Show-Me Spring Squirrel Hunting

By Mark Goodwin | April 2, 1996
From Missouri Conservationist: Apr 1996

Squirrels abound in spring, and spring hunting for squirrels can be as action-packed as fall hunting. It just requires different tactics.

Squirrel foraging habits are different in spring. Walnuts, acorns and hickory nuts from the previous year are still available and are an important spring food, but these nuts are on the ground in spring and are scattered and far less abundant.

Accordingly, squirrels do their searching for nuts on the ground, not in trees. Because nuts are scattered, squirrels must scatter to find them. If you hunt the oak-hickory ridges that produced for you in the fall and focus your searching on the ground, your hunting will be hit and miss. To find concentrations of squirrels in spring look for a big mulberry tree.

Squirrels eagerly seek mulberries in spring, and three species of mulberry grow in Missouri - red, white and black.

How many big mulberry trees might you find in good squirrel woods? Few, probably. Mulberry trees yield wood that is strong and extraordinarily resistant to rotting. Landowners have long used them as fence post material and cut most trees before they become large.

If you are lucky enough to find a big mulberry tree in good squirrel woods, squirrel and dumplings are still not guaranteed. All species of mulberry possess male and female flowers on separate trees. Some trees have only pollen-bearing flowers, hence no fruit.

Though difficult to find, mulberry trees are still worth searching for. They grow best in rich soil with good drainage. Look along creeks that cut through timber. Old homesites are another good bet. Farmers used to plant mulberry trees to provide shade and berries for their chickens.

If you are lucky enough to find a fruit-producing mulberry tree in good squirrel habitat, good hunting may be at hand. You may find a half dozen squirrels chomping berries. The trick, though, is finding the trees.

An easier way to bag squirrels in spring is to look for a concentration of den trees.

In Missouri, squirrels have two breeding seasons: one from late December to early February, and one from late May to early July. Pregnancy requires 44 to 45 days, and spring litters are born in February and March. Weaning takes about eight weeks.

This means by late May Missouri is bulging with young squirrels. They stick close to their dens for some time after being weaned, so find active den trees-and you'll find concentrations of squirrels.

Finding den trees is easy. Spring turkey season is a good time to look, for young squirrels may already be active around the tree cavities in which they were born. Squirrels den in a variety of trees, but prefer hickories, oaks, walnuts, black gums, cherries, mulberries and maples-trees that provide food as well as a place to live.

Look for mature trees of these species that have broken limbs and damaged trunks. These often lead to cavities. Holes 3- to 4-inches in diameter in the sides of trees, formed where limbs rotted and fell, are also used as dens.

With practice you will develop an eye for spotting den trees. Squirrels leave tell-tale signs. The sides of active den tree holes are usually worn slick and may include shed hair. And squirrels often chew the living tissue around holes to insure proper size.

Once you locate active den trees you may have good hunting. The only problem - sometimes squirrels abandon dens, being driven away by fleas or den-seeking animals such as woodpeckers, owls and raccoons. For consistent squirrel hunting success in spring locate several den trees.

If spring squirrel season arrives and you haven't had time to find den trees, you can locate them while you hunt. Abandon still-hunting and move through the woods quickly, looking for den trees. Find active ones and you'll find where squirrels feed and rest. triangle

If You Go

The 1996 squirrel season opens May

25 with a daily limit of six squirrels. Most mast-producing areas of timber ten-acres or larger support huntable populations of squirrels, and many private landowners allow squirrel hunting to sincere sportsmen who ask permission.

Squirrel hunting can be good on public lands, too. The Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri offers 1,462,000 acres of land. And the Conservation Department manages an additional 800,000 acres of public use lands scattered over the state.

Some of this acreage borders Ozark streams and Missouri's season for black bass in streams usually opens the same week as squirrel season. Think about a spring camping trip that combines squirrel hunting with float-fishing for stream bass; it's a hard-to-beat combination.

For maps and hunting information concerning Conservation Department managed land, contact the Missouri Department of Conservation, PO Box 180, Jefferson City 65102-0180, telephone (573) 751-4115.

For maps and hunting information concerning Mark Twain National Forest, contact U.S. Forest Service, Fairgrounds Road, Rolla 65410, Telephone (573) 364-4621.


This Issue's Staff

Editor - Kathy Love
Assistant Editor - Tom Cwynar
Managing Editor - Jim Auckley
Art Director - Dickson Stauffer
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Composition - Kevin Binkley
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Paul Childress
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Staff Writer - Charlotte Overby
Composition - Libby Bode Block
Circulation - Bertha Bainer