Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Squirrel Season, Bigger and Better

    With the arrival of the first Saturday in September, Virginia’s fall squirrel season will be set into motion statewide.

Photo by Matt Reilly.
    The estimated 33,000 squirrel hunters native to Virginia enjoy the state’s longest small-game season—discounting the clamorous old crow—as they are permitted to pursue their sport a full month after deer hunters abandon their stands.

    However, this year our state biologists have extended the season’s duration.  The 2013-14 squirrel season will run from September 7-February 28.  Virginia is then added to the ranks of states whose squirrel season extends fully into the month of February, including our neighbors North Carolina and Maryland.  Marc Puckett, state small-game biologists assures that low hunting pressure in the late-season does not negatively impact squirrel numbers, and that the extension is a way of increasing hunting opportunities for those devoted sportsmen who chase the bushytail well into the winter months.

    With this change, it’s important that hunters remain informed by reading up with a critical eye on the game laws.  Gray and red squirrels may be hunted the full length of the season in 2013-14.  Their hefty cousins the fox squirrels, however, remain protected by the January 31 closure.  The bag limit remains set at a total of six combined squirrels.

Be Selective or Stay Home?

    The early squirrel season—that is, in my mind, the month of September—is hardly characterized by appropriate hunting conditions. 

    Squirrels are very vulnerable at this time.  Their hurried thrashing through dense summer foliage is an easy giveaway, and hides the hunter’s movements and noise, making close shots possible at times, even if shooting may be tricky.

    I do, however, on occasion tote my .22 into the prime squirrel woods of Fluvanna County in September.  Creeping to within shooting range of a bouncing ball of leaves is an exhilarating experience, but sometimes effortless.  This time of year, squirrels are hardly as gun shy as they become by the climax of deer season, and will many times be just a little too trusting of the human creeping through the understory.

    Too often I find myself exiting the woods with juveniles—the lanky, large-eyed, un-educated members of the squirrel population that don’t carry enough meat to make their skinning and cleaning a worthwhile endeavor.  Even trying to select the largest of the squirrels from the treetops, the leaves that still cling to the trees make distinguishing size difficult.

    These youngsters are truly young-of-the-year, from the year’s second litter.  After being born in late June or July, the juveniles rely on the mother for up to ten weeks before striking out on their own to begin gathering and caching food for winter.  This weaning stage often runs into September.

    For these reasons, I prefer to spend the last month of summer fishing for the numerous species of fish that the Old Dominion hosts.  Biologists from North Carolina may share the same opinion as I, setting opening day of squirrel season at October 14.

Feeding Deer

    Also effective in September, the annual prohibition on deer feeding begins September 1 and runs through the first Saturday in January, or the closing day of deer season.  But this too is subject to change.

    New this year, it is illegal to feed both deer and elk in Buchanan, Wise, and Dickenson Counties at any time.

    The deer feeding restriction has also been extended to endure the length of any deer or elk hunting season in the state.  This covers late urban archery seasons that take place in portions of the state that host overabundant deer populations.

    Feed must now be removed from any baiting site prior to September 1; and a new regulation has been created defining an area as “baited” for 10 days following the removal of feed.

    These laws are aimed at preserving the health of both the public and wildlife.  Most notably, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) can be spread in areas where heaving feeding activity concentrates deer unnaturally.  Therefore, it’s illegal to feed deer in Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah, and Warren Counties, as well as the City of Winchester, where CWD has been confirmed and contained.

    Deer also suffer a loss of “wildness” from human feeding, as they begin to associate humans with their food source and become dangerously trusting.  If you don’t recognize this as a negative issue, inquire from the local Park stations accounts of visitors being badly or fatally wounded by the hooves or antlers of an angry deer—they have many. 

Originally published in the Rural Virginian

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