Hard to believe, but squirrel season in Georgia began on Saturday, Aug. 15. I do not hunt squirrels much anymore (except in my yard), but hunting squirrels was where I first developed my hunting skills such as safe and careful gun handling; proper gun sighting; shooting techniques and game tracking.
My first adventure into hunting as a young boy involved the pursuit of squirrels. There were few deer in L.A. (Lower Alabama) and turkeys were almost nonexistent, so most of my hunting as a young boy was for squirrels, doves and quail. Maybe today’s abundance of squirrels has taken away some of the challenge. I could easily get a limit of squirrels in a couple of hours in my neighborhood if hunting were permitted there.
Today deer and turkey demand most of the hunting spotlight and likely result in the majority of the hours that are spent hunting. As a young boy, squirrel hunting was simply pure fun. All you needed was a .22 rifle or a 20-gauge shotgun and a few shells and you were ready to go. We could hunt almost anywhere since very little land was posted and landowners would readily let anyone hunt their land.
Georgia’s squirrel season will run until Feb. 28, making it by far the longest season for any wild game in Georgia. The daily limit is 12 squirrels and they may be either fox or gray squirrels. You are not likely to see many fox squirrels since their populations are much less than that of the gray squirrel. As a young boy, getting to harvest a fox squirrel was a real rarity, and since they were much larger than the gray squirrel, it provided more food for the table.
The fox squirrel can weigh as much as three pounds and they come in a variety of colors from solid black to a mixture of blacks, brown and white. They are a beautiful squirrel and are mostly found in stands of mature pines. They often build their nests in the tops of very large pines and can be very difficult to spot in those tall trees. My daddy was really good at spotting the outline of a fox squirrel in the tall pines we hunted.
The gray squirrel is much smaller than the fox squirrel and usually weighs less than a pound. However, a few gray squirrels that frequent my seed and suet bird feeders could probably top a pound. The gray squirrel is home in just about any tree whether hardwood or pine but nest primarily in hardwoods.
When squirrel hunting as a young boy in south Alabama, we would walk slowly through the woods with our eyes fixed skyward in search of any movement that might indicate a scampering squirrel trying to escape. Today’s sophisticated hunters refer to that technique as stalking, but to us, it was just a good way to slip up on an unsuspecting squirrel.
If we came across a squirrel nest in a tree near the ground, we would shake nearby vines in an attempt to scare the squirrel out of the nest so we could get a shot. For many years, my daddy hunted with a fox terrier, and that small dog had a local reputation for treeing squirrels but had died from old age before I began hunting. I am not sure why Daddy did not get another fox terrier.
Today’s squirrel dogs are usually some type of beagle or terrier, and hunting with dogs is an old hunting tradition that is still practiced in the south. In terms of number of hunters and harvest, squirrels are second only to doves in small game hunting. Many young boys and girls are still being introduced to hunting through squirrel hunts.
We ate squirrels as a young boy and they were considered a delicacy at our family table. You do not hear much about eating squirrels these days and some of that is related to the infestation caused by botflies. The bot fly infects both fox and gray squirrels and enters the squirrel’s body under the skin but does not affect the meat.
Once the bot fly larva hatches it will exit the squirrel. The infestation is scientifically called warbles. I have heard it referred to as wolves. It appears as lumpy tumors under the squirrel’s skin and even though unsightly, the squirrels are perfectly safe to clean and eat. I don’t remember seeing warbles in squirrels while growing up and even though safe to eat, maybe that is why I have not eaten a squirrel in several years.
Today, squirrels are much more plentiful than they were in my childhood. In those days, you had to go to the woods to find one and now I have more in my yard in a week than I saw in all my hunting trips as a young boy.
Why not take a son, daughter or grandchild for a day of squirrel hunting this hunting season? Have some quality time with them, experience the great outdoors and who knows mom might be able to cook up some squirrel stew in the microwave! Good hunting and see you next week.
—Outdoors columnist Bobby Peoples can be reached at email@example.com.