Feeling squirrelly in the spring

Larry Woody • May 12, 2017 at 8:30 AM

Tennessee's spring squirrel season opens May 13 and runs through June 11, and although the TWRA doesn't keep count of how many hunters participate, I suspect the number is small.

I seldom hunt spring squirrels, not because I object to the special season, but because I'm generally too busy with other things.

Crappie and bass are still active, and catfish and bluegill fishing is getting hot. Also white bass are starting to show up in jumps and school at night underneath lights.

Speaking of getting hot, so is the weather, which is the biggest drawback to spring squirrel hunting.

For me, the charm of squirrel hunting is not so much about bagging a bunch of bushy-tails, but rather savoring the ambience of the autumn woods. I prefer to do my squirrel hunting on crisp mornings when the woods are turning golden and there's a hint of frost and a whiff of wood-smoke in the air.

In the spring the skeeters are buzzing, and poison oak and ivy are curling around trees and logs. As a kid I could wade bare-legged through tangles of poison ivy without giving it a second thought. Nowadays if I brush against a leaf I'm immediately covered in itchy welts.

Snakes are out too in the spring, but I don't worry about them. Most snakes in Tennessee are harmless, and if you watch your step you won't have a problem. The majority of snake bites occur when someone is attempting to kill or capture the critter. If you don't mess with them they generally won't mess with you.

There used to be a myth that wild game, including squirrels, is not fit to eat during the spring and summer. It's just that -- a myth. I suspect it got started back in the days when there was no refrigeration, and fresh meat wouldn't keep long in warm summer weather. That's why hogs were butchered and the meat stored during cold weather.

The only drawback to wild game in the summer is that sometimes the animals have external parasites that aren't very appetizing. But as far as consuming the meat is concerned, it's perfectly good.

One bit of warm-weather advice: field-dress squirrels as quickly as possible and transport them in a cooler to deter spoilage.

Biologists say harvesting spring squirrels has no effect on the fall population. The number of squirrels taken is small, and the prolific animals quickly re-populate.

Tennessee's traditional "fall" squirrel season actually opens in summer -- late August, when it's even hotter and buggier than during the spring hunt. That’s why I rarely hunt during the August segment of the season, either.

But at least in late August true autumn is just around the corner, and some mornings are cool and crisp enough to be comfortable while stomping through the woods.

Again, this is not a rap on spring squirrel hunting. I look at it the same way I do all other TWRA-approved hunting seasons: if someone enjoys it and wants to go, they can go.

If someone else doesn't care for it, they can stay home -- or, like me, go bluegill fishing.

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