Saturday’s the first day for Louisiana’s hunters to get into the woods, the first statewide day to hunt with modern firearms.
Sure deer hunters have had their first shots of the archery seasons, but Saturday begins months of a squirrel season — it’s rabbit season, too, but it’s too hot for that — and what dedicated hunter you know doesn’t trace his hunting heritage to a first memory of a squirrel season’s opening day spent with dad or grandpa.
For Cody Cedotal, the hay is in the barn. As Wildlife and Fisheries’ Small-Game coordinator, he’s studied the state’s four corners to determine squirrel numbers and squirrel habitat.
“Last year we had a decent mast crop, and we’re looking at another good crop of acorns this year,” Cedotal said. “So it looks good for this year and we should see good, strong populations of squirrels next year.”
For the uninformed, the term “mast” refers to nut-producing trees, among them oaks, pecans, hickories, even cypresses. There are more, but these are the major grocery stores for bushytails.
For hunters, it means scouting to find the areas with trees producing these food sources to find the best places to provide for a squirrel sauce piquante.
But the heat keeping rabbit hunters praying for the first front-producing cold front of the year likely will be a bug-a-boo for squirrel hunters, too.
“We know we have squirrels, but the woods will be unusually hot this year,” Cedotal said. “We’re still in a summertime pattern and that means (squirrel) feeding activity will be suppressed, and hunters might not see a lot of movement.”
And a lack of movement amidst all the leaves in the still-green trees could present a problem to adding food for the table.
This might be the time when the old-timers would tell novice hunters to find a place where they’ve found cuttings — all squirrels litter the forest floor when feeding on acorns — and stay put waiting for the critters to get hungry and begin a run on the “nut” buffet.
Need a spot?
Don’t have a place to go? Tens of thousands of wooded acres on public areas are within easy drives of metro Baton Rouge and New Orleans, but you have to be aware of the state and federal lands’ rules and regs covering access, gear, any weapons restrictions and day permits.
That’s why getting a copy of the Louisiana 2018-2019 Hunting Regulations pamphlet is a must. You can find pamphlets at most sportsman’s licensing vendors, Wildlife and Fisheries offices and online at the LDWF website: wlf.louisiana.gov.
Take the giant massive 112,000-plus acres of swamp, upland ridges and marshes in the Maurepas Swamp Wildlife Management Area off U.S. 61 between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. While it’s possible to walk into the WMA from several spots, access is mostly by water.
That’s not the case for the near 12,000 acres of first-rate squirrel habitat in the Sherburne WMA off U.S. 190 near Krotz Springs. There are several walk-in spots there, but know you’ll need knee boots at a minimum to keep your tootsies dry.
Sherburne has a small-game emphasis area within the WMA and dogs are allowed in these small-game areas Oct. 6-31 and Dec. 10-18.
Know, too, the LDWF requires a WMA hunting permit for everyone ages 18-59 (in addition to the basic hunting license) and hunters are required to fill out a self-clearing permit when checking in and checking out from hunts, which means you have to find the check stations before beginning your hunt.
“The small-game emphasis areas are great for squirrel and rabbit hunters,” Cedotal said. “We have management areas to rival private lands and some are considered the top squirrel hunting places in the state.”
Added to Maurepas Swamp and Sherburne are WMAs named Richard Yancey, an up-country place old-timers remember as Red River and Three Rivers WMAs, along with the Pearl River WMA, a haven for Crescent City and north shore hunters.
“You just have to hit the woods to find the (squirrels),” Cedotal said. “There will be some competition from other hunters, but there’s enough room to spread out and be successful.”
Ounce of prevention
Cedotal said hunters could face a problem they haven’t encountered in several years — heat — and with heat and rains of the last month comes mosquitoes.
Insect repellent will be as much as part of a backpack as shotshells. Spray all uncovered skin, and remember to use it as often as needed.
Many years back, when conditions were similar to those predicted for Saturday’s opener, a trip into McElroy Swamp proved to be a tougher chore battling mosquitoes than it was to finding squirrels. DEET, the main bug-deterrent in insect repellent, comes in various concentrations depending on the product. The higher percentage of DEET, the more repelling quality of the spray or lotion.
Be careful not to spray repellent around eyes, and, if taking youngsters along, to use repellents safe for children.
It’s good to wear light gloves, too. This will help keep the skeeters off hands and wrists.
And when you get home, or in a place where it can be done, check for ticks, because these little critters can spread disease maybe moreso than mosquitoes.