Squirrel season opens cross Mississippi on Sept. 30, offering hunters an opportunity to get in the woods, often with a dog doing much of the work.
Patrick Allen dropped his tailgate, and Honey Girl hit the ground running wide open into the hardwood bottom — a squirrel dog on a mission.
Honey Girl, Allen’s Mullins Feist, wasted no time getting to work. She ran about 100 yards and treed a squirrel pronto. Before the hunters could get to the squirrel, Honey Girl left the tree and ran about 30 yards and treed again, which was not like her at all.
Arriving at the tree, we spotted a squirrel high among the upper branches, and the young guns took a shot or two, then all heck broke loose. As the young hunters were blazing away at that squirrel, more squirrels started coming out of the woodwork, running, jumping and swinging from limb to limb in their attempts to escape.
The trees were shaking with squirrels dashing this way and that.
Jared Barnett picked out the first squirrel and dropped it as he sailed through the oak tree limbs.
“There’s another one,” Jack Allen said. “And there’s another one over there, too. Honey treed three squirrels in two different trees at the same time.”
The dog hadn’t left a false tree; there were just too many squirrels to count, and she watched the first one move to another tree and followed him. We thought she’d messed up, but Honey Girl was on the ball.
The grey squirrels flew through the treetops like trapeze artists. Honey Girl was following them with keen eyes and trailing along. She was just coming into her prime three years old.
Jack Allen and Nathan Hodgins took a sharp aim at one of the escaping squirrels, and ended its run.
Their shotguns roared, and the squirrel fell from the heights.
It was a mild fall day in East Mississippi, but also a wild fall day in the woods. Honey Girl was treeing constantly. Patrick Allen and his 14-year-old son, Jack, are avid squirrel hunters, and 12-year-old Nathan Hodgins had come along for on his first squirrel dog hunt. The party included Jared Barnett, who was sharing one of his squirrel hunting hot spots.
The hunting was wide open and action-packed, although we kept at a leisurely pace in between Honey’s trees.
Squirrel hunting with dogs is like that, with action fast and furious when the dogs have treed, but laid back and fun when the dogs are working the woods and hunting for another squirrel.
“We have great fun,” Patrick Allen said. “It’s actually a social hunt with friends and family, and we spend a lot of time talking and cutting up and getting some good exercise, too. It’s fun telling stories and tall tales while we watch the dogs work.”
Patrick Allen used to be a diehard deer hunter, but that’s a thing of the past now.
“About five years ago, a man carried me and my son, Jack, squirrel hunting with a dog, and we saw what we’d been missing,” Patrick Allen said. “We had so much fun that we switched from hard-core deer hunters to hard-core squirrel hunters.
“Deer hunting had become so serious that it’s taken a lot of fun out of it. We love squirrel hunting for lots of reasons, but we get to spend time with each other, and there’s lots of action. That’s what makes it fun for me and the kids. These days, a lot of kids grow up deer hunting from stands and never get to squirrel hunt or learn the basics of hunting. They’re really missing out on some fantastic hunting and good times. We still like to hunt deer during the rut when the action is hot. And we like to shoot a good buck, too, but we spend most of out time hunting squirrels and only hunt deer when they’re chasing does.”
The Allens prefer limiting their hunting parties to four to six people, enough to surround the treed squirrels and find them — they can be hard to spot when they lay flat against the tree trunk or tree limbs — and still be safe. Adults usually go for the fun of working the dogs, watching the kids have fun, and to make sure that everybody hunts safely.
Hot Delta squirrel hunting
While many people like to hunt the Mississippi Delta for huge bucks and plentiful ducks, a select few squirrel hunters have their own “squirrel camps” — places they stay so that they can hunt a few days at a time.
Allen lives near Meridian, so it’s too long of a drive to hunt one day and then drive home.
“We have a camp between Rolling Fork and Holly Bluff,” he said. “We do most of our hunting on public land. During most of the deer season, deer hunters don’t want you hunting their private land, but they welcome you after deer season closes. However, that doesn’t give you much time to hunt if you wait until February.
“There’s lots of public land in the Delta, and we do see a bunch of nice deer while squirrel hunting. Sunflower WMA is in the Delta National Forest, and it has plenty of squirrels and room enough to stay clear of the deer hunters. We like to hunt places that are not so easy to get to because a of people hunt those easily accessible places.”
Mahannah WMA, Twin Oaks WMA, and Panther Swamp National Wildlife Refuge have thousands of acres of bottomland hardwoods to hunt; they offer some of the state’s best opportunities to harvest a sack full of squirrels. Be sure to check the WMA regulations to be sure when and where squirrel hunting is legal on different tracts.
If you haven’t hunted in the Delta, you’re really missing something special. It is the only area of Mississippi where a hunter can score a “squirrel trifecta” by bagging a gray, red and black squirrel on the same day. The Delta is home to fox squirrels that come in two main colors, red and black.
“In the Delta, it’s about a 50-50 split between the red fox squirrels and grey squirrels,” Patrick Allen said. “Hunters will find more black squirrels on Mahannah than most of the other places in the Delta.”
In East Central Mississippi, the Tallahala, Bienville and Caney Creek WMAs are all popular. Squirrels are plentiful, and the Allens often hunt there when time is limited and prevents a run to the Delta.
“Upper Sardis and Malmaison WMAs are the top destinations for squirrel hunting within the Northwest WMA Region,” said biologist Brad Holder of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “There are squirrels to be had at Charles Ray Nix WMA, but it’s not on the same level as Upper Sardis and Malmaison.”
In Northeast Mississippi, biologist Nathan Blount of MDWFP l had a couple of recommendations.
“The Canal Section and John Bell Williams WMAs are your best places to harvest squirrels in the northeast section of the state,” Blount said. “There are lots of bottomland hardwoods and lots of squirrels. Last year, John Bell Williams was really impressive, and lots of squirrels were harvested there.”
Dogs fun, not required
During the early part of the season when the leaves are still on the trees, stalking — or still-hunting — is an alternative to dog hunting and a good tactic for hunters who don’t have dogs.
“Still-hunting for squirrels can be just as fun, and it’s hard to beat during the early season,” Patrick Allen said. “My son, Jack, likes to still-hunt near the house after school, and he loves to use a squirrel call, too.
“Jack has really harvested a lot of squirrels while using the squirrel call. He’ll hit that squirrel call, and they will answer him, and he slips up on them under the cover of the leaf canopy, and he’ll bring home a sack full.”
Squirrel calls are really productive when stalking squirrels with a .22 rifle. Hunters can slip up on the squirrels and pick them off without disturbing other squirrels in the area. If squirrels are responding and barking back at your call, if you’re good at slipping up stealthily on the squirrels, they’re easy pickings for a sharpshooter with a scoped .22 rifle.
When it comes to fine table fare, look no further than a plate of tender, fried squirrels, brown gravy and homemade biscuits. Country cooks tenderize the squirrels in pressure cookers, crock pots or by boiling them until tender. A few like to fry the squirrel lightly, just browning them a bit, and then put them a pan of brown gravy and let them simmer until the meat falls off the bone.
“I like to cook then down until the meat falls off the bone and then pull the meat off and mix them with rice,” Allen said. “We love that squirrel and rice, and my wife even makes some fine squirrel gumbo!”
Other hunters prefer taking that tenderized meat and using it in dumplings. Squirrel dumplings are a tasty treat indeed and something everybody should sample at least once.