The Belding’s Ground Squirrel – His Pros and Cons
By Gary Lewis
The Belding's ground squirrel has his faults. He likes it where the living is easy. Put an alfalfa field in his neighborhood and a young ground squirrel moves down out of the hills to live in the big green commune. Here, he finds everything he wants: a place to live; free food – cultivated by a two-legger on a tractor; an irrigation system; and recreation with the neighbors.
There is danger, of course, but he quickly learns to duck down a hole when a raptor glides across the sky or a coyote appears on the horizon.
In the optimized environment of the alfalfa field, the varmint plays host to a variety of fleas, ticks and mites, which can carry and spread disease. And ground squirrels breed quicker than rabbits. The more squirrels there are, the more holes they have to dig. They consume truckloads of alfalfa before it can go to market or feed the cattle. They gnaw through PVC pipes, weaken dams and cause cave-ins where a horse might break its leg.
But he has his good points, too. He likes the warmth of the sun in the springtime and he'll stand upright on top of the mound, a plump six-inch target for a youngster with a .22 rifle. The squirrel might run a little ways and look around when the first bullet clips the dirt nearby and he's sure to duck down a hole when bullet number two whistles between his ears. But he quickly forgets and sticks his head back up for another bite of green and a chase around the mound.
These are qualities that the first-time ground squirrel shooter is quick to appreciate. Springtime's ground squirrel hunts are good training for the first-time hunter. And the precision shooter, armed with a .17HMR or a .204 Ruger or a bull-barrel .223 Remington topped with a high-magnification scope can make short work of free-loading ground squirrels.
In Oregon, Belding's ground squirrels can be found from Bend and Klamath Falls, east to the Idaho border and south to the California and Nevada borders.
Property owners may let you shoot, but permission must be obtained. Keep in mind that well-traveled highways carry the most hunters and access might be easier to find off the beaten path. Establish relationships with landowners prior to the hunt or contact an outfitter for a guided hunt on private ground.
You may find good shooting in February or March, but April and May are the prime months. By mid-June, the grass and crops may be too tall.