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WOODS ‘N’ WATER: Still bright-eyed for ‘old bushy tail’

WOODS ‘N’ WATER: Still bright-eyed for ‘old bushy tail’


A lot has changed over the years since I was a young hunter, including the hunting seasons.

Among the first game animals we ever hunted were gray squirrels. Back in those “good old days,” the season for gray squirrel would open on the third Saturday in October.

Many folks look at the gray squirrel as a city or park-type pet. I, for one, don’t.

The main reason? Between the squirrels and chipmunks, I can’t even keep a tomato because they eat them right off the plant as soon as they get any size to them.

But gray squirrels are a huntable species in the woods and farms of Connecticut and the season for them opens this year on Sept. 2.

Granted, a September opening for gray squirrel can also bring with it some hot and humid days, but if you fancy a meal featuring some gray squirrel, your opportunity starts next Monday.

However, the early season opening for hunting “bushy tails” does not mean it will be easy. The trees that harbor squirrels are in full foliage, most of it still green, although I have seen some trees starting to show a little fall color.

As Ted Nugent put it, “I can smell the fall.”

Your best bet for getting some gray squirrels for a meal (I love them in a spaghetti sauce) is to hunt them in any grove of nut trees, including acorns. Our yard is surrounded by acorn trees. This means a bunch of squirrels go in and out of our yard.

This overabundance of squirrels also means many of them are meeting an untimely end as they try to beat some of the speeding vehicles on our roads.

Did you know that although they are called gray squirrels, some of them are all white and some of them are all black?

We did have a couple of white squirrels on Raven Lane and New Cheshire Road in South Meriden, but I have not seen them for a couple of years now. Black squirrels are a bit more common and I have seen some in Cheshire while I was hunting.

From some of the material I have looked at over the years regarding gray squirrels, at one time the entire eastern part of the United States was covered by a dense, mature hardwood forest that extended west to the high grass prairies.

Although there were several hundred different types of trees in this area, oaks were the most common, providing an ideal habitat for the proliferation of countless millions of gray squirrels. Ernest Thompson Senon, the famous naturalist, calculated that over one billion gray squirrels at one time inhabited one million square miles of range.

Today, the eastern gray squirrel inhabits hardwood forests and is found in areas that have oak and nut trees, and this includes many suburban areas like we have here in Connecticut.

Under ordinary conditions, gray squirrels are content to stay in small areas. When hunting them, look for a nut grove or oak trees and simply settle down and wait for them to make a move.

Dawn and late afternoon seem to work best for hunting squirrels as they scurry from tree to tree and on the ground looking for food and even burying some of their find for the coming winter.

Did you know that the American frontiersman developed his shooting skills hunting squirrels? The squirrels were good to eat and there were too many of them.

In 1749, Pennsylvania placed a three-pence bounty on squirrels in an effort to control their depredation against the crops on wilderness farms. Squirrels can really destroy corn and other crops. After one year, the law was repealed because the treasury had paid more than 8,000 pounds sterling and the state was nearly bankrupt.

In 1834, two teams of 50 men participated in a three-day shoot for Indiana squirrels. It is not recorded just how many squirrels were killed, but the two top hunters shot 900 and 783 squirrels apiece.

Those days are now long gone as are the trees that supported such high numbers. However, the gray squirrel is still a very common game animal.

Yet most hunters don’t bother to hunt them anymore. One of the reasons is squirrels don’t provide the quantity of meat that, say, deer hunting does.

For me, squirrel hunting as a youngster still stirs fond memories. It was an excellent time to spend some prime time in the woods with our fathers and other adults.

We hunted squirrels with just about any firearm we could get our hands on — usually a single-barrel shotgun. Mine was a 12 gauge that had a kick like a Missouri mule, but I did take a good number of bushy tails with it.

A couple of the best squirrel hunters I knew as a kid were the Hanlon boys, Mike and Tom. Mike was a super marksman when it came to taking old bushy tail with a .22 rifle.

Some of my favorite squirrel hunting spots were some nut groves on the former Ernie Raven farm along Raven Lane that now leads to the Meriden Rod and Gun Club. Every time I travel down to the club I am flooded with memories of my youth and hunting along the old dirt road for gray squirrels.

My fondest memories of squirrel hunting, however, were those trips up into the nut groves in back of our old home on Hanover Road with our dad, Big Mike Roberts. We would sneak into the groves and sit and wait for the squirrels to start moving around looking for nuts and Dad would bag them with a shot from his trusty Montgomery Ward 16-gauge, double-barrel shotgun.

When we got home with our limit of squirrels (it’s now 8), they would be turned into a delicious pot of spaghetti sauce made by our mom, Jean Roberts.

It was times like that that made so many outdoor memories for me and prompted me to share some of them with you, our readers.

Canada geese

Monday, Sept. 2, will also see the start of the Canada goose season here in Connecticut in the North Zone (North of I-95) with a daily bag limit of 15. The north zone hunt ends Sept. 30.

The South Zone (South of I-95) Canada goose season opens Sept. 14 and ends Sept. 30 with a daily bag limit of 15.

All migratory bird hunters are reminded to make sure they have the proper licenses and waterfowl stamps before they hunt. It is a good idea to get a copy of the 2019-2020 migratory regulations before you hunt. They can also be looked up online.

See ya, hunt safe and God Bless America and watch over our troops wherever they may be serving our great country.

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