition of owning squirrel dogs. That’s right, I wrote this article and told you a portion of my life to say that in the future I will be getting out of it. I have one dog left and hunt him every chance I get. Recently in life I have taken on greater responsibility in my career and also have been hunting more of a variety of species here in Georgia and across the United States. I have many hunting trips planned this year and years to come and to keep taking on hunting dogs knowing I won’t be able to give them the attention they need to become the best they can would be a disservice to the dog and myself. All of this is to hopefully inspire someone to get into squirrel hunting or someone to continue it. It will always be a passion of mine and maybe in my older years it will be something I pick back up. Any of you who have read this and have squirrel dogs you know like I do that I have barely scratched the surface when it come to the complexities of the dog hunting world. Any of you that do not have squirrel dogs and plan on getting into the tradition and do it responsibly and with respect to the dog I thank you as it is people like you that will keep it around for generations to come.
(Pictured above is of my late dog Sassy and me on a WMA here in Georgia, one of the best dogs I ever had with a mind of her own and as much personality as a dog could have. She is missed.)
Last modified: March 6, 2020