Squirrel season off to promising start

Post Office deliverers don’t have anything on the 20 something East Ascension Sportsman’s League members who showed up for Saturday’s squirrel-season opener.

These guys wouldn’t let something like the rain and wind threats from Tropical Storm Karen keep them from their appointed rounds.

See, the first Saturday in October, the all-too-accustomed first day of Louisiana’s statewide squirrel season, belongs to them and their all-too-unusual Squirrel Rodeo.

“We got wet before we got into the woods, then it rained and the wind kicked up ... not the best day to be in the woods,” veteran Carlton Savoy said.

Savoy, EASL Rodeo’s multi-winner, didn’t compete. Instead, he carried a video camera Saturday to save the rodeo’s action for posterity, mostly a hunt with his grandson and one of his champion squirrel dogs.

“It turned out to be a good rodeo, despite the conditions,” Savoy said.

He reported hunters turned in 60 squirrels for Sunday’s cookout, and Brooks Moran brought in a winning “stringer” of eight squirrels weighing 8.79 pounds. He said Richard Gautreaux was second at 8.57 pounds and Mike Brown and Moran tied for the “boar” squirrel at 1.57 pounds.

His post-cold front/Karen passage report was much better:

“Hunts have been nice the last two days (Tuesday and Wednesday), and we seem to have a big crop of squirrels this year. There’s lot of mast, and lots of squirrels.

“But we’ve been paralyzed here because we couldn’t hunt Cat Island (National Wildlife Refuge) because of the government shutdown,” he said. “That’s hurting us bad, because it throws more hunters back into the local woods. Cat Island has good squirrel hunting and taking that away means losing a lot of land.”

Federal lands

Unlike last week’s reports from federal websites, there are some federal areas still open to hunters.

Steve Smith, in the state’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ Wildlife Division, said he talked to Kisatchie National Forest biologist Jason Nolde and reported national forest lands are open. Smith said Nolde said offices and pay-to-use areas like campgrounds and recreational areas are closed.

It means that this weekend’s youth-only and handicapped hunter-only deer hunts on the National Catahoula and National Red Dirt preserves are on schedule and hunters need only to adhere to regulations to be “legal” for these special opportunities on federal lands.

LDWF Wildlife Division chief Kenny Ribbeck reinforced the state’s stance that all state lands are open for hunting and other activities.

Wednesday’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report contained more information about closures the USFWS blamed on a “lapse in appropriations to fund the Federal government.”

The shutdown means some 200 USFWS locations in the southeast U.S. are closed, including all national wildlife refuges, national fish hatcheries, fish and wildlife coordination offices, and ecological services and migratory bird field offices.

The release stated: “Wildlife-related recreational activities including hunting, fishing and environmental education along with other meetings scheduled to occur over the next week are being evaluated as the shutdown continues and cancellations are being determined considering logistical requirements to support them.”

The one event canceled for this weekend is the Wild Things Festival set for the Big Branch Marsh NWR near Slidell.

Canceled in Mississippi are Saturday’s Refuge Day on the St. Catherine Creek NWR, and the National Wildlife Refuge Week Festival set for Saturday on the Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee NWR.

More from Carlton

Savoy said squirrel hunters should be able to use last weekend’s rain to their advantage, if only because the forest floor is dampened.

“You can move around and not make as much noise. Twigs won’t crank as much as when you step on them and the leaves aren’t dry,” Savoy said.

“You still need to get into the woods early. If the wind does kick up, just hunt slower and take your time, but if it’s calm, then just find cuttings (leavings from squirrels eating acorns or other nuts) and sit around it,” he said.

Because spring and summer conditions were near ideal for acorn production this year, Savoy said he’s finding cuttings throughout the upland woods and down in the swamps.

“When you find cuttings, and they’re spread out this year, just sit tight and wait for the squirrels to come to you,” he said. “Give it some time, then make another move.”

Redfish winners

Veteran redfish tournament angler Eddie Adams teamed with Sean O’Connell to win the $25,000 top money after surviving last week’s four-day Academy Sports HT Professional Redfish Invitational Series championship out of Slidell.

The pair tag themselves as “Team Louisiana Redfish Masters” and came on strong during the final two days to limit out on the two-redfish-per-day take for an eight-reds total of 63.37 pounds.

Adams and O’Connell, third after the first two days, were second going into the final day and came in with 15.78 pounds to take the title. Their daily catch totals were 16.73, 15.78 and 16.08 pounds.

Tropical Storm Karen affected fishing locations for most of the field.

Judd Johnson, minus his fishing partner of three days, Recie Tisdale, fished alone on the final day and brought in 15.94 pounds to finish second with a 62.27 total.

Tisdale, a Houston police officer, had to return to work.

Calcasieu Lake veteran charterboat angler Erik Rue teamed with Larry Puckett (Team Triton Boats) to finish third at 61.77 pounds. The team led the field after respective first- and second-day catches of 17.39 and 16.54 pounds. They came in with 11.65 pounds on the final day.

Team Power Pole, Fred Myers and Jake Matney, were fourth at 60.34, and Joey and Jesse Romero (Team Shallow Sport Boats) finished fifth with 57.2 pounds.

“With Tropical Storm Karen swirling in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast, many of the anglers didn’t make the long runs they intented to,” HT Series boss Pat Malone said. “Instead, they stayed fairly close. As it turned out, the storm broke apart and we had a beautiful day. A great turnout of fans came to see the weigh-in and everyone caught a lot of big fish.”