HEADLINE: Last chance to hunt squirrels
Missouri’s squirrel season, which runs from the fourth Saturday in May through Feb. 15 of the following year, is by far the state’s longest opportunity to harvest edible game. It’s so long, in fact, that many hunters — including yours truly — get so beguiled by I-can-go-tomorrow syndrome that the final tomorrow slips past unnoticed.
That’s a real shame, because the tag end of squirrel season is the persistent hunter’s just reward for enduring the early season’s heat, insects, leaves and too-early sunrises. At least in the mini-forests where I do most of my hunting, that leaves only the fact that almost every plant in the understory has thorns, but chaps and leather gloves turn that potential irritation into a nonissue.
If you insist on using a rifle on all of your squirrel hunts like I do, the latter part of the season’s lack of foliage is an obvious advantage. At long last, it’s possible to see squirrels at the outer limits of your — not somebody else’s — shooting range.
But seeing a squirrel and including him in your daily bag limit are two different things. Doing the latter consistently requires shooting from the steadiest possible platform. Using an adjustable bipod is the most practical means I’ve found to accomplish that goal. The one I use allows me to shoot from any position from sitting to standing and at any angle from below horizontal to nearly vertical. It set me back about $50. That’s less than the cost of one tank of gas, and, given I don’t leave it behind in the woods, it will last a lifetime.
According to a research paper I read years ago, almost 80 percent of a squirrel’s daily activity takes place within two hours of first light, and most of the remainder occurs during the last hour of light. I don’t remember where the field work for this project was conducted, and I don’t know if the biologists who wrote the paper interviewed any actual squirrels. After spending the past 55 years observing squirrels in Kansas and Missouri through gun sights and camera lenses, it’s hard to disagree with their conclusions, at least during the warm weather months.
During the winter months, squirrels don’t completely abandon their normal patterns, but they do make concessions to the prevailing weather conditions. For example, when either air temperatures or wind chill values drop into or below single digits, most squirrels stay in their dens all day long — which is just fine with me. On calm sunny days when the temperature and wind chill are above freezing, squirrels are not only active early and late, but there will be a few out and about throughout the day. You’ve got to appreciate a game animal with an attitude like that.
Newcomers to late-season squirrel hunting often overlook a lot of squirrels. While keeping an eye on the treetops is never a bad idea, active squirrels spend most of their time on or close to the ground after the leaves and hard mast have fallen. Be forewarned that a squirrel foraging on the ground is a challenging quarry. And why shouldn’t it be? People are only one of a host of furred and feathered predators that hunt squirrels. By January, that squirrel you’re trying to stalk has already survived dozens of attempts by far more skilled predators.
I usually still-hunt during the late season, both because it’s easier to keep warm and squirrels are often scattered through the woods. That’s not to say that sitting in the right spot won’t work, because it most assuredly will.
During the summertime, I field-dress my squirrels at least every couple of hours to insure I’ll be dining on the freshest meat possible. Protecting meat quality on a half-day hunt isn’t an issue when the woods are one big refrigerator, but I still prefer to leave as many of the byproducts behind as possible. But speaking of byproducts, if you’re a cat fisherman, squirrel livers work almost as well as chicken livers, and they’re tough enough to stay on a hook.
NOTE: On a completely different subject. This winter’s on again, off again cold spells have made most of the ponds and small impoundments in central Missouri look like they’re frozen solid, and they may indeed be covered by the number if inches of ice that are commonly thought of as safe. The problem is that alternating periods of sub freezing and above freezing temperatures cause ice to form honeycomb-like structures that are never thick enough to be trusted.