The 2007 squirrel season will open Sept. 1, and according to the Division of Wildlife, the year should be a good one.
With a generous six squirrel limit, it should be no trick most days to fill a ticket with some fine eating, and they are indeed good eating. Back when I was a kid in the hills of southern Ohio, my idea of a perfect meal was fried squirrel, gravy, boiled potatoes mashed with a generous helping of butter, collard greens, biscuits and honey. My opinion hasn't changed since those days.
The scenario for those first of the season squirrels hasn't changed, I'm sure, since pioneer days. Bushytails, whether fox or gray, love hickory nuts, particularly pignuts, and right now they're feeding in any hickory tree they can find. So, successful hunting is mostly a matter of finding a few nut trees, looking for fresh cuttings below, and waiting for customers to arrive. They'll feed in beech too, during early days, especially if few hickories are around, and feast on wild grapes, dogwood berries, and field corn.
All are worth checking now, and if they're hitting corn hard, try a stand along a fence row with a cornfield beside. It can be an easy place to pick up a limit, and the farmer is sure to appreciate it. If you're hunting beech, don't just find a good stand and sit down. There may be a hundred mature beech in a given woods, but squirrels will be working only two or three. Sweeter nuts? Maybe, but check the ground first and select those with cuttings beneath.
Every hunter knows that there are two species of squirrels in Buckeye country, fox and gray, and our area is blessed with both kinds. Fox squirrels like small, open wood lots, while grays favor denser timber and larger areas of woods. They'll intermingle, of course, and invade each others territory, but as a rule of thumb you'll be hunting fox squirrels north of Mansfield, which includes Huron County. And grays south of town clear to the Ohio River.
Fox squirrels can be easy pickings. Most are dumb as the proverbial fence post, and unwary unless hunted hard. They're late risers too, often stirring well after dawn and feeding until as late as 10 a.m. I hunt these wearing full camouflage and soft soled tennis shoes, and rarely sit down, moving at a slow "take three steps and stop" pace. I look around, but mostly I'm listening for falling nuts, the swish of limbs, and the clatter of claws on bark.
When I hear something interesting, I'll stop, watch carefully, then head in that direction. When I see the animal, I'll move around until I've a clear view, then make my shot. Moving slowly, but steadily has another advantage in that I can cover a whole wood lot in a reasonable time. If they're concentrated in one spot, I'll find them eventually.
Grays are a far different animal. They're usually up and about at first gray dawn, so you'd best be in the woods by then. And the ideal situation is to scout your timber the evening before, then be sitting quietly among hickories come daylight. I've seen as high as a dozen grays in a single hickory then, taken an easy one, then had fast shooting as the others bailed out.
But they're super wary and cautious, and walking them up usually ensures they'll see you and flatten out along a branch for hours if necessary. Here's a final thought. Grays like to travel in late morning, and they'll often run ridges. A stand in such places will sometimes bring one or two more to fatten your game pocket.
Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
HOOKS & BULLETS
Duck hunters will find plenty to cheer about in the annual Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey. The fourth highest Canadian pond count on record propelled the breeding populations of northern shovelers, redheads, and canvasbacks to all-time highs, and pushed the green-wing teal population to its second highest level on record.
Blue-winged teal took advantage of improved water conditions on both sides of the border to achieve their third highest breeding population. The total duck breeding population climbed 14 percent to 41 million birds, and mallards rose 10 percent to just over 8 million.
Bow hunters making ready for the fall archery season might be interested in a new book, "Tuning Your Compound Bow 4th Edition" by Larry Wise. The small book offers high performance tuning for all cams and compounds. Topics include pre-use bow preparation and draw stroke of the compound bow. It's available for $13.95 from Target Communication at (262) 242-3990.
The Division of Wildlife can help add fresh ideas to teachers' lesson plans with Project Wild, a supplemental curriculum designed to use wildlife to teach classroom subjects. Education specialists can bring a free workshop right to the classroom, along with Activity Guides containing over 200 activities that use wildlife themes. For more information, call (800) WILDLIFE.