LITTLE ROCK – What is a hunter to do? January is running out. Deer hunting is over except for a handful of bow hunters. Diehard waterfowlers are in the last throes of a tough duck season. Turkey season is months away.
Hunters scanning the treetops for squirrels have the woods virtually to themselves from mid-January through the end of February. There is some good hunting to be found on public land across the state for these easy-to-find, hard to hit targets. Nearly all Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wildlife management areas are open to squirrel hunting, and much of the pressure from deer hunting has faded. With a generous daily limit of 12 squirrels, most hunters can enjoy an entire day of excellent hunting and never be sent home early because of a full bag.
As with most years, squirrels are abundant, particularly in the bottomland hardwood forests owned or controlled by the AGFC. This year exhibited a good mast crop through much of the state, but much of the acorns and other hard mast are diminishing quickly as deer, turkeys and other animals have been feeding on them for a few months. Tree buds, another favorite squirrel food, have not emerged yet. As a result, you are likely to spot just as many squirrels on the ground as in the trees as they search out caches of acorns previously stored. There has long been debate on whether squirrels could remember the exact locations of all the nuts they bury or simply look for them by smell. According to research conducted by Lucia Jacobs and Emily Liman at Princeton University’s Department of Biology in 1990, squirrels in an experimental setting did, in fact, find their own caches instead of another squirrel’s cached acorns when their cache areas overlapped, so there’s definitely some amount of memory involved.
Either way, gray squirrels tend to bury all their acorns, and usually only bury a few at each site where they dig. This means they will spend a lot of time in the mornings jumping from the bases of trees and stay fairly active searching them out.
The trickiest bit of business for a late-season squirrel hunter is getting within range and making a good shot. Leaves have long since fallen from the trees, and vegetation has died back, exposing any hunter trying to stealthily walk through the woods. The squirrels also have seen a few hunters since October, and are a bit more wary to intruders. Because of these issues, shotguns may not produce as well as a .22 rimfire. If a hunter still prefers the scattergun, No. 4 shot through a full choke may give them a few more yards than the typical No. 6 shot used during fall outings.