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August squirrels are hot topic

Larry Woody • Aug 23, 2017 at 8:30 AM

It’s Tennessee’s longest season.

Squirrel season opens Saturday, August 26, and runs through Feb. 28.

No other season opens in the sweltering summer and closes in the shivering winter. What other hunters start out sweating and swatting skeeters and end up shivering and fighting frostbite? None. Only squirrel hunters.

Of course nobody is forced to run the entire squirrel-season marathon, and I suspect most are like me: they opt to sit out the more extreme portions.

I squirrel hunt for fun and from a sense of nostalgia, and it’s not much fun stomping through the woods sweat-soaked and skeeter-bit, dodging spider webs overhead and poison ivy underfoot.

That’s not to say I object to starting the season in August. The way I see it, a hunter can choose to go or not go. Same goes for the late-February segment. If some hunters think it’s too cold to hunt, they can stay home by the fire.

To me, squirrel hunting is synonymous with cool, crisp mornings, damp leaves, a tinge of gold in the treetops and a whiff of woodsmoke in the air.

Like most young hunters, I cut my teeth on squirrels, and nowadays going squirrel hunting is a nostalgic trip down memory lane. When I was a kid, deer were rare and turkeys rarer. Small game was about all we had. Nowadays kids start out on bucks and gobblers and skip the small stuff.

They don’t know what they’re missing.

There’s no better way to learn woodcraft and sharpen shooting and hunting skills than hunting squirrels.

You learn to look for sign – “cuttings” consisting of gnawed hickory nuts and acorn hulls – and you learn how to stalk a jittery, elusive quarry and patiently wait for a good shot.

If a kid misses a squirrel, it’s no big deal. It’s not like he or she blew a shot at a big buck or a giant longbeard. They’ll get plenty more chances. Squirrel hunting is pressure-free. Relax and enjoy it.

In the old days going squirrel hunting was simple for most of us. We picked up our .22 or little .410, walked out the back door, across the pasture and into a nearby woodlot where the hickory and oak branches shivered with scurrying bushytails.

For today’s increasingly urbanized hunters, going after squirrels requires about the same investment of time and travel as going after deer or turkeys.

But nobody goes squirrel hunting to fill the larder. The daily limit is 10, and even if you limit out it’s not much meat. If you want to stock up on protein go to the grocery store; if you want to enjoy wandering through the woods and bagging enough ingredients for an old-fashioned stew, go squirrel hunting.

It’s a myth that summer squirrels aren’t good to eat. Except for an occasional external parasite – unsightly but harmless -- they are as tasty as fall and winter squirrels.

The bias against eating wild game in hot weather probably comes from frontier days when there was no refrigeration and meat spoiled quickly. But if the game is processed fairly quickly it is perfectly good. I field-dress squirrels immediately and transport them home in a cooler.

If you dress light and hunt early, the heat’s not too bad. And a few dabs of insect repellant takes care of most of the skeeters and chiggers.

I’m running out of excuses not to go.

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