My favorite time of the year is rapidly approaching. In last week's column, I said that I could feel the chill of autumn in the early morning air. This past Tuesday, I was out Files Creek for the Izaak Walton League monthly dinner meeting, and I could see a few of the trees starting to turn.
Today, West Virginia University will open its 2012 football season against Marshall University in Morgantown at noon. This is the final game in the Coal Bowl series.
Next Saturday, the statewide squirrel season will open. If it is not too hot, I just might go out to see if there are any squirrels this year, even though I still do not like the idea of the squirrel season coming in this early.
A few months ago, I was talking to a retired game biologist who agrees with me. The day before yesterday, I was talking to a well-known Elkins attorney who does not like this idea either.
For the past 50-60 years, the traditional squirrel season came in on the second or third Saturday in October. For many nimrods like myself, this was Christmas. Today, it is more like Arbor Day. I can not argue, though, that the number of hunters who like to go after the bushytails has been on the decline for about 30 years, and that the squirrel is no longer the number one game animal in the state.
When I was at the IWL meeting, I talked with several bow hunters who were getting their archery skills and equipment fully tuned up. The statewide deer bow season comes in on Sept. 29. The whitetail deer is now the number one game animal in the state in more ways than one.
To a large extent, I can understand why this has happened. For example, in 1970, there were only two deer seasons in West Virginia (bow and the buck gun season). The total deer harvest for that year statewide was 13,988 (589 with a bow, or four percent). A large percentage of the deer hunting was done in the eastern mountain counties like Pendleton, Pocahontas and Randolph.
The Eastern panhandle counties of Hampshire and Hardy were quite popular. Seeing a deer in such counties like Kanawha or Roane, was almost unheard of. There were no special antlerless, muzzleloader or youth seasons at that time.
Last year, the total deer harvest was 135,696, and this is nowhere near the record that was set in 2002, when more than a quarter of a million whitetails were taken by hunters. The number of ways hunters can hunt deer, along with the increased bag limits, is one of the reasons for the decreased interest in hunting squirrels.
There is really no lack of squirrels in West Virginia, but there is very much a lack of interest in squirrel hunting, because of hunters interest in other species. We all know the number of wild turkey and black bear has greatly increased in the past few years. Last week, we discussed the expansion of the fall turkey season.
The statewide archery bear season has been expanded in 2012. The early bear bow season will also open on Sept. 29 and run through Nov. 17. The bear bow season will reopen on Dec. 3 and run until Dec. 31. Hunters who go after bears with a bow need to remember that it is unlawful to use dogs during the bear archery season.
The early black bear gun season will open in nine counties on Sept. 24 and run through Sept. 26. Included in these counties are Pocahontas, Randolph, Tucker and Webster. During these three days, bears may be hunted with or without dogs. It is also interesting to know that a hunter can take two black bears during a calendar year, as long as one is taken in Boone, Fayette, Kanawha, Logan, McDowell, Mingo, Raleigh or Wyoming County. I have said in past columns, I never thought I would see the day when a hunter could take more than one bear in a year.
So, squirrel season comes in next Saturday. Some of the big game hunters I know will be quick to say "so what" or "who cares." They would rather get one bear, deer or turkey in a day than the daily bag limit of squirrels, which is six. I also had a deer hunter to tell me, "I would rather skin out three deer than one squirrel." Squirrels are tough to skin, and I never mastered the quick way to skin a squirrel, where you start back at the tail.
My great-uncle, Bill, was an expert at skinning squirrels using this method. When I was a young teenager, I watched him skin and dress out about five squirrels in less than 15 minutes and get very little hair on the meat. Any time I have tried to use this method, I only made a mess of things. This is why I still use the cut across the back method.