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Early squirrel season tactics ensure successful hunting

By DICK MARTIN • Sep 9, 2017 at 8:00 AM

The 2017 squirrel season opened on 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 grey, 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 fencerow 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 local hunter knows that there are two species of squirrels in Buckeye country, fox and grey, and our area is blessed with both kinds. Fox squirrels like small, open woodlots, while greys 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 in Huron County and maybe Crawford County, and northern Ashland County. And greys south of town, and in Knox and Coshocton counties and elsewhere.

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 woodlot in a reasonable time. If they're concentrated in one spot, I'll find them eventually.

Greys are a far different animal. They're usually up and about at first grey 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 greys 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. Greys 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.

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HOOKS & BULLETS

• Outdoorsmen who enjoy visiting the Lake Erie Bass Islands shouldn't miss the Oct. 20 through 22 Buckeye Islands Hop sponsored by various segments of the Ohio State University. This annual event gives alumni and friends of Ohio State a chance to check out Gibralter Island and South Bass, take part in an outdoor volunteer project, and meet new people. For details on getting there, accommodations, events and what to bring and do, see visitputinbay.com and Kelly Dress at dress.3@osu.edu or call 419-285-1800.

• Local waterfowl hunters are going to find good hunting this fall. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released its report on 2017 Trends in Duck Breeding Populations and the news is better than good. There will be plenty of ducks flying south this fall, an estimated 47.3 million breeding ducks and their young. Most of them will be mallards with an estimated population of 12.9 million birds, but there'll also be lots of bluewing teal, bluebills, woodies, black ducks, pintails and more.

• I had a more than usually interesting e-mail recently. It said "A friend of mine in Huron County got a picture of a bobcat on a trail cam last week. I had not heard of them that far north. I was down in Washington County last week. A farmer I met with has a five-acre soybean field surrounded on three sides by big woods. He said he counted 25 bucks in that field one evening — all were bucks! He showed me a picture of one of them;. It was a monster — incredibly wide and tall.

 

Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at richmart@neo.rr.com. You can also visit his blog at outdoorswithmartin.com.

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