Last Chance for Bagging Bushtails

Upstate Outdoors
February 15, 2019 - 5:05 pm
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Phillip Gentry

Like many small game hunting opportunities,  March 1 will mark the end of the 2019 squirrel hunting season at least as far as the use of guns to take the animals is concerned. 

Many hunters are witnessing the resurgence in popularity of squirrels as a game species in the last decade. Even with the renewed interest, wildlife biologists claim squirrels are one of the most under-utilized game species in the woods.

Many hunters view squirrel hunting as a back to basics type of hunting. That laid back approach provides a lot of appeal to a hunter who wants to get out and enjoy the woods without having to worry about stand sites, scent control, and all that other stuff.

The most likely places to locate squirrels will be hardwoods stands or ridges, especially if they contain hard mast such as hickory, water oaks, or any other “late blooming” acorn trees that will have dropped their mast later in the season. Squirrels will spend October, November, and early December eating, hiding, and sleeping before showing interest in the winter breeding season which occurs in late December and January. The month of February often finds squirrels “browsing” on calm days searching for stored caches of nuts from the fall.

Statewide, the gray squirrel is the bread and butter of squirrel hunters while the fox squirrel is traditionally associated with long leaf pine and maritime forests. 

Both species will be most active the first two hours of the day and the last hour before dark. The best hunting days will be sunny, not too cold with less wind. Windy days make them harder to hunt by not being able to pick out movement in the trees or hear them on the ground. 

Patience and woodsman skill are just as important in squirrel hunting today as they were in years past. Silent stalking tactics, still hunting areas from the ground are both popular and successful tactics. 

The use of treeing dogs is another great tactic that may not be as laid back as silently stalking through the woods undetected, but bags plenty of squirrels. Squirrel hunting dog species run the gamut and is one of the most varied of all dog hunting sports. 

Curs and feists are the most well-known of the squirrel hunting breeds, but any dog with a good nose and the ability to track a squirrel once he begins hopping tree limb to tree limb can be a good choice.

While training of squirrel dogs is accomplished using scents, hides and other backyard substitutes, there is no substitute for time in the woods. This has led many a squirrel hunter to claim their dogs as either “naturals” or “self-taught”, meaning the dog ‘s instincts quickly led it from recognizing the game to working through a squirrels varied tricks of eluding predators.

Regardless of whether you go it alone or take along man’s best friend, a recent trend in the small game hunting community is hosting various squirrel tournaments. Such tournaments are generally low key events where pairs of hunters set forth during a prescribed time period and return to a designated location to compare the biggest bag weight of hunted squirrels.

Afterwards, there usually plenty of fried squirrel, squirrels stew and even squirrel jerky to go round. The daily bag limit for squirrels statewide is 10 per hunter per day.

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Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM or online at 1063word.com. 

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 Photo Caption – Squirrel hunting has seen resurgence in the last decade as a way for hunters to bridge the gap between Big Game seasons. Only two Saturdays remain in the 2019 squirrel season. Photo by Phillip Gentry

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