This week’s master naturalist question: In actual weight, which one is larger, the adult gray squirrel or the adult red squirrel? All of us who hunt squirrels and send their tails to the Mepps spinner-bait company to trade for fishing lures, will know this one easily.
In late January we cut a dead white-oak tree at Panther Creek because we were worried it might fall on one of the cabins, and a hollow limb had a litter of baby gray squirrels in it. The mother squirrel came out of it like a streak of gray lightning, but we strapped the limb up high on a nearby live tree and left it. Sure enough, she came back and moved the four babies to another hollow tree nearby.
When you consider the fact that squirrel season does not end until the middle of February, you see what might happen anytime you bag a squirrel in February. It is exactly why no one should hunt squirrels after mid January! The rule-makers in Jefferson City seldom have ever been around squirrel hunters or woodcutters. The reason most of us country people have had so many pet squirrels when we were youngsters is the fact that so often when our folks were cutting trees for firewood in late January or early February, there were squirrels with young ones inside those trees.
Since it is a time when so many squirrels are bearing young, why in the world allow squirrel hunting then? And yes, you can make the argument that it makes no difference if a small number of baby squirrels starve to death in a hollow tree during that time, but why permit it to happen at all? Squirrel seasons should not ever run into February and I do not know of one competent or knowledgeable outdoorsman who would hunt them at that time of the year. Only a greenhorn would do that.
The same thing could be said about the first of September opening of dove season. Few dove hunters today know that there are still fledgling doves in scattered nests in early September who will die in the nests because the adults are killed. I have seen young doves being fed in a nest on the first day of September here on Lightnin’ Ridge.
I know: There aren’t many times you will see that, but still, it would be eliminated completely if the season were set back to Sept. 20. It makes common sense.
The truth of the matter is, young doves dying in a nest doesn’t make any significant change in the overall surviving numbers the next spring. But who can feel good about such a thing? Can anyone be so indifferent that they do not feel bad when they see a young fawn dead along the highway, or a baby rabbit being eaten by a cat?
I was taught a reverence for life as a boy. I see no reason why anything in the wild must die without a purpose to it. Squirrel seasons and dove seasons cannot be changed to make dead babies less likely. The one thing about dove hunting is, it is always too green and hot and dry in early September for hunting. Early September is the best time of year to be fishing for bass with topwater lures anyway, and the best of the dove migrations will likely be at the coming of October.
The crops that I put out in the Panther Creek bottoms are paying dividends now, and during the months of January and February when food gets the scarcest for wildlife. I saw 14 deer in one of them just last night about an hour before dark. And you might remember, I wrote about the 51 turkeys I saw parade out of one back in January. But what tickles me the most is rabbits and quail and varieties of songbirds that feed and take cover in those plots of varied crops.
About 30 underprivileged kids will spend next weekend at the Panther Creek retreat this coming weekend, free of charge. What an experiment it is going to be. If you’d like to join us and actually spend Saturday helping us make it a great day for them, just call me, at 417-777-5227. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The answer to the quiz is a tricky one. Red squirrels are tiny little rascals found way up north, much smaller than grays. Our Ozark fox squirrels are commonly referred to as red squirrels, but they are not. Fooled you on that one didn’t I?