As expected, a bill that would simplify Mississippi’s squirrel season structure and create a new spring hunting opportunity beat Monday’s deadline for introducing legislation at the Capitol.

Senate Bill (S.B.) 2369 would end the decades old staggered start to squirrel season based on geographical zones, North, Central/Southwest and Southeast. If the bill passes, there would be no zones and Mississippi would have one statewide fall/winter season starting Oct. 1 and ending on Feb. 28.

The impact would be negligible to hunters north of U.S. Highway 82. The area currently comprises the North Zone and has an opening date that falls on the Saturday closest to Oct. 1.

But in the Central and Southeast Zones, the difference would be beneficial. Hunters in the central and southwest areas would have about two weeks added to their season and hunters in the southeast would get about four weeks added to their seasons.

The staggered starts were originated to offset botfly larvae infestation. The larvae, a.k.a. wolves, are an unsightly part of the life stage of the warble botfly. It is believed that eggs deposited on vegetation hatch into infective larva that parasitize the host squirrel from August to October. This skin parasite produces unsightly, bloody swellings, usually 3-5 nodules, concentrated around the front shoulder and chest areas of the infected squirrel.

Usually by mid to late October, the grubs emerge and leave the host squirrel. It is believed that the southern areas are the latest to reach this stage, thus the staggered starts. Since the infestation is limited to the skin, the meat of the squirrel is not affected, but the season was delayed, biologists say, to prevent the waste of squirrels by unknowing hunters who would toss the animals upon seeing signs of the botfly.

S.B. 2369 also would open a spring squirrel season that would start no earlier than May 15 and end no later than June 1. This additional opportunity has gained a lot of support from avid squirrel hunters, especially those that would welcome the extra time to work their dogs.

“I don’t see it affecting anyone other than a few idiots like me who would be out there in that heat with our dogs because we love it so much,” joked Kenny Latham, a former conservation officer and boating educator for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “To me, the spring season is a no-brainer.”

MDWFP officials have said there is no biological reason to oppose the spring season, indicating that the additional harvest would have a negligible impact on the squirrel resource.

Gun season ending

Today (Jan. 22) is the final day of the gun season on deer statewide, at least for those hunters aged 16 and older. 

The extended primitive weapon and archery seasons open on Thursday (Jan. 23), and will end Jan. 31 in the Hill and Delta Zones and end on Feb. 15 in the Southeast Zone. During this season, all children aged 15 and under will be allowed to use their weapon of choice.

The late season is either-sex, except that in the Southeast Zone, only legal bucks will be allowed from Feb. 1-15. The exception is that children 15 and under will be allowed to kill either sex deer during that period.

Canemount WMA Turkey hunts

Applications for the draw hunt for turkey season at the 3,500-acre Canemount WMA in Claiborne County will be accepted through Feb. 15. There is a $5 fee to apply for both the youth and regular season hunts.

Open only to Mississippi residents aged 15 and under, the youth hunt will be March 9-10 and only six hunters (one per zone) will be drawn. Those drawn must buy a $200 permit for the youth hunt with a one gobbler limit.

For the regular season hunt, there will be 14 3-day hunts available from March 14 to April 23, and only one hunter will be selected for each 3-day hunt. Each hunter will be allowed one guest (two people per hunting party), and the bag limit is one adult gobbler per 3-day hunt. The permit fee is $300 for hunters who are drawn.

All permit payments, youth and regular season, must be made by Feb. 26 or that permit will be forfeited and a second drawing from the original pool will be conducted.

To apply, visit online.

While at the site, look at the additional turkey hunting opportunities available by draw at 15 WMAs managed by the MDWFP. Special youth-only turkey draw hunts are also available on Sardis Waterfowl WMA, Ward Bayou WMA, Sunflower WMA and Natchez State Park.