Squirrel season is upon us

The statewide squirrel season opened this past Saturday. I have only talked to two hunters who have been in the woods for this year. The first hunter told me that where he took his grandkids, there was plenty of hickory nuts, beech nuts and acorns, but no squirrels. They hunted all morning and did not see any bushy-tails. The other hunter was able to get two gray squirrels with a .22 rimfire rifle in Barbour County. This is good, considering that squirrels are difficult to locate when the leaves are this heavy this time of the year.

In two weeks, on Sept. 30, the black bear, white-tailed deer and wild boar bow and crossbow hunting season will be coming in. Mountain State hunters should have already scouted their favorite hunting areas, along with inspecting their hunting equipment.

For bow hunters, now is too late to think about honing up their archery skills. This should have started sometime in the summer, like in June or July. There are some people who think that all bow and crossbow hunters need to pass a state-sponsored proficiency test before they can start hunting with a bow or crossbow.

Just about all seasoned hunters will be spending some time in the fields and forests scouting before they start hunting for this year. I have been twice, but on the opening day of the squirrel season, I stayed in an air-conditioned room and watched the West Virginia Mountaineers clean up on the East Carolina Pirates. Chances are, I will be doing the same when WVU plays Delaware State today.

According to a spokesman for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, the mast crop quality and quantity are good indicators for how good a particular hunting location is going to be. The early indicators this year appear to be pointing to a better than average nut crop.

Sometimes, abundant mast can make hunting a real challenge. All too often, I have seen situations like this when the game animals are well-scattered. The animals (large and small) don’t have to leave dense cover in order to meet their nutritional requirements.

Here is where scouting in areas where game animals are feeding is just as important during years when mast is abundant as the years when the mast is below average. Always look for the nut-producing trees (beech, hickory, and all oaks), along with other desirable food close to a dense bedding area.

Tree-stand hunters should be practicing from various heights and angles. They also need to closely inspect their safety harness for damage and/or wear. Keep in mind that more hunting injuries occur in this day and age from tree stand falls than any other type of hunting mishap. Having to spend some extra money on a new safety harness is better than having to spend time in a hospital with a lifetime disabling injury.

The good weather we have had this week is an excellent time for rifle hunters to be checking the sight-in on their firearms. I just wish that I could find the time to try out the new public shooting range at Kumbrabow State Forest. This has to be a good place for local hunters to “zero in” their rifles from various distances and positions.

It is always a good idea to look over your ammunition, particularly if it is old (20 years or more) for corrosion and quality. There are bullets with the same grain weight, but different shapes that will have different shooting profiles. For example, a pointed, soft-point bullet versus a round-nose bullet will often group at a different point of aim. Sometimes, a rifle will not group well a certain make of ammunition. I have a rifle that will not shoot tight groups using factory-loaded Winchester-Western Silvertip bullets. There is no real explanation for this.

Even if you think your rifle is sighted in after last year, it is still best to take a few shots to make sure. Sportsmen and women owe it to themselves and the game animals they are trying to down to be as accurate as possible.

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