Aug 15 Marks the Opening of Squirrel Season in Georgia

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Aug 15 Marks the Opening of Squirrel SeasonWhether still, stalk or squirrel dog hunting is your preference, the beginning of squirrel season is just around the corner. Often revered as a celebrated American fall tradition, squirrel hunting provides the perfect opportunity to introduce youth or a novice to the sport of hunting. Unlike some big game hunts, the pursuit of bushytails often involves more action for energetic youth, providing a greater level of interaction with the outdoors.

Beginning August 15, 2008 and lasting through February 28, 2009, hunters can pursue both gray and fox squirrels. The maximum daily bag limit is 12 per hunter.

“Prior to the successful restoration of white-tailed deer, pursuing squirrels in the fall was a significant cultural tradition in Georgia,” says John Bowers, Wildlife Resources Division assistant chief of Game Management. “Squirrel hunting can provide one of our best opportunities to introduce the younger generation to hunting and instill in them our responsibilities to wildlife conservation. Additionally, it’s fun, less expensive and provides constant action.”

Squirrel hunting, especially with squirrel dogs such as feists, terriers and curs, is a great way to introduce youth to hunting and the outdoors. In terms of number of hunters and harvest, squirrels are the second most pursued small game species in Georgia, behind doves.

Georgia’s Wildlife Management Areas offer more than 1 million acres of hunting opportunity for only $19 a year, and squirrel hunting is allowed on WMAs at specified times during the statewide squirrel season. Hunters are advised to check the hunting regulations for specific WMAs and dates.

The two species

Both the gray and fox squirrel can be found throughout Georgia. The gray squirrel, abundant in both rural and urban areas is the most common species. Though mostly associated with hardwood forests, grays also can be found in mixed pine/hardwood forests. Predominantly gray, with white under parts, gray squirrels appear more slender-bodied than fox squirrels, weighing anywhere from 12 oz. to 1½ pounds.

Fox squirrels have several color phases, varying from silver-gray with a predominantly black head, to solid black, to a light buff or brown color tinged with reddish-yellow. Generally larger than grays, fox squirrels range in weight from one pound to nearly three, and are more closely associated with mature pine and mixed pine/hardwood habitats and especially in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain regions.

What about the ‘lumpy’ variety?

This time of year, hunters and wildlife watchers often come across a few squirrels with an out-of-the-ordinary, so-called ‘lumpy’ appearance. These lumps are not tumors and actually are caused by warbles, which are bot fly larvae growing just under the squirrel’s skin.

Bot flies (cuterebra emasculator) naturally parasitize gray squirrels, fox squirrels and chipmunks throughout the eastern and midwestern regions of North America. Affected squirrels typically are observed during late summer and early fall – from mid to late July to the end of October.

Adult bot flies lay their eggs in the vicinity of the squirrel’s habitat or directly on the squirrel. Once the larva hatches, it enters a body opening and migrates to a location underneath the skin of the squirrel. The larva creates a warble pore where it grows for three to ten weeks, matures and exits, falling to the ground. There it burrows to pupate and the cycle repeats itself the following year.

Affected squirrels tend to recover quickly once the larvae exit from the warbles to the ground.

While the sight of a squirrel with warbles may be a bit unsettling, they generally pose no threat to uninfected squirrels, other wildlife, humans or domestic animals, and are perfectly safe for squirrel hunters to skin and eat.

For more information on the 2008-2009 squirrel hunting season or other small game hunting seasons, visit www.gohuntgeorgia.com, contact a local Game Management office or call (770) 918-6416.