Good time of year to double pleasure

Sunday, May 29, 2005

If you have already cleaned your turkey gun and put it away until next fall, you are missing out on a unique opportunity to go on a combination hunting/fishing trip.

Saturday was opening day for squirrel hunting in Missouri. It was also the first day since Feb. 28 that anglers throughout most of southern Missouri could catch black bass and keep them legally.

Squirrel season runs through Feb. 15 of next year.

If you are a squirrel hunter, you will notice the extra days that have been added to the season. Not only did it open a week earlier than usual, an additional month has been added at the end. There is a daily limit of six squirrels and a possession limit of 12.

We have both fox squirrels and gray squirrels in this area, but they tend to exhibit slightly different habitat preferences. If you prefer one species over the other, there are certain things that can help you to locate your particular choice of "tree rat."

Fox squirrels derive their name from their fox-like rusty red color. They are the larger of the two species, often weighing up to 3 pounds. They eat their own weight in food each week.

They are most often found along wooded creek bottoms that adjoin crop fields. They tend to favor mature hedgerows, small woodlots and wooded pastures.

The gray squirrel -- gray with white underparts -- weighs less than 2 pounds at maturity. Individual "grays" may consume up to 100 pounds of food per year. They prefer extensive, heavily wooded areas with good ground cover.

If you are fortunate enough to find a flowing stream near good squirrel habitat, you have an opportunity to maximize your leisure time.

By including a cooler full of ice with your other gear, you can go squirrel hunting in the early morning hours and have an easy method of keeping your squirrels fresh. As the day warms up, swap your firearm for a fishing pole and head for the stream.

For most of the state, the daily limit on black bass is six smallmouth, largemouth or spotted bass in the aggregate. All black bass less than 12 inches in length must be returned to the water unharmed immediately after being caught from the unimpounded portion of any stream.

A number of specific locations have special requirements that vary from the statewide regulations.

For complete details, consult the 2005 edition of the Wildlife Code of Missouri.

Experienced stream fishermen will often use permanent markers or tape to place marks 12 inches apart directly on their fishing poles to provide a convenient method of measuring the bass they catch.

Squirrels and bass. Not a bad combination.

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

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