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Kentucky's spring squirrel season opens for five-week run

By STEVE VANTREESE

As of today, the rest of spring is squirrel hunting season.

Indeed, this is the opening day of Kentucky's statewide five-week spring squirrel season. It runs May 17 through June 20, ending date on the last day of spring.

Spring squirrel hunting still may seem a little non-traditional, but the warm weather pursuit is beginning to gain some seniority across Kentucky. It began with a trial run on four wildlife management areas a full 20 years ago. Spring hunting went statewide in 1999, 15 years back.

In more recent years the dates have been expanded. What now is a five-week season formerly ran only two weeks. Managers have liberalized opportunities over time after seeing that relatively little hunting pressure was exerted on spring squirrels and the impact on the squirrel population was, in fact, negligible.

So, it's getting to be a good while ago that squirrel hunting was a new thing for Kentucky. But going way, way back, there is a tradition of spring bushytail hunting. Back in, say, the 19th century, spring squirrel hunting was commonplace.

Those old days' spring hunts actually were based on a sound biological fact, one that makes sense now. Spring hunting as it is presently slated takes advantage of one of two annual high points of the squirrel population.

Squirrel breed twice a year, winter and early summer. One population spike, when young squirrels emerge from the nest and join their elders at large in the woodlots and forests, comes in early autumn. The other numbers bump comes in the spring, right about now.

The spring season is timed specifically to take advantage of this marked increase in the squirrel population. Consequently, squirrels taken by hunters during the spring season essentially come from surplus and their removal has virtually no impact.

Squirrel populations rise and fall according to the strength or weakness in mast crops, especially acorn abundance in the fall and winter, wildlife biologists tell us. Compared to nut crops, managed hunter harvest isn't a drop in the bucket.

But speaking of managed harvest, the guidelines for that are unchanged this spring from other Kentucky squirrel seasons. The daily bag limit is six and the possession limit is 12. Shooting hours are 30 minutes before sunrise until 30 minutes after sunset.

What's to shoot? Well, like in the traditional squirrel season, hunters can use shotguns (no larger than 10 gauge with no larger than No. 2 shot), rimfire rifles, .22 handguns, muzzleloading rifles or shotguns, archery gear, crossbows or air guns of .17-.25 caliber.

Just about anything with which one would have an inclination to squirrel hunt is legal except centerfire rifles and handguns. And slingshots or blowguns. Really. Regulations specifically prohibit these.

For those who are into squirrel hunting with dogs, canine assistance is perfectly legal for the spring season, too.

Unlike hunting in late summer and thereafter, squirrels now won't be found concentrated around trees offering hickory nuts or acorns. Spring squirrels tend to be more scattered because their seasonal foods are found likewise. Nowadays, they feed on such soft mast as the seeds of maple, ash, wild cherry, hackberry and box elders, as well as on mushrooms or even insects and the occasional bird egg.

As at any season, the spring squirrels' highest activity periods are early morning and late afternoon hours. Especially when May and June temperatures swing to their warmer variations, that makes a good argument for early morning hunts. Afternoon sessions can grow pretty sweaty.

n Murray anglers Mason Milby and Ashley Adams won a recent Crappie USA qualifying tournament held on Old Hickory Lake at Gallatin, Tenn. The Milby-Adams team topped the event's Semi-Pro Division with a seven-crappie limit weighing 11.05 pounds.

The winners picked their limit from about 50 suspended crappie caught throughout the day by pulling crankbaits 10 to 12 feet deep in 30 to 40 feet of water.

n Critter-viewing guided canoe and kayak paddle trips will be among highlights of a Wildlife Celebration next Saturday-Monday, May 24-26 at the Land Between the Lakes' Woodlands Nature Station. Sunset family canoe trips are slated for 6-8:30 p.m. May 24 and 25. An afternoon kayak trip will be 1-3 p.m. May 26. The canoe trips are $25 per canoe, while each kayak rents for $20 for that outing. Each of the trips requires reservations and deposits, which can be achieved by phoning 270-924-2020 during business hours Monday-Friday.

Outside of the guided trips, daily canoe and kayak rentals at the Nature Station begin next Saturday. For details, phone Woodlands at 270-924-2299.

Events and general information are listed on the website www.lbl.org, or phone 1-800-LBL-7077 or 270-924-2000.

 

Steve Vantreese is a freelance outdoors writer. Outdoors news items can be e-mailed to outdoors@paducahsun.com or phone 270-575-8650.

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