Squirrel season opens; veterans relate experiences

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Bob Martin, Springfield, Mo., was ready for last Saturday to get here so he could do something he has done for more than 30 years: Open the squirrel season near his favorite woods in the Ozarks. So on Saturday morning he was armed with lots of insect repellant, his 22 rifle and squirrel hunting dog,

Martin started squirrel hunting when he was in high school in north Missouri after his older brother had him tag along on opening day.

"I haven't missed an opening day since," he said. "I remember how good those squirrels were fried up for breakfast along with biscuits and gravy. Back then there seemed to be more squirrel hunters and fewer squirrels. Today there are plenty of squirrels, both gray and red, than when I started hunting, but there are fewer hunters, especially this early in the season. It isn't too difficult to get a limit in a couple of hours."

George Lee, Blue Springs, Mo., started hunting squirrels back in the 1930s and recalled hunting squirrels and rabbits helped put meat on the table. Lee celebrated his 90th birthday recently, but recalled the earlier hunts with his father.

"We had a good squirrel dog that treed every bushytail in the woods. Dad was very careful not to miss a shot and save his bullets," Lee said. "Later in life, I used a black powder rifle and still was able to get all the squirrels we wanted for dinner, a lot of my friends use a shotgun, but I didn't like picking out the shot when eating them so I never used a shotgun for getting squirrels."

Although squirrel numbers are up this year, few hunters brave the woods due to the ticks, chiggers and heavy underbrush.

"It can be hard to see those little critters this spring because of a the leaves in the trees," Lee said. "That's where my dog comes in and helps me locate the bushytails. I still like to use my .22 for hunting squirrels, but a shotgun would make it much easier to get them.

"My dog helps a lot, not only does he tree them, he moves around so I can see the squirrel. If you are hunting by yourself, very time you move around the tree, the squirrel moves to a spot where you can't get a shot. Fall hunting is easier, but I find it hard to wait until then. When I was turkey hunting earlier this month, I saw lots of squirrels so I knew where to go on opening day and it didn't take long to get a limit of six squirrels. When I first started hunting in the northern part of the state, it seemed most of the squirrels were the red or fox species, but today I think there are more grays than I have ever seen. I prefer the reds because they are larger."

Lonnie Hanson, squirrel biologist for the Missouri Conservation Department, said although the number of squirrels was down in 2008 in the Ozarks, it looks like this year the population is better.

"Hunting can be tough early in the season, but the squirrels are out there," Hanson said.

Squirrel hunters have a long season that started May 23 and runs through February 15, 2010 with a daily limit of six squirrels and a possession limit of 12.

Another season that opened last Saturday was the black bass fishing in Ozark streams which made many anglers happy including Paul Holland, Joplin. Holland was fishing for crappie in the Sac River earlier this month when he hooked a big fish. After fighting the fish in the fast-moving current for more than 10 minutes, he was finally able to bring it to shore. The big fish turned out to be a seven-pound largemouth bass. Because the season was closed, he had a friend take a quick photo and released the fish.

"I hated to let it go," he said. "That was the largest bass I had ever caught, but maybe I can get it to hit again now that it would be legal to keep it."

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