Thursday, September 14, 2006

Squirrel Season!

In Ohio, anyway. Here's Dick Martin, outdoors columnist for the Marion (OH) Star:

Bagging your limit easy during squirrel season
The 2006 squirrel season opened on Sept. 1, and according to Division of Wildlife chief Steve Gray, the year should be a good one.

With a generous six squirrel limit, it should be no trick most days to fill a ticket with some fine eating, and they are indeed good eating. Back when I was a kid in the hills of southern Ohio, my idea of a perfect meal was fried squirrel, gravy, boiled potatoes mashed with a generous helping of butter, collard greens, biscuits and honey. My opinion hasn't changed since those days.

The scenario for those first of the season squirrels hasn't changed, I'm sure, since pioneer days. Bushytails, whether fox or grey, love hickory nuts, particularly pignuts, and right now they're feeding in any hickory tree they can find. So successful hunting is mostly a matter of finding a few nut trees, looking for fresh cuttings below and waiting for customers to arrive.

They'll feed in beech too, during early days, especially if few hickories are around, and feast on wild grapes, dogwood berries and field corn.

All are worth checking now, and if they're hitting corn hard, try a stand along a fence row with a cornfield beside. It can be an easy place to pick up a limit, and the farmer is sure to appreciate it. If you're hunting beech, don't just find a good stand and sit down. There may be a hundred mature beech in a given woods, but squirrels will be working only two or three. Check the ground first and select those with cuttings beneath.

Every hunter knows two species of squirrels live in Buckeye country, fox and grey, and our area holds primarily the big russet-colored fox squirrels.

Fox squirrels like small, open wood lots, while greys favor denser timber and larger areas of woods farther south. They'll intermingle, of course, and invade each others territory, but as a rule of thumb you'll be hunting fox squirrels in northern and northcentral Ohio and greys south of town, in southern Ohio, southeastern Ohio and elsewhere.

Fox squirrels can be easy pickings. Most are dumb as the proverbial fence post, and unwary unless hunted hard. They're late risers too, often stirring well after dawn and feeding until as late as 10 a.m. I hunt these wearing full camouflage and soft-soled tennis shoes, and rarely sit down, moving at a slow "take three steps and stop" pace. I look around, but mostly I'm listening for falling nuts, the swish of limbs and the clatter of claws on bark.

When I hear something interesting, I'll stop, watch carefully, then head in that direction. When I see the animal, I'll move around until I've a clear view, then make my shot. Moving slowly, but steadily has another advantage in that I can cover a whole wood lot in a reasonable time. If they're concentrated in one spot, I'll find them eventually.

Greys are a far different animal. They're usually up and about at first grey dawn, so you'd best be in the woods by then. The ideal situation is to scout your timber the evening before, then be sitting quietly among hickories come daylight. I've seen as high as a dozen greys in a single hickory, taken an easy one, then had fast shooting as the others bailed out.

They're super wary and cautious, and walking them up usually ensures they'll see you and flatten out along a branch for hours if necessary. Here's a final thought. Greys like to travel in late morning and they'll often run ridges. A stand in such places will sometimes bring one or two more to fatten your game pocket.

Mmmmm. Squirrel with gravy, collard greens, mashed potatoes & biscuits.


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