This weekend will be the last without an ongoing hunting season in Kentucky for a long time.
Although it’s only mid-summer, Kentucky’s so-called “fall” squirrel hunting season begins on August 15 on the traditional third Saturday in August. It is the beginning of a progression that stretches from summer through fall and well into winter with a variety of seasons for small game, migratory birds, big game and furriers.
The hunting year, like the license year, technically runs from March 1 to Feb. 28 in Kentucky. And there’s the spring hunting, primarily in the spring turkey season and secondarily in the spring squirrel season.
However, most hunting of game animals and birds is concentrated from late summer to early winter, the period when wildlife numbers are most generous and hunters’ harvest falls short of what is equivalent to surplus: animals and birds that would actually be lost to natural death.
The fall squirrel season is the most generous of all, from the opening on August 15 through the end of the 2020-21 hunting year, which closes on February 28. The marathon season only lasts for two days. during this stretch, suspended for the Saturday and Sunday of the opening weekend of the firearm deer season (November 14 and 15 of this year).
The regulations should be familiar to this year’s traditional bushytail season; They have not changed. Chief among these is a bag limit of six squirrels per day and a possession limit of 12 after two or more hunting days.
Technically, if one hunted every day of the traditional squirrel season and took a legal limit of squirrels each time, it would still be legal without a possession limit violation by constantly eating the crop or at least giving it away so as not to have more than 12 available anytime.
If that hypothetical result were achieved, a single hunter with full success on each of the 196 hunting days could legally catch 1,176 squirrels during the season. Many, many hunters could do that, depending on the regulations.
Damn, one wonders. What keeps squirrel season from killing the squirrel population?
Hunter harvesting doesn’t work like that. Packing a daily limit of six squirrels is more likely to be the exception than the rule. You probably won’t take squirrels on a squirrel hunting outing much more often than you take a cap. Much more conventional would be to take one or two, maybe three or four.
During the early part of the traditional season, such as opening days next weekend, conditions are not optimal for a bountiful harvest anyway. In the summer part of the season, the heat, humidity, and tormenting insects can make it difficult for hunters to go on long sessions in the woods.
Summer hunting means completely green foliage in forests and groves, and visibility is compromised. It’s hard to catch squirrels when they might even be a short distance up in the tree branches above you, but you can’t see them.
Another possible misconception about long squirrel season leading to overharvesting is related to the involvement of hunters. Surveys from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources show that the large percentage of squirrel hunting trips take place within the first two to three weeks of the season. In other words, the “average” squirrel hunter in Kentucky may spend a time or two right after the season starts, but after the “opening day” attraction wears off, the rest of the often months-long season it is ignored.
Additionally, there is a general trend today among outdoor enthusiasts to neglect small game opportunities in favor of more attention to the major species, primarily deer, wild turkey, and perhaps waterfowl. Squirrels once ran neck and neck with rabbits as the most hunted game in Kentucky, but that was when there were no huntable populations of deer and turkey.
These days, only a few squirrel hunting specialists hunt a significant number of days during the long season.
Biologists say that many more hunters could chase squirrels much more frequently and still not have a significant effect on the squirrel population. As it is, hunters essentially have no impact on squirrel numbers.
The squirrel population is largely controlled by the annual harvest of masts, most critically by the supply of acorns that oak trees produce each fall.
When there is a large supply of acorns, hickory nuts, and other spars, the squirrels thrive and survive in greater numbers, later producing more offspring in breeding seasons. When this essential food supply is in short supply, the number of squirrels decreases accordingly.
Even if there were much more productive squirrel hunters, their impact on squirrel numbers would be negligible compared to the richness or scarcity of acorns and other spars.
• Although we are now right at the midpoint of summer, don’t imagine that it’s not getting late. Technically, we’re about to enter the tail end of summer’s infamous Dog Days.
Dog Days by consensus have come to mean the hottest and muggy days of summer. Since the weather varies, that could be just about any stretch from late spring to early fall. There are scorching days in June and September, just as there are pleasantly balmy days in the height of summer. Earlier this week a cold front brought us some cool, mild conditions that felt oddly nice for August.
According to the calendar, Dog Days are officially from July 3 to August 11, which means that this period, when the heat and humidity are supposedly the worst, will be gone by the middle of next week. Another official way to measure Dog Days is to calculate from 20 days before to 20 days after the peak intensity date of July 23.
That seems to fit with the temperature records. Three weeks or so in July is traditionally a blazing hot and humid period here.
Historically, however, the observation of Dog Days is more related to astronomy than meteorology. The event was first noted by the ancient Greeks and Romans who observed the dog star, Sirius, rising in the sky at dawn during this period.
Sirius, the brightest star in our sky, is part of the constellation Canis Majoris (“the big dog”). That’s where the name Dog Days for the period originated.
The Sirius dawn period doesn’t really seem to have any effect on climate, but it also coincided with the hottest times for the ancients and for us. The Greeks and the Romans lumped those two things together. The Dog Days became known as the star-studded moment when both dogs and people can go crazy from the heat.
I don’t know about freaking out, but the typical Dog Days weather certainly adds an element of testiness. Recognizing that, it seems a good thing that dog season is about to end. It still has a right to be sultry for several weeks, but we’re much closer to the soothing moderation of fall.