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Sept. 29, 2003
Squirrel Hunting Is Affordable, Quality Experience
AUSTIN, Texas ó Picture it: flashes of rusty brown and gray bouncing along a limb high overhead and the rustling of damp leaves under a big oak followed by the unmistakable crack of an acorn shell. For many generations of Texans, squirrels have provided an introduction to hunting.
This autumn has the potential to both rekindle squirrel hunting memories and create new ones.
"Unlike hunting many other game species, which require a greater level of patience and skill, squirrel hunting success can be achieved at a casual pace," said Mike Berger, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department wildlife division director. "Thatís what makes it an ideal pursuit for young people and newcomers to hunting. Itís a great way to pass along the hunting tradition."
Squirrel season runs Oct. 1 through Feb. 1 and May 1-31 in most counties having a squirrel season, and the daily bag limit is 10. Because squirrels rely mainly upon hardwood mast, (acorns, pecans and hickory nuts), as their primary food source, East Texas offers the most hunting opportunity. But pecan-timbered river bottoms and creek in other parts of Texas also hold plenty of squirrels. (Refer to hunting regulations in the Outdoor Annual for specific bag limits and season dates for squirrel hunting in your area).
"All you have to do as a starting squirrel hunter is find a locale with good oaks where you can get around and see," said Carl Frentress, a TPWD biologist and lifelong squirrel hunter. "Go out at daylight and just sit still and listen and look for movement. Some prefer to walk and locate squirrels that way, but if you pick a good spot sometimes theyíll come to you."
There are two species of squirrel in Texas ó the gray squirrel (or cat squirrel) and the fox squirrel. The fox squirrel has the widest range and can be found along creek and river bottoms throughout much of Texas. Ideal fox-squirrel habitat in East Texas is mature mixed pine and hardwood forests.
Cat squirrels are limited to the eastern portion of Texas and can be found in abundance in mature stands of hardwoods. They tend to be early risers, so hunters working the bottoms for cat squirrels should plan on getting afield early to catch the cat squirrels in action. Fox squirrels on the other hand tend to forage later in the mornings. And according to seasoned squirrel hunters you donít necessarily have to be in prime bottomland hardwoods to get in the squirrels.
Although squirrels do the best in habitats dominated by mature hardwoods, squirrels can exist in a variety of wooded habitats. This means even an enjoyable day in the woods may be a close as your neighborís woodlot, (with their permission of course)!
During the first month or so of squirrel season while the leaves are still on the trees, some hunters prefer to use shotguns loaded with No. 6 or No. 4 shot, but the serious hunter may opt for a .22 rimfire rifle.
Frentress prefers a rifle for a couple of reasons.
"If you really want to have a great time and enjoy yourself and see a lot of squirrels, hunt them with a rifle," he suggested. "Squirrels are nervous creatures. Iím convinced itís not the noise from shooting that scares squirrels, itís the shotgun pellets rattling through the trees. If youíre worried about your ability to shoot a rifle or are using iron sights, then a shotgun may be the way to go. In my opinion, nothing beats a .22 semi-automatic with a four-power scope. Squirrel hunting with a scoped .22 is also good practice for gaining confidence in shooting off-handed and/or at a moving target, which may be necessary during a deer hunt."
Another tip is use camouflage.
Frentress recommends wearing camouflage from head to toe. On public land, hunter orange is mandatory, but itís a smart idea for safety anywhere, anytime.
TPWD manages more than 490,000 acres in East Texas, available for squirrel hunting through the agencyís Public Hunting Lands program. With a valid Texas hunting license and a $48 Annual Public Hunting Permit, (which may be purchased wherever hunting licenses are sold), hunters can access these areas during designated seasons. Youth younger than age 17 are not required to purchase the permit, but must have a $6 Special Resident Hunting License and be accompanied by a permitted adult.
"The main thing is you donít want to crowd your neighbor," said Frentress. "If youíre hunting on public land and come across another hunter whoís already in place, just go find another spot. In hardwood forests, squirrels are everywhere."
Because squirrels depend on available food supplies, finding likely haunts along hardwood bottoms, creek beds and draws is the challenge. In damp forest floors, squirrels will also feed on dogwood fruits and mushrooms. Unlike many other forms of hunting, squirrels require patience and alertness to the surroundings.
"If youíre looking for high intensity stuff, squirrel hunting is not for you," Frentress laughed. "You have to be slow-paced and able to listen to whatís going on. Itís a great experience."
For more information about hunting and where to buy hunting licenses, visit the Web (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/hunt/) or call (512) 389-4505.
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