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News Room

CONSERVATION CORNER
October 16, 2006
Squirrels
by James L. Cummins

I suppose squirrel hunting was one of the first types of hunting our parents or grandparents showed us how to do. I remember seeing a photo of my brother and me hunting when I was about 7. I was holding my Savage .410 and a big fox squirrel. I had shot it in a tall pine tree on my great uncle's place - the Jefferson Davis Herring place in Montgomery County. This place is still in our family - as it has been since 1833; that is something I am very proud of.

At that age I did not know a lot about the biology of the animal I was pursuing. For the record, I was more interested in bringing my grandfather back a mess of squirrels and outshooting my father. Nevertheless, one should gain not only more appreciation for the species, but also understand what is needed for better management of the species (i.e. seasons, bag limits and other issues) and the habitat, such as upland and bottomland hardwoods, that supports the species.

From mid-October until deer season in late-November, the squirrel is the ruler of Mississippi's vast amount of upland and bottomland forests. The two types of squirrels in Mississippi are the eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) and the fox squirrel (Scirrus niger).
The gray squirrel or cat squirrel as it is sometimes called for its cat-like cry, weighs about a pound and is usually 15 to 20 inches in length. The unique development of the tail in the gray squirrel allows the animal to direct its flight as it searches for food. It also serves as a parachute and a signaling device in times of danger. Usually 4 to 6 gray squirrels are born in a litter. The gray squirrel prefers mature bottomland hardwoods such as oak, hickory, beech and other mast-producing trees.

The other squirrel, the fox squirrel, weighs up to 3 pounds and reaches a length of about 19 to 25 inches. Its color is reddish-yellow with alternate bands of black and orange on the tail. However, it is the fox squirrel that has a black color phase that is found in parts of Mississippi, such as Leroy Percy State Park. One will find some black squirrels in the hill portions of the state, but more of them occur in the Delta.

Fox squirrels are late risers. This is one way they are unlike grays, which rise at daylight. The fox squirrel doesn't get up until about the second hour of daylight, but they sometimes feed until noon. Two to five squirrels are born in each litter (two litters per year) of the fox squirrel.

Like my father and grandfather, squirrel hunting is one of my favorite types of hunting. If you have the opportunity to go squirrel hunting in quality habitat, do it. It will be well worth your time. So head for the nearest tract of bottomland hardwoods or upland mixed hardwoods and pine. It is sure to be productive. And remember, carry a kid squirrel hunting. He or she needs to learn, too.


James L. Cummins is Executive Director of Wildlife Mississippi, a non-profit, conservation organization founded to conserve, restore and enhance fish, wildlife and plant resources throughout Mississippi. Their web site is www.wildlifemiss.org.


 

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