Cumberland Times-News

Michael A Sawyers - Outdoors

August 25, 2012

Squirrels? Who cares?

The Maryland squirrel season opens Saturday. So what?

Does anybody hunt squirrels any more? Nobody I hunt with in Maryland does. Nobody I hunt with in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle does. A couple of my hunting associates in Lewis County, W.Va., still get after the gray and fox squirrels some, but not like in the old days.

For a while, I was shooting and eating one squirrel a year just to say I did and to stay in touch with my hunting roots. But during the past two seasons I didn’t hunt squirrels at all.

I hate skinning squirrels. I’d rather skin three deer than one squirrel. Just never mastered that skill and I have tried every possible method. My father was an expert squirrel skinner, using the technique where you make a cut through the base of the tail and down the two back legs. Then he would stand on the tail and pull on the legs and undress the tree rodent the same way some folks take off their pajama tops inside-out in the morning.

I love to eat squirrel, but somebody else has to do the cooking. I do what I consider to be a pretty good job of preparing wild game for the table, with the exception of squirrel.

My first hunting trip was in 1958 and about the only critters to hunt were squirrels. There was some fall turkey hunting, some ruffed grouse hunting, some deer hunting, but there was a lot of squirrel hunting. We didn’t have any rabbit dogs.

When my father was transferred from Altoona, Pa., to Cumberland in 1960, we then hunted squirrels frequently on the Green Ridge State Forest’s Polish Mountain area. We hunted them from can-see to can’t-see unless we limited out. In those days, every little pull-off on Troutman, Williams and Jacobs roads was occupied by the vehicle of a squirrel hunter on opening day.

Long about November or December I’d be with my father somewhere when another hunter would ask him, “Hey, Frank. How many quarts of squirrel hearts do you have put up this season.” That was the standard squirrel hunter joke of the era.

Those days of long barrels, full chokes and paper shotgun shells are long gone and it isn’t difficult to understand why. Just check the harvest numbers for deer and turkeys. Just look at how many ways we have to hunt deer now that didn’t exist in the 1960s. An early goose season exists now. A hunter only has so much time you know.

Chris Ryan with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Section said a survey for the 2010 hunting season showed there were 79,768 resident squirrel hunters in the Mountain State.

That’s more than I would have guessed. That’s an average of 1,450 bushytail hunters per county.

This year, the West Virginia squirrel season begins Sept. 8.

There are a lot of good things about squirrel hunting.

I believe that using a .22 caliber rifle to hunt squirrels makes you a much better shot. Pinching down just right and sending a small bullet at a small target will make it seem like easy pickings when you line your .270 up on a whitetail later in the year.

Squirrel hunting is the primo way to introduce a youngun to the woods and hunting.

A 410 or 20 gauge shotgun, a kid, a squirrel and a Kodachrome October afternoon make one of the best memories available and you will know whether or not your child or grandchild or nephew or niece will be a hunter.

Some will. Some won’t, but it’s worth exposing them to something that isn’t an electronic game.

The number of Pennsylvania squirrel hunters dropped from 615,000 in 1983 to 150,000 in 2009, according to that state’s Game Commission. Squirrel harvest plummeted from 2.2 million to 635,000 during the same span.

In Maryland, the squirrel hunting statistics are pretty grim, according to Pete Jayne of the Wildlife & Heritage Service.

The number of squirrel hunters dropped 89 percent from 1981 to 2010.

“It is our opinion that this loss of squirrel hunters is due to a general decline in hunter numbers and, more importantly, a voluntary shift in hunter interest to other species,” Jayne wrote in an email.

There is no lack of squirrels, according to Jayne, who said they seem to be as numerous as ever in good habitat.

Although a general decline in hunter numbers is a factor, the decline in squirrel hunters is much more severe.

“... from 2001 to 2010, squirrel hunter numbers declined 55 percent while the sale of regular resident licenses dropped 18 percent.” Jayne wrote.

Knowing that Mepps, the lure company in Wisconsin, buys squirrel tails to dress the treble hooks on their spinners, I contacted them to find out how the world of squirrel-tail buying is going.

“To say it is tougher to get squirrel tails is an understatement,” said spokesman Jim Martinsen. “We could use 300,000 tails a year, but we can’t even come close.”

Martinsen said the states from which hunters sell Mepps the most squirrel tails are Arkansas, Wisconsin, Michigan, Louisiana, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Missouri and Minnesota.

To find out how you can sell squirrel tails to Mepps, go online (www.mepps.com). It is near the bottom of the home page.

And, if you decide to go squirrel hunting this year, it shouldn’t be crowded.

Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at msawyers@times-news.com.

1
Text Only
Michael A Sawyers - Outdoors
  • Mike Sawyers and his father, Frank Sale of quart-sized Mason jars lagging, merchants claim

    The opening day of Maryland’s squirrel hunting season is Sept. 6 and I am guessing you will be able to drive a lot of miles on the Green Ridge State Forest and see very few vehicles belonging to hunters of the bushytail. It wasn’t always that way. In the early 1960s, when I was a high school student in Cumberland, there was no Interstate 68. What existed was U.S. Route 40 and in the last couple of hours before daylight on the opening day of squirrel season there was an almost unbroken line of tail lights and brake lights between Cumberland and Polish Mountain.

    July 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Outdoor editor admits making straw purchases

    I’ll admit it. I’ve made straw purchases and I’ve made them knowingly.
    I can only hope that the individuals to whom I have passed on those purchases used them wisely.

    July 12, 2014

  • 11th Maryland bear hunt scheduled Oct. 20-23

    It is getting to be that time of year when those of us who would like to hunt bears in Maryland start thinking about applying for one of the limited number of permits.

    July 6, 2014

  • Wildlife official protests more Sunday hunts in far W. Md.

    Joseph Michael believes that the Maryland Wildlife & Heritage Service put its regulations cart ahead of its regulations horse, at least when it comes to allowing more hunting on Sundays in the state’s three westernmost counties.

    June 28, 2014

  • Bear country bowhunters can pack

    It has been four years in the legislative making, but people bowhunting for deer in Garrett, Allegany and part of Washington counties will be able to carry handguns to protect themselves from bears. Although bow season will begin Sept. 5, the law does not become effective until Oct. 1. The law applies to Deer Management Region A.

    June 1, 2014

  • No Bambi for you, Mrs. Doe

    Some people want so badly for deer birth control to work that they actually think it will, even on wild populations.
    I wish I had a couple bridges to sell.
    A week ago on the Outdoors page we ran the deer there do what deer  everywhere do. They eat the easiest food available such as gardens and ornamental plantings. They walk in front of moving cars. They give ticks and  parasites a place to live.

    April 19, 2014

  • Black bear biologist explains new hunt

    The Maryland Wildlife & Heritage Service has abandoned the bear harvest quota system in use for 10 hunting seasons and has set the next two hunts at four days apiece.

    April 5, 2014

  • MIKE SAWYERS South Branch of Potomac River best place in W.Va. for trophy rainbows

    I always enjoy the annual roundup supplied by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources that reveals where all the trophy fish were caught.

    March 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • MIKE SAWYERS Mettiki will once again produce trout

    Brian Richardson is confident that the Maryland Fisheries Service will, little by little and year by year, get to the point where full production is restored to the state’s trout hatchery system, meaning that fish will no longer have to be purchased from private sources.

    March 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • The answer my friend ...

    Recently, the Times-News published
    a photograph of sea gulls that had
    landed on the parking lot at Braddock
    Square Shopping
    Center in LaVale
    My first thought
    was, “If those sea
    gulls landed in the
    Gunpowder River or
    Big Hunting Creek
    on their way here
    from the ocean I
    hope they didn’t have
    felt soles on their
    feet, otherwise they
    will spread rock snot
    to our trout streams
    in Allegany and Garrett counties.”

    March 15, 2014

Latest news
Facebook
Must Read
House Ads