Lever Action Bushytails
Hunting lever action bushytails with a .410 shotgun has rekindled a childhood excitement. There’s something about squirrel hunting with a lever action shotgun that brings it all back to earth. Growing up hunting the hills, hollers and hardwood ridges scanning the branches for a glimpse of the twitch of a tail or listening for the tell tell sounds of nut pieces raining down from high atop an old shagbark hickory. The beginnings of a good hunter often involved chasing bushytails as a youngster and honing those senses so vital for hunting other game.
Those squirrel hunts back in Lynchburg, Tennessee as a young boy remains forever stamped in my mind like little video clips called up occasionally for reference or just to remember the good times. Those days were spent cradling my first gun, a 16 gauge single-shot Winchester, in the crook of my arm or broke over my shoulder. As a kid the excitement seems to be almost overwhelming and is still there. Maybe slightly diminished in comparison. To reach that level of excitement again, you would have to journey back in time, cradling that same shotgun and walk those same ridges where your name still lives, carved in a giant beech tree. Your favorite spot to watch the sun rise and smell the sour mash drifting from the distillery just down the way.
Childhood Excitement About Hunting Squirrels
Recently I was able to regain a little of that childhood excitement hunting squirrels with my new Henry lever action .410 shotgun. A lever action has always been a favorite and to have one chambered for the .410 shotgun round was exciting enough. The perfect close range, get in close squirrel gun was born. It’s the Henry lever action .410 and it is perfect for hunting lever action bushytails. With its 24-inch model you get a threaded barrel for interchangeable chokes. While the range of the .410, with its 2.5 inch chamber, ain’t going to knock your socks off it will knock a squirrel off a limb and bust through some foliage to get there.
The Henry .410 lever action is best used when the leaves are still on the trees. With our spring squirrel season here in Kentucky much of the hunting we do for squirrels is with the leaves intact. This makes for the perfect lever action bushytail time of year. These leaves can make it tricky to locate squirrels high in the tree-tops, but it can also help you get in close, using the foliage as cover as you slowly make your way into range. It is this close range hunting that rekindled my excitement for hunting squirrels again.
Getting Close Hunting Squirrels
There are many tactics for hunting squirrels and getting close enough for a shotgun. My favorite is to just still hunt and listen. Squirrels will give themselves away if you show a little patience. You can hear squirrels as they scamper up and down a tree. You can hear them gnawing on the various mast during the fall, giving their position away. Use some good binoculars to scan the tree tops for the sound. Look for a flick of a tail or a sudden movement as the bushytail hurries to get another nut or reacts to a hawk flying nearby. Once spotted slowly stalk your way into range. With the .410 lever action you will need a few extra steps to get into range. This makes it all the more fun to hunt with.
Swap Chokes In The Field
With interchangeable chokes you can adjust your pattern to the situation. Briley Chokes, out of Houston, Texas, makes a great set of chokes that fit the Henry .410 lever gun. Briley chokes can be flush or extend from the barrel. The extended chokes are fluted, knurled and slotted for easy replacement in the field. I have started carrying a set of Briley chokes in the field with me so I can change the choke to match the situation.
Extra full is the choke I prefer to hunt squirrels. However, a full or even a modified choke might be a better choice. Sometimes the squirrels you are hunting are skittish. This skittishness can come from being pressured by other hunters or by many of the other predators that prey on the squirrel. When squirrels are like this they tend to tolerate less intrusion in their area and notices it much more quickly. When this happens, they don’t stick around chattering on a limb while you get in position. Instead they take off at the slightest movement and don’t look back. When this happens a less than full choke can become your best friend in the squirrel woods as you attempt to put a good shot on a running, leaping scampering squirrel that’s getting out of dodge.
My next favorite way to hunt squirrels is by calling. Calling can and is used during still hunting squirrels. Sometimes it’s the only way to get a squirrel to move enough for a glimpse and a shot. Calling squirrels is an age old trick. Many techniques were created over the years. With the technology that has taken over the call industry a good bellows call is the best way to go.
A bellows call lets you call with one hand while you scan the treetops for movement with binoculars in the other. You can mimic a distress call, barking and chatter. Each call has its place. With practice calling squirrels can become a great way to get in close with the lever action and fill your limit. You can locate squirrels with the call by listening for a responser then begin your stalk. I keep the call in my pocket if I can. While the call can help you locate squirrels it also helps the squirrels locate you. Make sure you are well hidden when you make the call because the squirrels will be searching the area for the squirrel that made the call. Wait until the squirrels stop responding before making your move or you could get busted without even knowing it.
Ammo For Squirrel Hunting
I haven’t shot all of the available ammunition for the Henry lever action .410, but I have sampled a few. The best ammo I have found so far is the Remington Express Extra Long Distance shells in 4 or 6 shot. I carry both the 4 and the 6 shot to the woods and use the size that is best that day. The 4 shot has less pellets. It works best when the squirrels are sitting still and are not skittish. However, when the bushytails are alert and not tolerating much before bolting through the trees, I like to use the 6 shot to give me a little more spread. It gives the squirrel hunter a better chance of adding another to the bag.
Bring Back Squirrel Hunting
Squirrel hunting has taken a back seat recently to so many other outdoor quests. We should have kids out chasing these woodland game animals that offer good numbers, just the right challenge and delicious table-fare. We expect a young hunter to arrow a 140 class whitetail or slam a sage old gobbler. It’s time to give credit where credit is due. To remember our childhood. Remember what it meant to chase these critters with a shotgun down a fence row? Or in the hardwoods with little to no worries. Try grabbing the Henry .410 lever action and stalk your way up an old dry creek bed. Or sit motionless near a big hickory tree. See if those memories come flooding back like they did for me. Those wonderful days, long ago, smelling sour mash and watching the sunrise next to that old beech tree. Where my name still lives.
Make Your Own Shotgun Plug For Hunting Squirrels
Here is a video on turning your Henry .410 Lever Action Shotgun factory plug into a legal hunting plug. Some states require only 3 rounds in a shotgun pretty much anytime you are hunting with it. This is due to the migratory bird law of three rounds. There can be one round in the chamber and 2 in the magazine or in this case in the tube. Henry has a tubular magazine that holds more than 3 rounds in the tube but you can purchase a Henry hunting tube that has the plug built-in or you can make your own hunting plug for your squirrel gun as shown in this video.