Hot and dry is no way to start the squirrel season, and, from the latest forecast those are the conditions set to greet hunters Saturday morning.
Squirrel season is near, and a 72-degree morning is OK for some, but the thermometer doesn’t remain there very long — at least that’s what’s happened the last two weeks — as the mercury rises too very quickly to 80, then 85, then 90 by the time the sun gets a quarter way up in the sky.
About the only decent factor is winds are predicted to remain less than 10 miles per hour, which will mean squirrels might be a little easier to spot.
Then there’s the “dry” part. Ever try sneaking through the woods after weeks of drought?
Even the best woodsmen sound like a pickup driving on a gravel road; small twigs snap, leaves rustle under foot, and even those newfangled “quiet” camo clothes sound like you’re using heavy-grit sandpaper on an old 2x4.
Maybe the best advice comes from a years-ago story about squirrel-hunter extraordinaire Carlton Savoy.
Carlton grew up in the woods, and with an approaching opening day similar to this year’s conditions, passed along sage words.
“Don’t move too much,” Savoy said. “Scout out an area where you find cuttings, and you’ll find squirrels for opening day.”
Cuttings are those little shavings squirrels drop from trees where they are feeding on nuts.
OK, so the wildlife biologists call nuts “mast,” and mast producers are mostly in the oak tree family, but also can be pecans, bitter pecans, hickory, cypresses and even pines. It’s anything a squirrel will find tasty enough — and with enough fats — to satisfy their hunger and fall’s urge to add weight for the coming winter.
Remember, too, that last year’s squirrel-hunting success can lead to an eight-per-day, opening-day limit.
State wildlife biologists have passed along information for years about mast production being a key for squirrel reproduction. Last year’s nuts make for more squirrels for the next hunting season, and last year’s “mast” was bountiful.
What’s more, without storms this year, those nut-producing trees still should be standing, and the rains and wet conditions across south Louisiana between January and the middle of August should have produced enough “mast” to hold squirrels in the same areas as last season.
“If you know a spot where squirrels are feeding, then set up in a spot where you can see them,” Savoy said. “It might take a few minutes, but the squirrels will come to feed in the morning, and you’ll be set up for them.
“You just have to be patient, and when you’ve had success in that spot, move as quietly as you can to the next spot, then sit tight, be quiet and wait,” he said.
Bon chance, mon amis.
What you need
Hunters ages 16 to 59 need to have a basic hunting license. If you’re hunting a wildlife management area, you need to have a WMA stamp, too.
If you’re older than 59, you’ll need to buy a $5 Senior License (covers basic hunting and fishing licenses), unless you reached the age of 60 before June 1, 2000, which means you’re grandfathered into the old regulation which exempted you from buying these basic licenses.
It’s also a good idea to take along enough water to get you through the hot and humid morning hunt, and enough insect repellent to ward off mosquitoes, gnats and ticks.
While the dry weather might have cut down on the mosquitoes, gnats and ticks seem to thrive without rain, and while gnats are troubling, ticks can be a source of diseases you don’t want.
If you can’t make it, say you’re planning to catch the LSU-Utah State game — ugh, an 11 a.m. kickoff in Tiger Stadium — then wait a couple of days for better weather.
A cold front is predicted to move through south Louisiana sometime Sunday and will bring us our first, and long-awaited, 60-degree mornings and 80-degree afternoons. Rain is in the forecast for Sunday, Monday morning and Thursday.
The mention of Carlton Savoy is a reminder about the decades-old East Ascension Sportsman’s League Squirrel Rodeo, and, yes, EASL membership is required.
It’s great opening-day fun. Savoy has won his share. Don’t know if records are kept, but he brought in eight giant fox squirrels one year to stand tall among all comers.
It’s Saturday only with a 1 p.m. weigh-in deadline at Merle Gautreaux’s home on Ferdinand Street off La. 74. The EASL crew serves jambalaya to the hunters Saturday, before taking all the weighed-in squirrels for a sauce piquante at Merle’s place Sunday.