By Richard Hines
With turkey season just wrapping up, most hunters assume hunting is over until fall.
But many states provide a few more weeks of hunting with spring squirrel seasons.
From the post oak forests of East Texas to the Appalachian Mountains, squirrel hunting had always been a popular hunting season, but it appears deer and turkey has replaced our favorite pastime of chasing arboreal targets.
For years, squirrel hunting was the most popular game animal—or at least a close second to rabbit hunting.
But nationwide numbers of squirrel hunters have since declined. Part of this decline in squirrel hunters during fall seasons can be attributed to longer deer seasons.
The numbers of spring squirrel hunters are even lower.
Although most hunters don’t remember, spring squirrel hunting was at one time extremely popular. But the season was closed over most of the Southeast in the 1940s in the belief that it would increase fall numbers.
However, research later determined that May and June are peak periods in annual squirrel populations and hunting during this time had no effect on the population, so spring squirrel seasons were reopened in the 1990s.
However, it never really caught back on.
Many ask why hunt squirrels in the spring?
Well, with turkey season just wrapping up, spring squirrel season is a perfect time to enjoy the woods without disturbing anyone. Plus, from the standpoint of finetuning ones hunting skills, squirrel hunting is as good as it gets.
No matter if you are a young neophyte or a skilled hunter with years under your belt, hunters can learn or improve their skills of stalking (moving silently), stopping, looking, listening, and being patient—all important skills hunters will be able to carry into other types of hunting.
During the spring, most mulberry trees are hanging with fruit, and back in the day most of your grandfathers referred to this season as the “mulberry season” because squirrels are searching out mulberry trees—one of their favorite spring foods.
Mulberry, along with many other fruits, are referred to as “soft mast.” Knowing and recognizing soft mast is the key to finding many squirrels during the spring season.
Unlike during the fall, forget finding a grove of hickory or oak trees. During the spring, squirrels can be found on the ground and in the shrub layer as often as in trees.
Walnuts hold over well and sometimes there may be a few residual nuts still on the ground. Squirrels will be foraging hoping to hit one that was buried the previous fall.
If you know the location of several large walnut trees, squirrels may be in the vicinity, especially if there are several soft mast trees nearby.
Overall, spring squirrel hunting covers more ground than one normally would cover during a fall hunt. Unlike the fall, spring squirrels are not tied to any certain location.
Other spring foods include tree buds and flowers from trees such as tulip poplar, twigs from dogwood, elm buds, and of course mulberry fruit. Just remember, spring food sources are consumed quickly, so be prepared to move.
With squirrels foraging along the ground, take time to stop and listen while they move through dry leaves.
In the fall, a wet moist woods is preferable to stalking a squirrel, but in the spring, dry leaves make a perfect situation for hunters taking time to listen.
One problem, however, is squirrels on the ground can be hard to stalk. Use a slow stalk, moving intermittently between the movements of the squirrel, then move in on the squirrel during foraging.
One challenge spring squirrel hunters need to anticipate is mosquitoes and ticks. Plan accordingly and keep a can of repellent in your pack. Another useful item is the ThermaCELL® which works great at keeping the air free of bugs within 15 feet so you can hear and see squirrels.
However, even in the fall, ticks should be on your mind. Remember, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme Disease are carried by ticks, so always spray your clothes to protect yourself.
Just as in the fall, squirrels are primarily crepuscular, which means “active during twilight hours”—in the early morning and late afternoon. Now that’s only partially true because we have all seen squirrels out throughout the day, but their highest activities are when light conditions are low.
Typically by late morning, squirrels will find a nice limb to lay out on and take advantage of the sun.
That’s why squirrel hunters should carry along binoculars. Situations like this are perfect for finding a good spot and sitting down to watch and listen for one to bark or begin chattering. While they are busy fussing with another squirrel is often a good time to move in on them.
Camouflage is not a must, but in most cases, can improve your success.
Keep in mind that the spring foliage is relatively new and bright as compared to early fall foliage. In these cases, match camo patterns for the current situation. Best bet—don’t pack away the turkey camo yet!
Since being reopened around twenty years ago in Kentucky, Tennessee, and other states, spring squirrel hunting and its popularity is slowly returning.
And if you hunted turkey this year, then you probably know the location of a squirrel or two.
While spring squirrel hunting, take time to wander into sections of woods where you don’t normally deer hunt. Spending extra time in the woods may help you find new areas for stand locations this coming fall.
In any case, spring squirrel season is another way to spend just a few more days in the woods. Hopefully time will tell whether its popularity will return.