Squirrel Season Preview

There was a time in West Virginia that squirrel hunting was the most anticipated opening day of the year. Although not nearly as popular as it was 30 years ago, you can still expect thousands of hunters in the woods this weekend as the mountain state’s squirrel season opens up.

"I think it’s going to be an excellent year for squirrel hunting," said DNR Biologist Ray Knotts, with the DNR’s French Creek office. "I think there are lots of squirrels out there, and I would suspect there are probably more here in central West Virginia than there have been in the last several years."

Hunters can thank a fairly mild winter and a bumper mast crop from 2006 for the abundance of squirrels this year. Research has shown over the years when squirrels have plenty to eat, they’ll have two and sometimes three litters of young. When the mast is sparse, nature will typically limit that to a single litter. The quality of mast translates to what hunters will find in the woods the following autumn.

"Squirrel populations are typically determined in a given year by the mast conditions of the previous year. Last year, we had excellent oak and hickory mast. We had a mild winter, so squirrels came through the winter in excellent condition and they have about three litters and survival was very good. That’s the main reason that hunters should see a lot more squirrels afield this year," Knotts said.

West Virginia features two main species of squirrels that are sought by hunters.

The gray squirrel tends to stick closer to the larger tracts of timber. It’s the smaller of the two and the most abundant. They feed primarily on oak, hickory and beech.

The fox squirrel is easily recognized with a bright red coat. It’s the larger of the two and tends to inhabit smaller tracks of woods that may border on an open field. Fox squirrels feed heavily on hickory nuts and black walnuts.

This year’s mast crop is very spotty across the state, meaning the squirrels will probably be concentrated on the few areas where there is abundant food. Hickory nuts are very sparse this year and in most places have already been used up by the squirrels. Look for them in the more abundant stands of chestnut oak trees and beech trees in the higher elevations.

The season opens at daylight Saturday morning and runs through Jan. 31, 2008.

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