Kentucky’s fall squirrel season, a 193-day split season that kicks off the calendar of fall hunting, opens this weekend.
The season opens Sat., Aug. 18 and runs through Nov. 9. The season re-opens Nov. 12 and closes Feb. 28, 2013.
The daily bag limit is six squirrels.
“Hunters will find plenty of squirrels this season, but populations could be slightly down in some areas,” said Ben Robinson, small game biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “Last fall’s mast crop was rated good overall, but hickory and white oak production was poor.”
There’s a close relationship between a year’s mast production and the following year’s squirrel population levels.
Since 1953, department biologists have been gauging mast production based on an annual survey of the nuts on hickory, white and red oak and beech trees. The nuts of these trees comprise the most important foods for Kentucky’s forest wildlife – squirrels, white-tailed deer, wild turkeys and bear.
Biologists walk the same route every year and estimate the year’s mast crop based on what they observe.
“This year’s survey began August 15 and will continue for about two weeks,” said Robinson. “After this information is compiled, we’ll have a clearer picture of the impact of the summer drought.”
Weather extremes, such as late frosts and heavy rains in spring or summer droughts, can limit the amount and quality of mast.
Drought conditions in western Kentucky are expected to affect squirrel behavior this fall in the region. “I expect squirrels to be on the move looking for food,” said Robinson.
Late winter is the time when food availability becomes most critical to squirrels and can impact their body condition heading into the breeding season. Hickory nuts begin to mature in August. Acorns and beechnuts mature in September and October.
Squirrel hunters can help management efforts by taking part in the Squirrel Hunting Cooperator Survey. The voluntary program, which started in 1995, supplies information that biologists use to monitor squirrel population trends in Kentucky.
Hunters record information about their hunts as the season progresses. This information includes the county hunted, hours afield, number and species of squirrels seen and harvested, number of hunters in the party and the number of dogs used to find squirrels.
When hunters are finished hunting for the season they simply mail in their survey. Logs are available online at fw.ky.gov by clicking on the “Hunting, Trapping & Wildlife” tab, then the “Small Game” tab, followed by the “Squirrel” tab. Hunters may request a log by calling (800) 858-1549. Logs must be returned to the department no later than May 31, 2013.
Each year, after the survey information is compiled and analyzed, a report is mailed out to squirrel hunters who shared the details of their hunting activities from the previous season.
Last season, the survey detailed 1,144 squirrel hunts in 76 Kentucky counties. Hunters reported that they saw nearly five squirrels per hunt and bagged almost two squirrels per hour.
Hunting success was highest in the month of September and 68 percent of the hunts occurred in the first three months of the season.
Author Art Lander Jr. has been writing about the outdoors since the 1970s. He is a staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine.