Art Lander Outdoors: Squirrel Season, the First on Kentucky’s Fall Hunting Calendar, Begins August 20

Kentucky’s fall squirrel season, a 191-day split season that kicks off the fall hunting calendar, opens by regulation on the third Saturday of every August.

The dates of the 2022-2023 season are Saturday, August 20 to November 11. The season then reopens on November 14 and ends on February 28, 2023.

.22 rifles, small-bore shotguns, and small-bore muzzleloaders are all good options for hunting squirrels (Photo by Art Lander Jr.)

The daily bag limit is six squirrels.

Cody M. Rhoden, small game program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) wrote in the 2021-2022 Squirrel Report that “we expect to see a good 2022-23 hunting season.”

Weather last winter was favorable and 2021 statewide pole production for the top three pole-producing tree groups (hickory, red oak and white oak) was average, but in the eastern region pole production Walnut and beech was good.

There is a close relationship between one year’s nut production and the next year’s squirrel population levels.

The statewide mast production survey began in 1953 and is conducted annually in August. Pole crops are ranked by percentage of surveyed trees producing nuts: 0 percent, failure; 20 percent poor; 40 percent, average; 60 percent good and 80 percent excellent harvest.

White oak acorns (Photo from Flickr Commons)

In the fall of 2021, 43 percent of surveyed white oak trees had acorns. It is important to note that white oak acorns are the preferred food of forest wildlife.

Biologists travel the same route every year and estimate the year’s mast harvest, based on what they observe. After compiling this information, there is a clearer picture of what the impact will be, not only on squirrels, but also on other forest wildlife: white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, and black bears.

Extreme weather conditions, such as late frosts and torrential rains in spring and droughts in summer, can limit the quantity and quality of masts.

Hickory nuts begin to ripen in August and acorns and beechnuts in September and October. The end of winter is the time when food availability becomes most critical for squirrels and can affect their body condition ahead of breeding season.

Art Lander Jr. is foreign affairs editor for the Northern Kentucky Tribune. He is a Kentucky native, a graduate of Western Kentucky University, and has been a hunter, fisherman, gardener, and outdoors enthusiast his entire life. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist, and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting and Trapping Guide and the Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-author of the column of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper.

Squirrel hunters can help management efforts by participating in the Squirrel Hunting Cooperators Survey. The voluntary program, which began in 1995, provides information that biologists use to monitor squirrel population trends in Kentucky.

Hunters record information about their hunts as the season progresses, including county hunted, field hours, number and species of squirrels seen and killed, number of hunters in the group, and number of dogs used to find squirrels .

When hunters finish hunting for the season, they mail their surveys to KDFWR.

After the survey information is compiled and analyzed, a report is sent to squirrel hunters who shared details of their hunting activities from the previous season.

Squirrel Hunting Cooperator Survey Results

Some highlights from the 2021-2022 squirrel season survey include:

• The survey detailed 391 hunts in 41 Kentucky counties.
• Hunters spent a total of 902 hours in the field, for an average of 10.9 hunts per cooperator.
• 28.6 percent of cooperative members said they hunted with dogs.
• Hunters reported seeing an average of five squirrels per hunt, and the total squirrel harvest for the season was 721 gray squirrels and 117 fox squirrels.

Differences in Gray Squirrels and Fox Squirrels

• The eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) may be the most abundant and widely distributed game animal in Kentucky.

They build their homes in leaf nests and in the cavities of large trees, in a wide range of rural and urban settings. This includes remote forests of mountainous eastern Kentucky, agricultural forests, large riverbeds, and small streams throughout the state.

Gray squirrel (Photo from Wikipedia Commons)

Gray squirrels are quite small. Their head and body length range from about nine to 11 inches, with their tails adding another seven to 10 inches. Adults can weigh up to 21 ounces.

They do not show sexual dimorphism: there is no difference in size or coloration between males and females.

They have predominantly grey, brown fur, with a white underside.

Like all squirrels, the gray squirrel has four toes on its front feet and five toes on its hind feet. They jump and jump through the woods, with a leaping stride two to three feet long. They are strong tree climbers and can first descend from the head of a tree.

Like deer, gray squirrels are crepuscular, most active during the first and last hours of the day.

Visible year-round in Kentucky, gray squirrels do not hibernate. The gray squirrel is the dominant species in the heavily forested eastern third of Kentucky.

• The northern fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) is a grizzled salt-and-pepper gray with a yellow to orange upper body, pale yellow to bright orange breast and belly, and yellow-tipped tail hairs.

Fox squirrel (Photo by Gary Eslinger, US Fish and Wildlife Service)

Adults are typically 18 to 27 inches long, head to tail, and weigh 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 pounds. There is a higher percentage of fox squirrels in the small wooded plots and wooded fences of the agricultural areas of central and western Kentucky.

Squirrels typically breed twice a year; summer and winter. A litter of usually three or four pups is born 40 to 45 days later. The young are raised in the nest and then come out on their own at about two months of age. Some females may produce litters during both breeding seasons.

The squirrels’ diet includes nuts, twigs, buds, and tree fruits, although they also eat bird chicks and insects. They are hoarders, collecting nuts and keeping them in what is called a cache.

Over the years, the number of gray squirrels and foxes has remained fairly stable in Kentucky.

Hunting squirrels is a good way to guide youngsters or anyone new to hunting while teaching them gun safety and marksmanship.

When he shows them how to walk quietly through the woods, be observant, and blend into the trees and shadows while hunting squirrels, he conveys Kentucky’s proud hunting heritage.