Varmints and Predators
During the spring and off season we hunters tend to get bored and dream of big bucks and waterfowl cupping up and landing in our decoy spreads. Maybe we go shoot our rifles or reload a few shells but mostly we sit and think about what the New Year holds. A few years ago I got turned on to varmint hunting. Anything from squirrels to coyotes and I know we see shows on TV all the time with these guys shooting loads of coyotes and prairie dogs. Well don’t think it’s easy to find a spot on public land where you can sit and shoot squirrels for hours and hours but I have found some places you may be interested in and yes you can shoot squirrels for hours and hours. You just have to know where and you have to follow the rules.
YOU MUST HAVE A CALIFORNIA HUNTING LICENSE AND ALL APPROPRIATE STAMPS OR TAGS TO HUNT ANYWHERE IN CALIFORNIA FOR ANYTHING EVEN IF YOUR HUNTING PRIVATE PROPERTY
Squirrels, rabbits, and coyotes.
What is a Varmint? A Varmint is an unwanted animal that is usually a health hazard or is destructive to land, plants or animals usually livestock. An example would be ground squirrels because they are both destructive to land and also carry fleas which carry disease. Other varmints may include coyotes, jack rabbits and other rodents.
Most people don’t realize how fun it is to shoot these little guys or how easy it is to find a place to shoot them. Most the time farmers poison ground squirrels because of the damage they cause to orchards and pastures. In orchards like orange or walnuts they will dig burrows into the ground and tunnel from tree to tree exposing the roots to air and channeling irrigation water away from the roots. It does not take long for a small group of squirrels to become a large group of squirrels and for an orchard to be destroyed or damaged costing the farmers significant losses. For these reasons you can’t blame farmers for controlling these pests with poisons. On the other hand organic farmers will often avoid using poisons or pesticides on their property and this is where you can often find access to land.
In northern California there are two ranches that allow you to hunt ground squirrels. The first one is the Prather Ranch in MacDoel California. The ranch is located just outside of Macdoel California about 14 miles south of the Oregon border on Hwy 97. Follow the directions I am providing not the ones you will find online.
Prather Ranch is a large Hay ranch where they grow alfalfa and oat hay. They have multiple little out building and offices. If you look them up online you will just end up getting lost and knocking on doors and bugging the ranch staff. Follow these directions; travel Hwy 97 until you find Sheep Mountain Road about ¾ miles north of the small town of MacDoel. Turn east off Hwy 97 onto Sheep Mountain Road, go over the railroad tracks, turn left follow the road and it will turn Right. Stay on the road as it passes a couple fields and a farm house and the road will make a slight turn and you will arrive at the intersection of Sheep Mountain Road and Dorris Tecnor Road. Continue east on Sheep Mountain Road to the Prather Ranch Shop located at, 2935 Sheep Mountain Road. Turn North on the dirt road and travel past the residence. You will find a shop on your left (towards the west). Park by the shop and walk up to the door and you will see a sign in book. Read and sign a disclaimer and go find a pivot to hunt.
The turn off the main road to go to the shop and sign in
Sign in area, Under the map board is a plywood sign in box, sign a release and go find a pivot to hunt
Maps of the ranch, the green circles are the irrigated pivots
A pivot is a circular shaped alfalfa field. They are called pivots because a large irrigation pipe irrigates the fields and creates a pivot point in the field causing a circle. There will be maps available to look at and you will have your choice of places to hunt. I have never been there when it was crowded with hunters. You will have a good time, remember to pack a lunch and take plenty of ammunition, lawn chairs, a pop-up and plenty of drinks, No Alcohol! If the ranchers spot alcohol you will be told to leave and not allowed back on the ranch. When I say pack a lunch I really do mean it. There is no place to eat for miles and miles unless gas station food is your preference.
Some photos of the fields you can hunt with Mt Shasta in the background
You have to look hard but there are squirrels all over in these fields
My buddy John
.243 for sqeakers at medium range about 150 to 400 yards
As far as ammo and calibers, I would keep it small. On a good day you could easily shoot 600 to 1000 rounds of ammo. I would stick to .22 long rifle and the little .17 HMR or .223 otherwise you might come back broke. I have hunted this Ranch multiple times. The best time to hunt it is from March to about June. If you wait too late to hunt the hay will be up too high and you won’t be able to spot the little guys. You will have to look for a field that’s been freshly cut or hunt the edges.
You can only shoot ground squirrels on this ranch nothing else. Also don’t enter the fields to retrieve the squirrels. The owners do not want you in their fields stay on the roads and shoot from outside of the fields. The ranch is well irrigated and you could easily walk into the field and sink up to you knee in a soft spot. The same with the roads don’t get off the roads or turn around in the middle of the road. You could drop a tire into a soft spot on the edge of a field or create a rut and get the areas closed down.
These squirrels are just like rodents everywhere, they have fleas, lots and lots of fleas so limit your handling of dead ones and for goodness sake don’t throw one in the truck to take home and show your kids or you will need to fumigate your truck for fleas. Do not shoot the coyotes or the antelope or even the rabbits just the squirrels, that’s all your allowed to shoot, and the best part about it is its free and open to the public, the ranch it’s self is an organic hay ranch so they actually appreciate hunters helping to control the squirrels.
The squirrels here actually look like miniature prairie dogs and are big time trouble makers. I actually take three guns with me when I shoot this place a semi automatic .22 without a scope for the close range shots of 10 feet to 50 yards, I also take a .22 with a scope for 50 yard to 150 yard shots and a .223 or .243 for 150 yard to 400 yard shots. But trust me on this, on a good day you will use your .22 more than any other gun and because they are less noisy than the .223s the squirrels will be out more. Once you start shooting the bigger louder guns the close range squirrels will hide in their holes till you leave. This ranch and the folks who own It are allowing the hunters to come out and hunt free of charge. Please follow all laws, clean up after yourself and in general be respectful and safe. We don’t want this place to get shut down because someone was unsafe, messy or shot up equipment or sprinklers.
The second private ranch that allows hunters to enter their ranch to hunt squirrels is Alturas Ranches http://www.huntalturas.com/trespass-permits/ located south of Alturas California (extreme North Eastern California). The permit can be obtained at the Ranch office located south of Alturas. Drive south on 395 for 13 miles until you reach Lyneta Road. Turn right onto Lyneta road and drive the 2 miles to the Ranch Office. From Susanville drive 81 miles to Lyneta Road and turn left on Lyneta Road and drive the 2 miles to the office and obtain a permit to hunt the squirrels. This is an absolutely huge beautiful ranch with miles of alfalfa fields.
Take lots and lots of ammo. They prefer smaller calibers .22 long rifle, 17s and maybe a .223 if used in a safe manner. You can only shoot squirrels on the ranch from April 1st until August 1st every year. Same thing for this ranch as Prather ranch, take plenty of water ammo and food, lawn chairs, tripods bi pods and shooting sticks, no alcohol is allowed on the ranch. The best time to hunt is April and May. By late May the hay is up and you have to either look for dry fields or look for fresh cut fields. The fresh cut fields are the best because the squirrels are dumber and braver than the veterans in the dry fields. By August the weather is too hot for the squirrels and they tend to spend their days underground where it’s cooler. That is why you don’t see them during in the summer and fall during deer season.
This Ranch is a far drive from just about anywhere except for Alturas so plan on spending the night and making a two day event out of it. You can stay in several Forest Service campgrounds in the area or just dry camp it in the National Forest or BLM land, there is plenty of it around. Or you can stay at one of the motels in Alturas. If you have an RV or trailer I would suggest staying at Likely Tables RV and Golf. Very affordable, clean and has a restaurant for breakfast and lunch and they are very hunter friendly. They even put on a Squirrel Shoot combined with a Fishing and Golf Tournament in April and a Chukar Tournament in January.
There is a big bonus to hunting in both of the areas I just covered. The bonus is Predator hunting. Now the farmers in both of these areas do not mind the coyotes. Matter of fact they actually appreciate them because they also catch the squirrels and rabbits and are eating all the squirrel carcasses we leave around and for those reasons they do not want you hunting them on their property. But there is plenty of BLM and Forest Service property to hunt coyotes. The evening hunt on the BLM lands around Alturas can be very productive especially if you have an electronic call.
In the San Joaquin valley from just north of Grapevine to the Sacramento area you will find plenty of squirrels but unfortunately it is mostly private property. And because it is primarily row crops you’re just not going to have a lot of luck getting in on places to hunt with one exception. Water Districts, as you drive through the valley note the irrigation canals channeling water across significant distances. These canals are very prone to boils. Boils happen when the levee banks develop a weak spot and water seeps in and erodes the levee from the inside. One of the primary causes of boils is ground squirrels burrowing into the banks. Most of the water districts and irrigation districts have aggressive pest control management and welcome safe ethical hunters. You will have to put some miles on your truck but you will find water district and irrigation district managers that will let you hunt their levees. Their water ways travel through some of the best farmland in the valley and with permission from them you can find the occasional hot spot for ground squirrels.
Jackrabbits are a considerable nuisance in some areas and currently in California the season is open all year with unlimited bag limits. If you’re in southern California look to the BLM lands around Bishop. There is an unbelievable amount of BLM land in this area and there is also Department of Water and Power land that is open to hunting and other activities their web address is: http://wsoweb.ladwp.com/Aqueduct/watershedmgmt/crowleytrib/recuses.htm
In Northern California the BLM land in the Susanville area is loaded with jackrabbits and most the people I know that hunt jacks in big numbers go to the Susanville area. Most of the good hunting is north and east of Susanville. Just find a dirt road going off into the BLM land and start driving you will find them.
Jacks are not that hard to hunt. Take a .22 rimfire with a scope and something bigger from .223 on up. They are a great way to brush up on your deer hunting skills and practice some long shots. They are usually more active in the early morning and late evening. Starting in March and April the Jacks will go in to what they call “the Jackrabbit Rut”. The breeding season begins and they start chasing each other all over the place fighting and scratching each other it can be really crazy and once you find an area with a large number of Jacks say 50 or more stay there and find a place to perch over a patch of somewhat barren or low weeds in the middle or along the edge of a sage brush patch and start watching. Best places are along the roads and access areas near alfalfa fields
Now that you have found jackrabbits and ground squirrels you more than likely have found a good area to shoot coyotes. Remember in California you cannot bait any animal that I am aware of including coyotes so don’t shoot a bunch of ground squirrels or jacks and then sit over them waiting on coyotes. Find a another spot or better yet come back a few days later after the coyotes have cleaned up and put your call out. Keep it legal it’s not worth the ticket.
UPDATE FEBRUARY 2019
The Ranch is Currently too wet to hunt and wont be open till the roads and field get dry around mid March.
I will post an update when hunting is good and the roads are open and not a sloppy mess.
This Ranch is currently closed and doesn't usually open until April. When it does come open hit it up the first few weeks as the hotter the weather gets the less active the sqeakers will be. The Ranch also closes for squirrel hunting after August 1st.
UPDATE MARCH 14th 2019
LIKELY TABLES SQUIRRLE HUNT
This is a really nice “fun shoot” to go to, admittedly its not very fun for the squirrels but you will enjoy it.
It takes place at Likely Tables RV Park and Resort in Likely California just south of Alturas on Hwy 295. It is a long drive for most people but if you enjoy golfing, fishing and blowing the heads off rodents at 200 yards this is the event for you. Its kind of expensive if you just want to shoot squirrels all day because you can do it for free on the Alturas Ranch from April 1st to July 31st” with a free permit from their office, or at the Prather Ranch all year without a permit all you need to do is sign in at the tractor barn.