Conditions may be tough and strategies may differ, but hunting should be good
Nearly a decade in the making, Mississippi’s first spring squirrel season will open statewide on Friday (May 15) and offer small game enthusiasts the opportunity to …
“Deal with snakes, heat, mosquitoes, poison Ivy and other forms of ****,” joked Dave Godwin, a biologist and avid squirrel hunter. “Over the last three years, when it looked like we were going to get a spring season, I started tracking the weather during that late May period. In reality, you can count on two fingers the number of cool, pleasant mornings each year.
“I actually went out a few mornings last May when I knew for sure the new season was coming (2014 Legislature created it). I stepped on a cottonmouth, I burned up and the mosquitoes tore me up … and I had lit up the Thermacell before getting out of the truck.”
But, struggles and kidding aside, Godwin, the small game and turkey programs coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, will be among the squirrel hunters trying, for at least one or two days, to get a daily limit of four when the May 15-June 1 season opens.
“Because of the conditions, I don’t think it will appeal to the casual squirrel hunter; they’ll get their fill of the conditions pretty quick and it will run its course,” he said. “The diehards, the ones that like to work their dogs, now they’ll go and the hunting should be good. There will be a lot of squirrels, including a lot of young squirrels, in the woods.”
Mark Beason of Jackson is such a diehard. An avid dog trainer and hunter, Beason has hunted the spring squirrel seasons in several states, including Arkansas, Missouri and Louisiana, always looking for places to spend time in the woods with his squirrel dogs.
“This year, I won’t have to travel as far,” he said. “It was about time Mississippi added the spring season. I hear everybody joke about the heat, and the snakes and the mosquitoes and the full foliage of the trees, but when you think about it, that’s the same conditions we have during early October when the regular fall/winter season is in its first stages.
“It’s hot in October. The trees are full of leaves. The mosquitoes and the snakes are out there, too. I don’t see it as that big a deal. You just have to deal with it and go on.”
Small game hunters began requesting the spring season about 10 years ago, and it came close to gaining legislative approval on at least two occasions only to be shot down mainly because of fear that such a bill would become a vehicle to change deer seasons.
In the 2014 session, legislators were ready to make a change in deer seasons — including creation of a separate archery season and allowing firearm of choice during most primitive weapon seasons — and the opportunity was there to create the spring squirrel season.
Biologically, it should have no impact on squirrel populations, and Godwin said the timing “actually makes more sense than some of the periods when we were already hunting them.
“Rick (Hamrick, MDWFP small game program leader) and I have been discussing it and the new season actually fits in between the two reproductive periods. During that two-week period they are not reproductively active.”
Said Hamrick: “Another good thing is that the squirrels born from late January to March will be weaned and out feeding. You know, the young and dumb ones …”
Added Beason: “He means the tender ones. That is one thing that the spring season will definitely provide, and that is to get those young ‘fryers’ in the skillet. You get a young, tender squirrel and fry it up fresh and there is nothing in the world any better.”
To get a 4-squirrel limit, half the fall/winter daily limit, Mississippi hunters will need to adjust their thinking.
“First, you have to stop thinking about the hard masts, like oaks, hickories and pecans; that’s all gone,” Godwin said. “All the normal food sources that a still hunter would look for in the fall are not available in the spring.
“What you need to look for are soft masts, things like mulberries, dogwoods, grapes, berries, anything budding out, and they eat insects and grubs, too.”
Beason said the lack of hard mast actually helps hunters.
“What I have found is that if you can find a good food source, you can find squirrels concentrated more in the spring than you can in the fall or winter,” he said. “Of course, I hunt with a dog so I am not as much concerned about (food sources). I just know I need to be in areas where squirrel are feeding.
“I have a lot of friends who do still hunt, and they say it is more challenging because of the increased foliage. But just stalk, look for squirrels moving in the trees, and with all the foliage you should be able to see the leaves moving, and most of all be patient. And if you find a mulberry tree, then by all means, sit close and watch. They will come.”
Spring Squirrel Season
Dates: Opens May 15, closes June 1.
Limit: Four (4) squirrels daily.