Mississippi’s newest hunting season is building a legion of loyal hunters, despite the spring squirrel season requiring a completely different strategy and style from the normal fall and winter season.
“I never thought I’d like it that much, but it continues to grow on me, even a decade later,” said Randy Barnes of Meridian, 59, a retired teacher who has hunted squirrels for 50 years.
“My granddaddy came from Arkansas, where they had a spring season, and he always talked about how he and his friends hunted in the Ozarks in the spring. He was a big influence on me as a squirrel hunter when I was little, but he had moved to Mississippi by the time he started taking me.
“He’d tell his stories, but I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to deal with Mississippi heat and mosquitoes and snakes in May to shoot a few squirrels. That was before I started keeping a good squirrel dog. The first couple of years we had the spring season in Mississippi, I didn’t even go.”
Missing the fall season
What changed Barnes’ mind was in 2011, when he missed all but one day of the fall and winter season with medical issues. He could go without hunting, but he couldn’t go without eating squirrel.
“I broke my leg on opening day when I fell crossing a log over a swollen ditch,” he said. “I had to have surgery and couldn’t walk for about three months. I finished my (physical therapy) in April, and when the spring squirrel season came, I decided to take my dog, Chip, and go see what it was all about. The first day we went was a bust. It was hot, and Chip wasn’t in great shape. We gave up after an hour. He treed one squirrel, but I couldn’t find it in the leaves on the tree. It wasn’t a lot of fun.
“A few days after that, I ran into a friend at church who told me he’d been several times that week and had limited out. He invited me to join him and told me I could bring Chip if I wanted to, but it wasn’t necessary.”
Barnes said that even though it went against his soul to go hunting without his best friend, Chip, he joined his friend, and they went to some private land where the friend had access.
“He said we were going to hunt food sources, and to me, that meant he had the only piece of ground in Mississippi that produced acorns in May,” Barnes said. “That was how green I was. He taught me real quick the value of early budding fruit and berries. We went straight to a mulberry tree and he left me to sit against a pine tree and wait. I killed the limit of four in an hour. The squirrels just kept coming, about one or two every 15 minutes. My friend took another half-hour to finish his limit.”
A change of heart
After that first successful trip, Barnes began to enjoy the spring season.
“I liked it even more after I figured out how to make it work for Chip,” he said. “Since I’ve gotten older, my love of squirrel hunting evolves around working with Chip. He’s the third squirrel dog I’ve owned and the best. What I do is scout before the season, right after turkey season ends May 1, but I’m scouting both the food sources and the nesting trees so that Chip and I can get in between them. We go about five times each spring, and we pretty much limit out each day.
“I also learned that if you can’t get there at sunrise, don’t bother going. Squirrels are just as affected by heat as we are. They do most of their feeding between sunrise and 8 a.m. I also like to stay close to a water source, because squirrels will need more water due to the warm temperatures.”
Biologists say squirrels will feed on fresh fruit and berries in the spring, as well as a few green shoots, some grubs and other minor sources.
“If you don’t have mulberry trees or berry bushes, but you have oaks that feed squirrels in the fall and winter, those squirrels will be out looking in spring for tougher-to-find food sources,” Barnes said. “If ol’ Chip and I can find them, then anybody can. The only other advice to give you is be on the lookout for snakes. Man, they are everywhere in May.”
Spring squirrel 411
- Dates: Opens statewide May 15 and ends June 1.
- Limit: 4 squirrels daily per hunter.
- Legal hours: 30 minutes before sunrise until 30 minutes after sunset.
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