By Frank Jezioro – Director, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources
While we have had early seasons for doves, deer and ducks, the true hunting season for most West Virginia hunters will kick off in October. That’s when the fall turkey, deer and bear archery seasons will open, as well those for squirrel and grouse. Times and traditions have changed drastically over the past 50 years since I started hunting.
When squirrel hunting was a big event
Back then, the opening of the squirrel season was about as big an event as was deer season. People took vacations and traveled long distances to hunt squirrels. It was not uncommon for hunters from the northern part of the state to travel over into the eastern panhandle to hunt areas near Romney, Moorefield, Capon Bridge and Franklin. Part of the reason was that there was a lot of public land in the form of National Forest and that land had good concentrations of squirrels on a regular basis.
Squirrel hunting brought us into the woods at a great time of the year. The weather was usually pretty mild and it just a great time to be out.
It has been sad to see the loss of interest in squirrel hunting that has taken place over the years. Squirrel hunting taught us so much more than many of today’s young hunters ever get exposed to. The squirrel hunter could identify nearly every sort of tree that produced food for wild game. He also learned the art of slipping through the woods quietly and undetected. And if he or she hunted with a .22 rifle, most were crack shots.
My first squirrel hunt – pride before the fall
I’ll never forget my first hunt for squirrels away from home. We traveled to Sutton where my step-father’s family lived up on what was Wolf Creek, across a swinging bridge with no electricity and no running water. Their land was long ago covered by the waters of the dam. They were mountain people, proud and independent. Up before daylight we traveled on up to Centralia. There I was put out with a .22 rifle, a box of shells and told to go down the ridge to where the hollow dropped off on both sides and sit on a rock or old log.
Well, sure enough, when dawn broke the squirrels began to move. The funny thing for me was that they were all moving in the same direction. I didn’t know it at the time but I was witnessing a squirrel migration much like what is taking place this year. Mast was scarce then like now and the squirrels were on the move, coming up out of the hollow, going right by me and on up the ridge.
I had been shooting a scoped sighted .22 all summer and was pretty good with it. So every time I could get a squirrel to stop in what I thought was a good distance, I shot it or shot at it. The result was that by lunch time I had my limit of fat grey squirrels. Later I was told that these were “mountain grays” and distinguished by the red stripe down their sides. All I knew was that they were nice squirrels. I was picked up at noon and back to the house we went for lunch. Once home, the others began to lay their squirrels on the ground so we could begin skinning them.
I was very proud of mine and waited until all the others had laid theirs on the pile. Then I pulled mine out and very carefully laid them at the side of the others in a neat line. My step-grandfather was the first to comment. I expected heaps of praise for my fine marksmanship but instead came the sharp response of “My gad boy, you have ruint every one of them squirrel brains by shooting them in the head.”
That was a long time ago, but I will take my grandsons out and teach them to hunt squirrels, for the squirrel hunter is simply a better woodsman.