It’s leisure time

The trees are barren of leaves, and squirrels are easy to see this time of year.

With deer off the menu, thoughts begin to turn

By this time of year, most hunters are worn out. Deer hunters have been in the woods since way back in October. Bowhunters are tired, deer dogs are thin as wheat wafers, even the deer are glad the season has finally come to a close.

Yet, hunting is far from over. If you are looking for a change of pace, there is still some great hunting left to do.

“I don’t want to hear anything more about deer hunting for another year,” said Kerry French of Jackson. “It was a good season. Our club collected a couple nice bucks and we thinned the doe population. We put in a lot of hours in shooting houses and tree stands. It was cold, wet, but fun.

“Now, I’m looking forward to maybe some late-season light goose hunting or a nice easy-paced squirrel hunt with my grandsons at my side.”

End of season options

The primary sport in Mississippi is deer hunting of course. The season ends in Zone 1 and Zone 3 on Jan. 31. In Zone 2, the season extends to Feb. 15, but it is bucks only. Most deer hunters are back at the house by now, maybe thinking about turkeys or fishing or a long nap.

But other hunting options do exist beyond the end of January after the majority of deer hunters and their orange vests are gone from the woods.

It’s February now, so both rabbit and squirrel hunting remain open until the end of the month. Quail hunting is open until the third of March. Opossum, raccoon and bobcat hunting are still open until the end of February. Crow and snipe seasons are open if you should be so inclined. Also open until the end of March is light goose hunting.

Squirrels a top choice

“When the pressured pace of deer hunting is finally over, I’m looking for a couple quiet, slow-moving hunts out in the woods,” said French. “For me, squirrel hunting is the best thing to do this time of year.

“Pick a clear, cool day, slip on some knee-high mud boots, grab a good shooting shotgun or an accurate rimfire rifle and a box of shells and walk deep into the woods. I usually take along a good seat pad, too.”

With deer hunters gone, the woods settle down quickly. Sure squirrels still know a man when they see one and will disappear out of sight, but they can often be easily tricked into coming back out in the open. The best part this time of year is that the leaves are just about gone from all the trees. The only places a squirrel can hide now are the other side of the tree, into a hole or nest.

Squirrel hunting tactics are pretty common. One strategy is to simply walk through the woods looking for moving targets. Early in the morning squirrels are usually on the ground rummaging around for food. Later around mid-morning they are up in the trees. Just walk slowly, as quietly as possible until a squirrel moves. Take a quick aim and shoot. Sometimes it takes more than one good shot to hit a running bushytail, but that’s when the fun starts.

Another ploy is to walk out into an area where you have seen squirrels moving around. Slip up next to a big oak and take a seat. Just sit still until they start moving again. It usually won’t take long. I once filled a limit of squirrels sitting in one place for over an hour.

“When I take my grandsons along on a squirrel hunt, I use them as decoys,” said French. “They are too young to carry a gun yet, but I want them actively involved in the action. We walk through the woods while I coach the boys to keep looking up in the trees for movement. They have pretty good eyes and often spot a squirrel before I do.

“By then the squirrel is either hugging close to a limb trying to remain unseen or he has slipped around to the other side of the trunk. I motion for the boys to slowly ease around the tree. The trick usually works but sometimes the bugger can escape further up the tree and out of sight. This is a fun way to squirrel hunt, because the action can be fast and furious until the shot connects or the squirrel is gone. It is absolutely a great way to get young hunters involved in the sport.”

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