Shooting Squirrels in Backyard: Is it Legal?

Maybe you’ve noticed plant damage in your garden or a hole on the side of your house. If you’ve had problems with these furry rodents gnawing and wreaking havoc, you may wonder about shooting squirrels in backyard.

The short answer is that it depends.

The first thing you need to do is to confirm that they’re on your property and find clues about where they’re living.

Signs That You Have a Squirrel Problem

Other animals like woodpeckers can create holes in your siding. However, squirrels often leave telltale signs that they’re up to mischief in your yard. They include:

  • Piles of shelled nuts like acorns or walnuts
  • Raided bird feeders
  • Droppings
  • Trails leading to your house
  • Odd noises coming from your attic
  • Damage to your garden plants
  • Frequent sightings during the day
  • Holes where they’ve dug up their winter stash

The one sure thing you can say about squirrels is that they aren’t subtle. If they’re on your property, you’ll know. Squirrels eat a wide variety of foods from nuts to insects to dead animals. That makes them opportunistic and increases their chances of survival.

You may notice that the rodents aren’t around every year. Some trees like white oak produce every other year, leaving the squirrels looking elsewhere for food.

Life as a Protected Species

Like it or not, squirrels are a protected species in most states across the country. That’s not the same as a threatened or endangered animal. Instead, it means that there is a designated hunting and trapping season for them, making them game animals.

Your state DNR or Department of Conservation manages species like squirrels. You’ll find specific regulations about when and how you can take them. That typically includes a permit or license.

When you add shooting to the mix, you’re adding a lot more to your to-do list before you can legally take them with a firearm. You’ll likely need a license to possess a gun or buy ammunition.

We strongly urge you to check before firing off a round. The penalties are likely severe if you get caught.

Another Level of Protection

There’s also another caveat that may surprise you concerning shooting squirrels in the backyard.

In some areas in the country, there are mutations of the common gray squirrel with all black or albino variants. Some places have embraced these animals because they’re unique.

Marysville, Kansas, for example, has made black squirrels their official town mascot, complete with an annual parade. Kent State University also honors them in a similar fashion. If you happen to live in one of these places, you probably can’t shoot them or take them by other means even if the gray-colored gray squirrel is a game animal.

Nuisance Wildlife

However, you may still have some recourse for shooting squirrels in the backyard, especially if the squirrels are causing damage. We suggest documenting it with pictures and other evidence since you can get fined for taking one out of season in some places.

Some areas will allow you to get rid of nuisance wildlife if you apply for a permit. You may have to pay a small fee and follow some specific regulations regarding disposal.

Use of a Firearm

Using a gun is another story even if it’s in your backyard. Most states and municipalities have restrictions on where you can fire a weapon. They typically include things like a minimum distance from a dwelling or road.

You’ll likely see additional regs about the kind of gun you can use and the type of ammo when shooting squirrels in the backyard. It’s not just a matter of taking the matter in your own hands and firing away a la’ Annie Oakley across the bird feeder.

If permitted, we’d suggest sticking with a firearm that has the minimum range necessary to get the job done. The longer that it can shoot, the greater are your chances of hitting a non-targeted animal or another person.

A Word on Gun Safety

Before you think about shooting squirrels, you’ll want to be sure that you’re using a firearm safely. If you own a firearm, chances are you know how to use it, but we still feel inclined to note a few precautions to take when you’re shooting at such a small target:

  1. Be sure that no one is around before you begin shooting. When you’re using your gun to get rid of pests, you want to be sure that all children, family members, and pets are inside and away from where you’ll be shooting. Accidental shootings happen, and they’re tragic. Avoid tragedy by taking this simple precaution.
  2. Shoot during the day. Squirrels are active during the day, which means you’ll be able to see them better. You’ll also be more aware of your surroundings, and avoid accidentally shooting something you ought not to.
  3. Don’t point the gun at anything you’d regret killing. Take extra care knowing where the barrel of your gun is pointed. If you wouldn’t shoot it purposefully, don’t point the gun at it or near it.
  4. Safety doesn’t mean anything. This goes with the last gun safety tip… even if your gun is on safety, NEVER point the gun at anything it shouldn’t be pointed at. Another point: after you’ve shot your nuisance squirrel(s), put the gun on safety after every shot until you’re ready to take the next shot.

Tips for Shooting Squirrels if Permitted

If you’ve done all your homework and are sure it’s legal, there are a few things you can do to make sure you get the interlopers. Squirrels are most active — and visible — during the early morning or late afternoon.

  • Start where you’ve seen signs like piles of shells or trails leading to potential hiding places.
  • Lure them to you by tapping two quarters together.
  • If permitted in your area, attract them with some bait.
  • Let them get close to you before you shoot for a better kill rate.
  • Always shoot squirrels sitting on the ground.
  • Never go after them when it’s windy, which can interfere with the trajectory of your ammo.
  • Wear blaze orange to alert others to your presence.

Also, check to see if there is any value for the pelt. You might make a little cash to cover your cost for the ammo. You’ll get the best price for them if you shoot squirrels when their fur is at its best, typically during the start of the fall season. The chances are that they are nice and fat from a diet rich in nuts and other goodies.

You’ll also do better if you can kill them with the least amount of shot that would damage the pelt. In other words, make sure to take in some target practice before going after the squirrels.

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Alternatives to Shooting Squirrels

If shooting squirrels in the backyard is not legal, you still have some options for getting rid of them. Some other things to try include:

  • Poison
  • Traps and Snares
  • Live Trapping
  • Use of a Different Weapon

Each one has its pros and cons that you must consider carefully before going on your hunt.


This option is viable only if you don’t have pets that go outside in your yard. Manufacturers make these poisons with smells and tastes to attract their quarry. That can also mean a curious cat or dog.

On the positive side, they offer a hands-free solution. You place the poison where you’ve seen activity and wait for nature to take its course. Poisons are effective as long as you use one specifically made for squirrels. For example, using mice products on your nemesis likely won’t be potent enough to get the job done. Besides, it’s against federal law to use these products in any other way than what is printed on the label.

On the downside, poisons are often broad-spectrum, which spells trouble for anything that ingests it. Sometimes, it’s hard to avoid non-targeted animals. Then, there is the idea of having poisons in your home. It’s imperative to keep the opened products out of the reach of children and pets. You’ll also need to take precautions when handling them such as wearing gloves.

And need we mention the smell if a squirrel eats the poison and goes to your attic to die? The best way to use poisons is with proper placement. Observe the activity patterns of the squirrels and put them in the areas that they use a lot.

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Traps and Snares

If you can’t use a firearm, you might still be able to use a trap or snare to catch the marauders. The same risks exist with catching a non-targeted animal, making proper placement vital.

Some traps will do the deed and spare you the unpleasantness. Some won’t, leaving you to finish the job.

We recommend using a trap meant for a squirrel because of size variations that could make them useless if it’s too big or small.

Live Traps

If you want to avoid having to dispatch the animal, you can also try using a live trap, if permitted in your area. The method is as the name implies with you releasing them someplace else, preferably far from your property.

You’ll likely find that there are regulations dictating where that place is. Failure to follow them could get you a ticket.

This method has some major downsides. You have to handle the cage with an angry, trapped squirrel inside of it.

It’s not going to make it easy either.

Many cages have handles that put your hands well out of the reach of the animal inside of it. Again, you should get one meant for squirrels to ensure that they will trip the trigger properly.

And always wear gloves when handling a live trap.

Using a live trap is more labor-intensive. You also have to remember how prolific squirrels are with gray ones having four or more pups in a litter, twice a year.

That’s a lot of trapping.

Another Weapon

If you can’t shoot a gun, you might be able to fire off an arrow or pellet gun. However, most states have the same restrictions in place for how and where you can use a bow as exist with firearms.

That means shooting far from the road, your house, and your neighbors.

The Final Answer

We understand how irritating a squirrel problem can be, considering all the damage they can do and the diseases that these rodents can carry. But doing your homework is essential to stay on the right side of the law.

The answer, therefore, to shooting squirrels in the backyard is that it most likely is legal, but less safe to do, if you live in a suburban area. Living in the country gives you more room and options to get your pest problem under control. Keep in mind that there are other methods to keeping squirrels at bay than with a gun. If you can’t shoot squirrels, trap them, or remove them by another method.