Another Tough Year for August Squirrel Hunters? Maybe…
Some of you may recall a couple of blog posts and articles last year in which I reported – and lamented - that my preseason scouting for squirrels had revealed an almost non-existent hickory nut crop where I do most of my hunting. The 2011 nut yield in the southern part of the state did turn out to be spotty at best, forcing squirrels in many areas to resort to less conventional food sources (including one desperate fox squirrel who tried to drop a half-eaten hedge apple on my head).
This year’s preseason scouting and observations are revealing better prospects thus far, but there is also the potential that some bad news could be on the horizon. The hickory nut and walnut crop in my Perry County hunting spot is, if not a bumper crop, tremendously better than last year. That’s the good part. The bad news is that there is reason to believe that the height of the yearly squirrel feeding frenzy, affectionately known as “cutting,” could be over and most of those nuts devoured before we get the chance to hunt.
It wouldn’t be unprecedented to see Illinois squirrels cut hard in late July and then go into a lull right after the August 1 opening day, as it’s a situation that I’ve witnessed several times during my hunting career. That scenario seems very plausible this year in particular, since the warm days of late winter caused an early start to the growing season. Thus far, we’ve seen early blooms and early ripening of berries, so it’s logical that the nut crop could ripen early as well. Evidence of this is that nut trees in town and, to a lesser degree, some in the woods have seen mid-June sampling by the local bushy-tails. Such sampling doesn’t usually take place until July, but everything so far this year seems ahead of schedule.
Having said all of that, I have two points to make with this particular post:
The first point is that I believe it would behoove hunters who want to get some squirrel hunting in during the annual “nut cutting” to sight in early and be ready to hunt hard the very first week of the season. I’ve misplaced the crystal ball for prophesying squirrel feeding activity (it’s probably sitting right next to my lost deer rut predictor) and I hope I’m wrong, but by mid-August the best squirrel shooting opportunities might be way behind us and the hunting could become very slow.
Second, I believe that Illinois may want to rethink the time window for the expanded squirrel season. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining and I appreciate the extension to the season that we’ve been given the last few years. Still, all things considered, I have to wonder if an extra two or three weeks starting in mid-July might go further toward increasing harvest numbers and youth participation in the long run than the six additional weeks we’ve been allotted in January and February.
I’d love to see comments back from some of you around the state about the nut crop and early sampling (if any) you’re seeing in your neck of the woods. Also, please feel free to chime in with your opinions, agree or disagree, concerning an earlier opening day.