Hunters around the country only wish they were had Barry Munson’s dilemma.
Munson said he’s been in the woods Monday, Tuesday and early Wednesday to celebrate the opening days of the archery-for-deer season.
While he said he’s seen whitetails, but hasn’t drawn his compound bow yet, he said he’s more awestruck by the number of squirrels he’s seeing.
“They’re everywhere, big squirrels, little squirrels, and they’re eating acorns and bitter pecan like my brother-in-law eats baby back ribs,” Munson said. “I’m hunting deer the next two days, but Saturday it’ll be my .410 (shotgun) and I’m going to have a squirrel sauce piquante for the Saints-Chargers game Sunday night only because the squirrels won’t be ready in time to watch LSU and Florida Saturday afternoon.”
Munson’s observation follows what Department of Wildlife and Fisheries upland game biologist Jimmy Stafford predicted weeks ago.
Stafford talked about the “mast crop” across the state and how the bountiful production of mast — acorns, hickory nuts, pecans — most time meant lots of healthy, fat squirrels during the next season.
Stafford said last year’s bumper mast crop followed an above-average season the year before and that translated into squirrels being more fertile and better able to produce more offspring.
Stafford said there was another plus, late-in-the-summer rains: “That’s a plus because it prevents acorns from falling prematurely. It helps the acorns fill out. It looks like we’ll have another good mast year.”
Like Munson, other hunters took to the woods after Hurricane Isaac blew through more than a month ago to check for storm-caused hazards, to make sure there was access and to clear debris that could hamper their hunts.
“Thank goodness I checked my (deer) stand early in my favorite spot. A big limb fell across the stand and I never would have been able to safely hunt in it. I made another and put it up in time,” Munson said. “Maybe that’s why deer didn’t come close enough to shoot. Maybe the stand is too new. But that didn’t stop the squirrels. I had a little cat (squirrel) come close to climbing in the stand with me.”
The only other squirrel species seen in Louisiana’s woods is the black squirrel, a species that isn’t all that common and is highly prized by hunters. More often than not, taking a black squirrel means taking a trip to the taxidermist.
Other hunters reported seeing a majority of the smaller gray (cat) squirrels romping through the woods and enough of the larger fox squirrels to bring home a few big ones.
The big ones
East Ascension Sportsman’s Club members make no bones about it: Fox squirrels are their quarry for Saturday’s 29th renewal of one of the more unique celebrations in Louisiana’s outdoors EASL’s Squirrel Rodeo.
“We have the state limit, eight squirrels and we have prizes for the top three heaviest bags and a top prize for the hunter bringing in the heaviest squirrel,” EASL president Wesley Johnson said.
“We’re extending the (deadline) time to 3 p.m. for the weigh-in. The scales will open between 10 and 11 (a.m.) and there will be jambalaya for the hunters,” Johnson said.
Weigh-in is set for the usual spot, Merle Gautreaux home off La. 74 (it’s across from Kevin Diez’s new restaurant) and you must be an EASL member to participate.
Johnson said anyone wishing to join the group can call him at (225) 324-3035, or go to the Website: http://www.easlonline.org.
“There is an application form the on line website and they can fill out and send it back through Email,” Johnson said. “We’ll get the dues later. they need to get it to me Friday because they need to be a member before they show up at the Saturday’s weigh-in.”
EASL dues are $10 a year.
Longtime league member Keith Saucier said the hunt is only part of the club’s opening weekend festivities.
“Sunday at Merle’s house, Todd Breaux cooks all the squirrels from the weigh-in and we have a big party Sunday usually around lunchtime,” Saucier said. “All the hunters can bring family back for the dinner. It’s a real treat. It’s always a good time.”
New this season
For the first time, hunters legally can use air rifles to take squirrels. A new Department of Wildlife and Fisheries regulation also allows air rifles for rabbits and “outlaw quadrupeds” hunting.
Improved designs developed in air rifles during the last 10 years brought the change.
With changes in pellet ballistics, faster speeds, some up to 1,200 feet per second, and use of telescopic sights, modern .17 caliber air rifles have near the same impact at 60 yards as some small caliber rifles.
Tricks of the trade
Carlton Savoy likes to hunt squirrels with dogs, but not this weekend. He usually saves those hunts for later in the year when he and his buddies have thinned out squirrels.
Savoy grew up in the woods and prefers taking the slow-but-sure approach to taking squirrels.
“You look for movement and watch to see which way the squirrels are moving,” Savoy said. “The best advice is to scout the (hunting) area before the season and look for cuttings on the ground. That’ll tell you where the squirrels are eating and what they’re eating. Then you know where they are, at least for the time being, and you know to find other trees like that one (where the cuttings are) for the best hunts.”
John Heard is now departed from us, but when he was around and walking the woods, he left many young hunters with enough tips to carry them through their squirrel hunts.
Heard’s most productive tactic was scratching the side of a tree to make a rasping sound. First, he said, was to listen for a squirrel’s bark, then put trees between him and sound, and know that a wary squirrel is likely hiding when you get within gun range.
“A squirrel is curious. He’ll look for the sound you made. You just have to have an idea where he is, and when he takes a look, you have the chance,” Heard said years ago.
Heard added that this works best later in the season when the “easy” squirrels have already been stewed and served with rice, but it works early in the season, too, especially if other hunters are in the same area.
Other veterans use a similar tactic and prefer using a branch to scrape against a tree trunk, preferably a tree with gnarly bark like hickory, cherrybark oaks and white oaks. Another is to shake small branch filled with leaves. Stand behind a tree and shake the branch or beat it against a trer, then look for the squirrel to appear, or bark to show you where it’s hiding.
Remember the limit is eight per day.