A young squirrel hunter after bushytails.

Hunting has changed a lot over the years in Missouri, but one kind of hunting is as good as it was when I first started hunting. Back then, a wild turkey was something I saw drawings of with the pilgrims at Thanksgiving time and a deer kill after being hit by a vehicle was news in the local newspaper. But squirrel hunting was, and still is, good.

Missouri's squirrel hunters have a long season which opened Monday, May 25, and runs through Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020, with a daily limit of 10 and possession limit of 20.

Today all across the state, hunting for those bushytails is as good or better now than it was 50 years ago. One veteran squirrel hunter, Fred Watson, has hunted those bushytails all across the state with success and still is getting his share of both red and gray squirrels. The only difference today is he relies more on a .20-gauge shotgun instead of a .22 rifle he has been using for past years.

Watson has hunted from a boat, waded in water for them and ambushed them among various nut trees. Last fall he watched a lot of squirrels all around his deer stand and couldn't wait to exchange his deer rifle for a shotgun to go after the squirrels.

Like many squirrel hunters, Watson has learned a lot about the habits of Missouri squirrels. He noticed there used to be just a few gray squirrels in northern sections of the state where he started hunting, but today there are plenty of them. Grays are early risers, as deer and turkey hunters know.

The first two hours of daylight are the most active period of the day for the grays. The fox, or red squirrels, sleep in a little late — making the third and fourth hours of daylight their busiest time. During midday, you might as well take a nap, but late in the afternoon they get busy again. Of course, weather plays an important role in determining their activity.

One of the best ways to find squirrels is to find their food source. Recently I was fishing from the bank on the Sac River where there was a big mulberry tree. Soon after I arrived there were four squirrels eagerly feeding on mulberries. Should a hunter find mulberry trees with fruit, you can be sure squirrels will soon be moving in.

All kinds of nut-producing trees attract the bushytails, from walnuts to pecans. Look for mature trees of these species and you will find some good hunting areas.

Many squirrel hunters prefer to wait until fall to get serious about hunting because of the heavy underbrush, bugs and heat of summer, but others like Watson find the hunting too good to pass up.

“Whatever way you hunt squirrels or what time during the season you hunt can be rewarding,” Watson said, “especially when you get up early after hunting the day before and fix some fried squirrel along with some biscuits and gravy and then head out to get some more. Another plus of hunting in late June and early July is you get to see things in the woods these months you don't see in the fall. “Recently I watched a turkey hen with nine little turkeys walk with 15 yards of where I was sitting. Every hunt is an adventure. It may be early July, but there's something to be said about early squirrel hunting besides just bagging a squirrel.”

White, a Stockton resident, has a versatile background in sports as a participant and journalist. His column appears weekly.

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