Kentucky’s fall squirrel season opens Sat., Aug. 21, and the outlook is similar to last year.
“Squirrels are our most stable and abundant small game species,” said Ben Robinson, small game biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “Even a poor mast year is not going to be detrimental to squirrel populations.”
This year, the 190-day season is split. The first segment of squirrel season opens Aug. 21, and closes for the opening weekend of modern gun deer season Nov. 13-14. Squirrel season opens again Nov. 15, and continues through Feb. 28, 2011. The daily bag limit is six squirrels.
Last year’s mast crop, the abundance of nuts and fruits produced by trees and other plants, determines this year’s estimate of the number of squirrels available to hunters.
“Last year’s mast crop was rated poor to average,” said Robinson. “Only 38 percent of white oaks observed had mast, 42 percent of red oaks, 27 percent of hickories, and 38 percent of beech.”
Since 1953, wildlife biologists have conducted a survey of Kentucky’s most important producers of wildlife foods, determining the proportion of mast bearing trees. Squirrels rely on the mast from these trees during various times of the fall and winter. “Since we did not experience a failure of any of these important mast crops, at least some food was available to squirrels throughout a majority of the winter months,” said Robinson.
Early in the fall season, squirrels feed heavily on hickories. A good hunting strategy is to look for trees with maturing nuts that squirrels are beginning to cut. Often these trees are on dry, upland sites, such as hilltops, or flat benches along the contour of ridges.
Shotguns are a good choice for early-season squirrel hunting since leaves make it difficult to clearly see squirrels.
But, the abundance of leaves also provides hunters with some advantages: squirrels make a lot of noise when they jump from limb to limb, and rustling leaves help hunters locate squirrels in the crowns of tall trees.
“The leaves also give hunters some cover as they slip around the woods,” said Robinson.
To help determine the health of Kentucky’s squirrel population, the Squirrel Hunting Cooperator Survey was developed in 1995 as a volunteer initiative. Biologists use the collected data to monitor squirrel population trends in Kentucky. Each year, participating hunter cooperators are mailed a new hunting log, the results of the survey and a small gift for participating, such as lapel pin or ball cap.
Hunters simply record the information about their hunts as the season progresses, then mail their survey to the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife when they’re finished hunting for the season. The mailing address is: No. 1 Sportsman’s Lane, Frankfort, Ky., 40601. Logs must be sent no later than May 31, 2011.
The recently published 2009-10 Squirrel Hunting Cooperator Survey Report, compiled by Robinson, offers some interesting data on Kentucky’s squirrel populations and the state’s most avid squirrel hunters.
Here are some highlights: The 109 squirrel hunters who participated in last season’s survey averaged about 12 hunting trips per season. Trips afield lasted an average of 2.6 hours each.
Data included 1,319 hunts in 91 diff erent counties across Kentucky.
Hunters observed an average of nearly five squirrels per hunt and roughly two squirrels per hour. Hunters saw more than three times as many gray squirrels as fox squirrels.
Robinson predicts hunters should expect to see nearly two squirrels per hour of hunting during the upcoming 2010-11 season.
Harvest averaged between two and three squirrels per hunt and hunters bagged four gray squirrels for every one fox squirrel. The number of gray squirrels seen and harvested per hour was up slightly from the 2008-09 season. Hunters harvested nearly 51 percent of all squirrels observed.
Hunting effort was greater toward the beginning of squirrel season, with 53 percent of the hunts taking place in August and September. Overall, 77 percent of all hunts occurred before opening day of modern firearms season for deer last year.
Statewide, gray squirrels comprised 80 percent of the harvest. More fox squirrels were taken in central Kentucky, 24.5 percent, than any other region. Hunters in western Kentucky accounted for just a little over 10 percent of the fox squirrel harvest.
September was the most productive month for squirrel hunters last season, with the highest number of squirrels seen and killed per hunt.
To participate in the 2010-11 Squirrel Hunting Cooperator Survey, print a copy of the survey at: www. fw.ky.gov/smallgamelogs. asp ask for one to be mailed to you.