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Last updateWed, 27 Dec 2017 12am

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September Squirrel season is wide open

While many guys and gals started hunting season this year with doves or geese, some headed for the small game woods with a .22, .17 caliber rifle or a scattergun to collect some stew meat. I was finally able to take a few minutes and grab my own .22 rifle and head to the woods last weekend for a bit of R&R.

The September woods are quite different from the October woods in my opinion. October brings almost certain cooler evening temperatures consistently. The leaves are turning, the smell of decaying leaves and dirt seems a bit more noticeable, and certainly the smell of hickory nut husks, walnuts and the sounds of squirrels cutting them and dropping branches is evident. By October more hard mast is available, and the squirrels are everywhere and focused on one thing, eating as many nuts as possible and storing the rest.

That said, September is still a great month to get in the woods and begin your pre-season scouting for deer, take a few squirrels for the pot and just enjoy the cooler air. Years ago, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) recognized that opening squirrel season a month earlier would do no harm to the population. Most of the young are on their own by September, and having the season open early would enable more hunters to mentor others.

Small game hunting seems to have slowly dropped in popularity. When I was in school our conversations in October and early November almost always included exchanging info on what kinds of trees other kids were finding the squirrels feeding in, the ballistics of various .22 rounds and the number of squirrels we were able to take after school the day before. As a teacher, I have the pleasure of partaking in conversations between classes with students that enjoy hunting, but I cannot recall the last time I was able to discuss squirrel hunting with a student. It is a shame, because squirrels are a lean meat and a great source of protein as well.

Another reason that I would love to hear about more people squirrel hunting is because my anecdotal observations show that squirrels are becoming more numerous and destructive. I don’t recall ever seeing a squirrel wipe out an apple tree before we got the first apple. Dad and Mom had five trees in the field, and honestly I don’t know that I saw any squirrels eating from them. We had deer, but no squirrels eating the apples. The past four years I have yet to get one apple from six trees that I have growing. The last three years we have not gotten any peaches from the two trees in our yard. The squirrels are robbing them before the fruit is even approaching ripeness. This year, they started on my blueberries and the pear tree.

One pear tree was stripped down to zero pears in no time. The other was salvaged by me, a .22 rifle and the June squirrel season and my constant chasing of them after that season ended. They are still stealing the pears, but not as often. I think I might get a few of them next month to enjoy for myself! The last time I had counted, I took nearly 30 squirrels in June during the season in my yard alone, trying to protect the fruit trees. My father’s apple trees, for the first time in over 30 years, have given us not one apple. The yield looked good, but the squirrels got there first. I have heard similar stories from other people. So, perhaps I am not losing my mind. Maybe we are seeing the rise of the gray squirrel.

Regardless, the whole idea of the squirrels getting our fruit is more than enough reason for me to have an excuse to head to the woods around the house to thin the population down some. Will I eradicate them? No, and nor is it my intention to do so. But perhaps since I involuntarily invested in the health of the local squirrel population, I can enjoy the fruits of my labor—no pun intended of course!

Tips for September squirrels
Chiggers are out in force! Use insect repellent and shower immediately after walking through a field or grassy area.

Mosquitoes are also out in force. Thermacell anyone?

Copperheads tend to be more visible or commonly encountered in September and early October for some reason. I have heard of a few close calls already. Beware.

Black snakes love a freshly-killed squirrel. Collect your stew meat immediately or something else may!

Field dress any squirrels you get promptly, if it is hot. Never wait more than two hours to do so in this early season. The meat tastes so much better if you do it up quickly.

Be careful of your shots. King George and Westmoreland Counties are not as rural as they once were. Housing developments are all over these days.

Next week, we will look at the abnormal number of puppy drum and the decline of the blue crab. Is this the reason the crabs were absent this year? The answer may surprise you.

Mark Fike

 

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