CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — As bizarre as it may seem, you might want to take a walk in the footsteps of your forefathers and go squirrel hunting this weekend. It is perfectly legal.
Decades ago, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency designated a special Spring Squirrel Season. This year it opened May 13 and remains open until June 11. The daily bag limit is 10, the same for the fall/winter squirrel season, which is held from late August to the end of February.
Why a Spring Squirrel Season?
Mainly because they are amazingly prolific little codgers who can, and do, procreate multiple times throughout the year -- at least two times a year, maybe three. Female squirrels bear litters in late-winter, once again in mid-summer, and then maybe again in early-Fall. The gestation period is 44 days, and usually they will have two-to-four young. So, start with Mom and Dad squirrels in January... and by the time November rolls around, there could be 10, or even 14 squirrels. And when conditions are really good, squirrels born in the late-winter might even have litters of their own in the Fall.
Biologists have long known that hunting has little to do with the squirrel population. They estimate Tennessee squirrel hunters take between 10 and 25 percent of the annual squirrel crop. However, they say they could take up to 40 percent of the population without reducing the breeding population. Most biologists will admit there could be a year-round hunting season and it wouldn’t make much difference.
In fact, a long-term TWRA Squirrel Management Plan says one of the major problems is “not enough hunters.” That’s part of the reason for the Spring Season.
But there’s another historical reason. There’s nothing biological about this, but 150 years ago farmers hunted squirrels in the spring and summer out of necessity. Turn a few squirrels loose in a corn field, or even worse, the corn crib, and come winter you will be eating acorns. Squirrels were once considered such pests that early settlers would pay a bounty on them. A fellow who could bring in 100 squirrels a day (which was not unheard of), could make a pretty good living.
Those days are gone, but the tradition hasn’t been completely erased. The manufacturers of Mepps fishing lures will still buy your squirrel tails.
If you give it a try, don’t look for squirrels the same place you look in the Fall. This time of year, they’re filling up on berries, mushrooms and tree buds.
Of course, a lot of folks would never set foot in a southern forest this time of year. They’re afraid of snakes. That’s understandable, but the facts don’t justify the fear. Nationally, 15 people die of snakebites each year. About twice that many will be killed by bee stings and about 100 will die from lightning strikes.
Of the 44 species of snakes in Tennessee, only four are poisonous -- and only two of those live around here. Copperheads are most common, but least deadly. The timber rattlesnake is a serious threat in the poison department, but I’ve only crossed paths with three Tennessee rattlers in my decades afield.
The odds are with you. When you pick a quiet spot to watch for spring squirrels, just watch where you sit.
For more information on Tennessee hunting seasons and license information, go to TWRA’s website.