There is the old conundrum that asks if a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a noise.
The same could be said about a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department proposal that would extend the winter squirrel season a month until the end of February in 51 East Texas counties already with a winter and spring season.
The problem is that while squirrel hunting was once more popular than deer hunting in East Texas, that is hardly the case today. Squirrel hunters are few and far between not because of the demise of squirrels, but because of the growth of the deer herd in Pineywoods region beginning in the 1960s.
In fact the department doesn’t even count squirrel hunters any more in its small game harvest. At last count in 2005, however, there were about 70,000 squirrel hunters in the state, down from about 100,000 a decade earlier.
In comparison, TPWD tallies about 200,000 deer hunters in the Pineywoods and Post Oak regions who hunt about two million days combined a year.
Those continuing to squirrel hunt in the two regions are avid, and they are the ones pushing for the season expansion.
“It is really to provide some additional opportunity that exists. The last couple of years we have been asked for it by people that hunt squirrels with dogs. They want to hunt with the leaves off after the deer season,” said Corey Mason, TPWD Wildlife region director for East Texas.
Mason said that squirrel hunting with dogs is perfectly acceptable even during deer season when they are not allowed for hunting deer.
“That wasn’t a problem. It was just some hunters not wanting to interfere or interrupt someone else’s deer hunting,” Mason explained.
Mason said that adding several weeks to the season certainly wouldn’t cause a biological problem because there are so few squirrel hunters. In fact the department hopes the extension leads others to try the sport.
“Adding opportunity is one of the things we are always looking at. If there is any place we can add hunting opportunity across the state that is something we want to explore,” Mason said.
The winter season, which opens Oct. 1, is more popular with hunters not only because the squirrels are easier to spot, but also because the colder weather means hunters are not bothered by mosquitoes.
Squirrel hunting should be attractive to two groups, those who like to hunt on the move and those involved in the locavore food movement that encourages the use of locally-sourced foods.
Squirrel hunting, especially with a .22 rifle, is about as sporting a hunt as there is in Texas. It requires hunters to be stealth while working their way from tree to tree, a keen eye to distinguish between the preferred grey squirrels and the tougher fox squirrels and a good shot to hit a target the size of a quarter 30 feet up a tree and partially hidden by a limb.
One other change that could make squirrel hunting more interesting to some is another proposal that would allow hunters to use air guns. Hunters can already hunt squirrels with either .22s or shotguns.
“It would require a minimum of a .177 caliber, a minimum of 600 feet per second and must be fired from the shoulder. No pistols would be allowed. They also have to be operated by spring or air, not by ignited gas,” said Kevin Davis, TPWD Law Enforcement assistant commander over wildlife enforcement.
Davis said the department looked what other states that have legalized air rifles across the South have done.
“We looked at other states to determine these minimums will insure the capability of a humane take,” he explained.
The use of air rifles is growing, but unlike other states that allow big game hunting using larger bore rifles, Texas hunters will be limited to squirrels if the proposal passes.
The closest locations where the public will have a chance to comment on the proposals at upcoming public hearings includes March 10 in Suphur Springs at the Hopkins County Courthouse, March 12 in Marshall at the Marshall Lions Center, 1201 Louisiana St., March 17 in Nacogdoches at the Nacogdoches County Courthouse Annex, 203 W. Main, and in Palestine at the Ben E. Keith Building, 2019 W. Oak, and March 19 in Huntsville at the Walker County Storm Shelter, 455 Highway 75 North. All meetings will begin at 7 p.m.
The public may also comment online at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/business/feedback/public_comment/proposals/201403_hunting.phtml .