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Squirrel season opens statewide on Saturday and continues through February.

File photo Squirrel season opens statewide Saturday

It’s the day small-game hunter have anticipated for months: Saturday begins five months of the squirrel and rabbit seasons across Louisiana.

Not that the rabbit hunters are ready to commit their prized beagles to the field yet — it’s much too warm — but squirrel hunters can’t wait to begin chasing those bushy-tailed critters through forest canopies throughout the state.

Before thousands head out to private and public lands, know it’s time to put on your best camo and make sure to bring the best insect repellent on the market.

And, in this case, that last item just might be the first thing to pack, even before shotshells, bullets, pellets — yes, air rifles have become powerful enough to become first-rate hunting weapons — and boots and lightweight gloves.

“(Insect) repellent is important this day and time, and I rely on ThermaCELL,” state small-game biologist Cody Cedotal said. “It’s not that I’m pushing any product, but it seems to work for me in keeping bugs away.

“And that’s something hunters need to know, not just because of the disease problems with mosquitoes, but it limits a hunter’s movement in the woods and I don’t think we give squirrels enough credit on how wary they can be to movement,” he said.

Swatting mosquito swarms is a dead give-away to your hunting spot, and minimizing movement is the one of the two tactics to success afield in the coming days.

“Moving slowly and being patient are keys to hunting squirrels,” Cedotal said. “Another is finding the hard mast, whatever is available in your area, whether it was acorns or hickory, because that’s what squirrels eat.”

And where they eat, they live.

Cedotal said field surveys have given him a guide to the best spots in the state, and he said he expects hunters will have “average to above-average success in areas where the mast crop (acorns and other nut-producing trees) was good last year.

“There was above-average mast in areas along the Mississippi River, but it was below average in the northwest corner of the state, and there will be mixed results based on last year’s mast survey,” he said. “Wherever there is quality habitat, hunters should have ample opportunity to have success.”

Cedotal also noted above-average mast crops throughout most of the state this year.

“The problem will be the weather," he said. "It was hot for Mississippi’s opener last weekend. The cooler conditions encourage squirrels to feed a little more, and we won’t see cooler weather until the middle of next week.”

Second doves

The next go-around on doves opens Saturday, too, and with the second split comes a chance for hunters to get on a leased field in Ragley in western Louisiana.

This hunt was set for September’s first Saturday, but Hurricane Harvey canceled that opportunity.

Details can be found on the Wildlife and Fisheries website: wlf.louisiana.gov/hunting/dove. Other public dove hunting opportunities on wildlife management areas are listed there, too.

The big reminder here is that hunting leased fields and WMAs requires the use of nontoxic shot sizes 6 and smaller.

Call Kori Legleu at (337) 491-2575, or email: klegleu@wlf.la.gov for details on the Ragley hunt.

Gumbo ‘wars’

Old friend, longtime Florida charter skipper and all-around good guy Tom Van Horn is holding something named “Gumbowars Cook-Off,” Oct. 14 in Orlando to benefit the local Anglers for Conservation Hook Kids on Fishing programs.

“We’d like to have Louisiana teams here, but they need to enter quickly so we can set up the (cooking) sites,” Van Horn said.

There’s a $50 entry fee and the organizers welcome “gumbo of any style … alligator, chicken, sausage, seafood and vegetarian (is there a thing?),” and the winner splits the pot with Hook Kids on Fishing. The four-cook teams must cook five gallons for the competition and cooking begins at 10 a.m.

For details, call Van Horn at (407) 416-1187 or email: mosquitocoast@cfl.rr.com.