Mississippi’s No. 1 small-game animal remains the squirrel, although hunting pressure continues to plummet. The number of squirrel hunters in the state has dropped by half over the past 50 years.

“For the life of me, I don’t understand that,” said Jimmy Harris, 63, a lifelong squirrel hunter from Jackson, who hunts primarily in Hinds, Madison and Warren counties. “When I was a kid, we all squirrel-hunted, and we did it all fall and winter. We had a ball, and I still do. I don’t understand this rush to take kids to a deer stand when they are four, five of six years old.

“When did it quit being fun to follow a good squirrel dog? When did it quit being fun stalking squirrels alone? When did fathers decide their kids got a better understanding of nature from a ringside seat in a wooden shooting house than they would being in the field of play?”

The loss, Harris said, goes well beyond sport.

“It’s just an entire generation gone from the woods, one that won’t learn the importance of habitat conservation and that won’t develop a concern about or form a relationship with nature,” he said.

And, Harris said smiling, “They may never know the joy of a pot of squirrel stew or squirrel and dumplings. That would be a shame.”

January’s early reports from squirrel hunters and from observant deer hunters bode well for a February stroll through the woods.

“I’m lucky enough to have a few friends with small blocks of timber where I can squirrel hunt throughout the deer season,” said William Watson of Meridian. “That land is scattered across Mississippi, from the Delta to the Tenn-Tom (Waterway) and from Tupelo to the Coast.

“I have only had two disappointing days squirrel hunting, and they both came from the southeastern corner of the state in early October. Their deer season doesn’t start until Oct. 15, so I can get a couple of good public-land hunts in, but this year it was poor. I couldn’t find any squirrel to speak of. There was one day when I would have failed to kill a squirrel for the first time in — heck, I can’t remember when — but I shot one 50 yards from the truck when I was leaving. Everywhere else, I had no trouble getting five or six, and most days if I had time, I got a limit of eight.”

Watson said the woods in the East Central, Northeast and Delta areas are “slam full of squirrels, like there was a squirrel explosion. I hunted one 50-acre block in Monroe County four days over two weeks and limited out in under three hours each time. One only took 75 minutes, less than 10 minutes per squirrel.” 

New squirrel opportunity

Beginning this month, about 520 acres below the dam of Barnett Reservoir will be open to limited youth-oriented squirrel hunting. It will be the first legal hunting for bushytails in the area in over half a century.

“It will only be open on weekends in February, after our draw archery deer hunts have completed, and then open again daily for the spring squirrel season May 15 to June 1,” said Craig Hunt, Pearl River Valley Water Supply District’s Director of Parks and Recreation. “Since the area is small, the board elected not to allow squirrel dogs during the hunts.”

At least one youth, aged 15 and under, who has satisfactorily completed a hunter education course, must be a member of each hunting party and must be under the direct supervision of at least one adult over 21, who has a valid hunting license or is exempt. 

No rifles of any type, including .22 rimfire and air-powered guns, will be allowed. Only shotguns with No. 4 shot or smaller will be allowed. Hunters must sign in and out at the deer weigh-in station at the PRVWSD shop off Spillway Road, and park only in designated areas. The daily limit and legal hours will follow statewide MDWFP regulations.