The hunting seasons are really just beginning

Friday, May 23, 2003

If you hunt turkey in Missouri, you already know that the three-week spring season ended less than two weeks ago. You've probably already put your hunting gear away and broken out your fishing tackle.

While the fishing gear is definitely a good idea, you might be premature in placing your shotgun in storage, because both squirrel and stream bass become legal quarry Saturday.

First, a look at the spring turkey season that just ended. Hunters harvested a record 54,761 birds during the April 21 through May 11 segment. When you add in the 3,660 turkey taken by youths during the April 12 to 13 segment, you have a grand total of 58,421. That surpasses the previous record of 56,841 set during the 2000 season.

The 16 counties that make up the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) Southeast Region check 5,369 regular-season birds. Perry County led the way with 732 (up 81 from 2002). St. Francois County with 700 (up by 81) and Ste. Genevieve County with 630 (up by four) were next. Other county totals include: Bollinger, 595 (down 11); Cape Girardeau, 517 (up 15); Iron, 447 (up 131); Butler, 346 (up 25); Madison, 343 (up 25); Wayne, 341 (down 36); Stoddard, 292 (down nine); Reynolds, 252 (up 35); Scott, 114 (up 11); Mississippi, 28 (down 16); New Madrid, 22 (down four); Dunklin, eight (no change); and Pemiscot, two (up two).

Now for squirrel season, which runs through Jan. 15. The daily limit is six with a possession limit of 12.

We have two species of squirrel in Missouri: Eastern gray and fox. The gray squirrel varies in length from 14 to 21 inches and in weight from three-fourths to 1 1/2 pounds. The fox squirrel is generally larger, having a length from 19 to 29 inches and a weight from 1 to 3 pounds.

Gray squirrels are early risers and leave their nests with the first light of day. They are most active about sunrise and shortly thereafter and again in late afternoon. Most of the day they stay in their nest or on a limb or other platform to sleep and sun themselves. By comparison, fox squirrels come out later and retire earlier and are frequently more active in the middle of the day. Gray squirrels are more wary than fox squirrels and thus are regarded by most sportsmen as harder to hunt.

Just as there is more than one kind of squirrel, there is more than one way to hunt them. Some hunters prefer to locate a feeding area or den tree and take a stand waiting for the squirrel to come to them. Other hunters prefer to move silently through the woods until they spot their quarry. They then stalk close enough for a sure shot.

Just like choosing different methods, a hunter can choose different firearms to take their game. Some prefer a shotgun to take a moving target. Other hunters prefer to use a .22-caliber rifle or handgun and hold out for a stationary target.

As the day warms up, put your squirrels on ice and grab a fishing pole. Like squirrel season, the season for black bass in Ozark streams also opens Saturday. The season runs through Feb. 28 with a daily limit of six and a possession limit of 12.

There is a 12-inch minimum length limit for all black bass taken from a stream. Total length is measured from the tip of the snout to the end of the tail, with the fish laid flat on a ruler and with the mouth closed and tail lobes pressed together.

Like squirrels (with two species) there are more than one species of black bass. There are, in fact, three: largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass.

There are also many ways to catch them. On larger streams, you may choose to launch a canoe or small boat and float for them. On smaller streams, you may don a set of hip boots or tennis shoes and wade for them.

A variety of baits are also available. Some people prefer a wide array of artificial baits. Still others prefer natural baits such as minnows or crayfish. Either way (but especially with natural baits), the larger the bait, the larger the fish.

So grab both your firearm and your fishing pole this weekend and enjoy a full day of hunting and fishing.

Gene Myers is an area agent with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

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