October is a big month for small-game enthusiasts, with the opening of the statewide squirrel season on Oct. 1 and the statewide rabbit season on Oct. 13, giving both several weeks of hunting before the opening of gun season on deer on Nov. 17.
“That’s the key, getting those weeks to hunt small game before the deer gun season,” said James Bryant of Tupelo. “Our deer club in Pontotoc County only has one archery deer hunter, and he’s not too serious about it, but everybody hunts deer when gun season opens. We make a big deal out of the opening weekend of squirrel season, and do the same on rabbit season.
“We allow dogs for both squirrel and rabbits through the end of October, and then we stop so that we can eliminate a lot of presence in the woods in November before the gun season. By then, we’ve gotten plenty of time with the kids on small game and killed enough squirrel and rabbit to eat each weekend at camp.”
The balance of small-game and deer hunting is a problem a lot of deer camps face. Obviously, deer hunting is the priority, and the main reason that members are willing to pay a few thousand dollars a year — or more — to join a hunting club. Some are extreme, either allowing no small game hunting at all before deer season, while others are more lax.
“It’s why I have memberships in two clubs,” said Billy Hughes of Vicksburg. “I’m in one club in Claiborne County where all we do is deer hunt from October through January. We do not hunt rabbit or squirrel until February. I joined another club in Rankin County along the Pearl River where about all we do is hunt swamp rabbits and squirrels. We have a lot of deer, but nothing size-wise to brag about. The only deer hunting we do there is designed around the rabbit hunts, when deer hunters get on the outskirts of the area where the rabbit dogs are running and try to pick off deer that make a break for it and try to escape.”
Hughes joined the small-game club for two reasons.
“One, I got two grandsons who are just getting old enough to hunt, and I wanted a place where we could go and not worry about deer hunters,” he said. “The other reason is that I have always hunted public lands in the Delta for squirrels, but they have gotten so crowded. I still go because I enjoy hunting black squirrels, and the only place you can find them is along the Mississippi River.”
Rabbit and squirrel seasons continue through Feb. 28, and there is a daily limit of 8 per hunter for each species.