Hard to believe, but squirrel season in Georgia began on Saturday, August 15. I don’t do much squirrel hunting anymore (except in my yard), but squirrel hunting was where I first developed my hunting skills, like safe and careful handling of guns; proper sight of the weapon; Shooting techniques and game tracking.
My first hunting adventure as a child involved chasing squirrels. There were few deer in Los Angeles (Lower Alabama) and turkeys were almost nonexistent, so most of my hunting as a kid was squirrels, pigeons, and quail. Perhaps the current abundance of squirrels has removed some of the challenge. I could easily get a squirrel cap in a couple of hours in my neighborhood if hunting was allowed there.
Deer and turkey today demand the majority of hunting attention and probably account for the majority of hours spent hunting. When I was a kid, squirrel hunting was just plain fun. All he needed was a .22 rifle or 20-gauge shotgun and some cartridges and he was ready to go. We could hunt almost anywhere as very little land was posted and landowners were willing to let anyone hunt on their land.
Georgia squirrel season will run through February 28, making it the longest season for any wild game in Georgia. The daily limit is 12 squirrels and they can be foxes or gray squirrels. You are not likely to see many fox squirrels as their populations are much smaller than the gray squirrel. Getting to hunt a fox squirrel as a kid was a real rarity, and since they were so much bigger than the gray squirrel, it provided more food for the table.
Fox squirrels can weigh up to three pounds and come in a variety of colors, from solid black to a mix of blacks, browns, and whites. They are a beautiful squirrel and are found primarily in stands of mature pine trees. They often build their nests in the tops of very large pine trees and can be very difficult to spot in those tall trees. My dad was very 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, some gray squirrels that frequent my seed and suet bird feeders could probably top a pound. The gray squirrel makes its home in almost any tree, be it hardwood or pine, but it primarily nests in hardwoods.
As a child, when we hunted squirrels in southern Alabama, we would walk slowly through the woods with our eyes fixed on the sky looking for any movement that might indicate a squirrel scampering trying to escape. Today’s sophisticated hunters refer to that technique as stalking, but to us, it was just a good way to fool an unsuspecting squirrel.
If we came across a squirrel nest in a tree low to the ground, we would shake nearby vines in an attempt to scare the squirrel out of the nest so we could shoot. For many years my dad hunted with a fox terrier, and that little dog had a local reputation for tree squirrels, but he had died of old age before I started hunting. I’m not sure why dad didn’t get another fox terrier.
Today’s squirrel dogs are often some form of beagle or terrier, and hunting with dogs is an ancient hunting tradition that is still practiced in the south. In terms of number of hunters and harvest, squirrels are second only to pigeons in hunting small game. Many boys and girls are still getting their start in hunting through squirrel hunting.
We ate squirrels as children and they were considered a delicacy at our family table. You don’t hear much about eating squirrels these days and some of it has to do with fly infestation. The bot fly infects both foxes 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 come out of the squirrel. The infestation is scientifically called warbles. I have heard they are referred to as wolves. They appear as lumpy growths under the squirrel’s skin, and while unsightly, squirrels are perfectly safe to clean and eat. I don’t remember seeing squirrels chirp growing up and while they are safe to eat, maybe that’s why I haven’t eaten a squirrel in several years.
Today, squirrels are much more abundant than in my childhood. In those days you had to go into the woods to find one and now I have more in my garden in a week than I saw on all my hunting trips as a kid.
Why not take a son, daughter or grandchild out for a day of squirrel hunting this hunting season? Have a good time with them, experience the great outdoors, and who knows, Mom could cook a squirrel stew in the microwave! Good hunting and see you next week.
—Outdoors columnist Bobby Peoples can be reached at email@example.com.