Early Season Squirrel Hunting On Georgia WMAs

Most WMAs will be open for the Aug. 15 squirrel opener.

Stephen D. Carpenteri | July 27, 2010

Peach State squirrel hunters can expect plenty of action again this season, and the fun begins at daylight opening day (Aug. 15).

Last season was a phenomenal one, with high numbers of squirrels and an excellent mast crop in most areas of the state. For example, I killed 68 squirrels in one Paulding Forest creek bottom before the archery deer season opened, and I finished the season with more than 150 gray and fox squirrels. On another trip to Berry College WMA in Floyd County, I took my limit of 12 squirrels off a single oak limb that hung out about 50 feet over a creek bottom. Just about every squirrel in the area used that limb as a direct route to a mast-laden hickory stand. I left the area after a few hours with my limit of grays with a chorus of other squirrels chattering in the background. I was hunting no more than 200 yards from my truck, too.

Squirrels may be taken by still-hunting, stalking, float hunting or with dogs. In the early season, still hunting works best because the squirrels will be high in the hickories and pines and may not set foot on the ground for weeks.

Later (as deer hunters know), picking a stand near hickories, oaks and other food sources will produce plenty of shots as the animals spend more time foraging on the ground.

John Geiger, of Marietta, shot his first squirrel last fall using an L.C. Smith double-barrel shotgun while hunting on Pine Log Mountain WMA.

In late fall and winter, stand hunting with a .22- or .17-caliber rifle is a good bet. Pick an area that has plenty of large oaks. Get on the higher ground, and pick off squirrels as they come out to feed or just absorb a little sunshine in the higher limbs early and late in the day.

Of course, hunting with dogs is always an option. This specialized tactic requires some time and effort in training and maintaining a dog, but the results are surprising. These little dogs can make a squirrel hunt on days when there seems to be nothing moving, and the action can be fast and exciting. Most dog hunters will wait until the late season (December and January) when the leaves are down and the squirrels are easy to see as they attempt to evade the dogs in the highest limbs of towering hardwoods.

Float hunting is a pleasant way to take a limit of squirrels. Most WMAs have some sort of waterway on them that will float a kayak or canoe. The technique is simple enough: Float quietly downstream and watch for squirrels in the tree tops or crossing the water on fallen trees or limbs. One tip to remember: Dead squirrels sink like a rock, so be sure to time your shots so the animal falls on dry land, not in the creek

Georgia’s private landowners and hunters on the Chattahoochee National Forest can enjoy uninterrupted squirrel hunting from Aug. 15 through Feb. 28. Some WMAs also allow full-season hunting, such as the 3,000-acre Rocky Mountain Public Fishing Area in Floyd County, an archery-only area that is open all season for all species.

Most WMAs are open for squirrel hunting from Aug. 15 until the archery season on deer, and then various splits occur through the fall and winter to accommodate a variety of deer hunts. In December, the majority of WMAs open once again for squirrel hunting through Feb. 28.

To plan your 2010 squirrel hunts on public land, obtain a copy of the Georgia Hunting Seasons & Regulations booklet at any Wal-Mart store, and check the regulations for the WMAs you wish to hunt. The WMA section of the booklet contains season dates, directions and contact information. The regulations handbook is also available online at <www.gohuntgeor>.

The author looks for more squirrels in the hickories on a creek-bottom hunt at Paulding Forest WMA last August.

Lest you think Georgia’s WMAs are too crowded during the squirrel season, let me assure you that is not the case. I hunt some of the bigger WMAs near Atlanta (Paulding Forest, Pine Log Mountain, Sheffield and Allatoona) and rarely see another hunter. In fact, I rarely hear any shooting that would be associated with a squirrel hunt. The best squirrel hunters down their game in one or two shots, so if you hear a barrage of shooting in the distance, you can almost be sure it’s not a squirrel hunter.

Here’s a look at how things are shaping up around the state and what Peach State squirrel hunters can expect in 2010.

Region 1

In northwest Georgia, squirrel hunters have plenty of opportunities to hunt squirrels on public land, with some 20 WMAs that offer small-game seasons throughout the fall and winter.

According to Adam Hammond, wildlife biologist for the northwest region, squirrel numbers are high and stable throughout the region, with good numbers of fox and gray squirrels on most areas that are open to squirrel hunting.

“We had a good year for acorn and hickory-nut production, so hunters can expect to see plenty of squirrels in the northwest region this fall,” Adam said.

Among Adam’s top picks were the east and west sides of the Cohutta WMA and the hardwood stands on Coosawattee Carters Lake WMA.

Among the most productive WMAs in northwest Georgia, hunters would be hard pressed to beat Paulding Forest on Highway 278 outside of Dallas.

At just more than 25,000 acres, Paulding Forest WMA consists primarily of hardwood bottoms with some pine plantations on the high ground. Most of the hardwood areas are untouched by forest-cutting crews, and just about any oak and hickory ridge will hold enough squirrels to keep a hunter busy all season.

Gray squirrels dominate on the area, but some pine stands offer good fox squirrel hunting. In recent years both species have been busy eating pine seeds even when there are good crops of hickory nuts, so be sure to check the evergreens if the action in the hardwoods slows down.

In Floyd County, Berry College WMA off Highway 27 is a gold mine for squirrel hunters. The best hunting is off Scenic Road where a gated road provides access to the spine of the mountain. Walk the road for a few hundred yards, and then drop off either side, where deep hardwood bottoms and pine stands offer good mixed-species hunting.

In general, fox squirrels will be found in the pines. The best hunting is at dawn and dusk, when these big, slow-moving squirrels come out to feed. The gray squirrels will be found in the open hardwoods, especially in the hickories early in the season and then in the oaks later in the fall and winter.

There is also some excellent squirrel hunting to be had in the woodlands around the dove fields off Little Texas Valley Road as well as on the hardwood ridges and creek bottoms throughout the WMA.

Region 2

According to WRD Wildlife Biologist Kevin Lowrey, squirrel hunters should have no trouble filling their limits this fall.

There were many nuisance squirrel calls this year, so it’s a sure thing the woods are full of them. Most of the calls lately have come from people complaining about how many squirrels there are.

Highly recommended is Dawson Forest WMA, which covers 25,000 acres off Highway 53 outside of Dawsonville. Kevin advised to concentrate efforts first on the high ridges where hickories and oaks may be found, but to check out neighboring pine stands if the mast crop is low or slow to develop. Squirrels may abandon the hardwoods for a time in the fall to concentrate on the abundant pine cones that the conifers produce.

Also in the northeast region, hunters should consider the Chattahoochee National Forest, which is open to squirrel hunting all season. In addition, there are several WMA holdings within the national forest that also offer great squirrel-hunting opportunities.

Region 3

In the east-central region, Vic VanSant with WRD said squirrel numbers were good, and that the population was stable if not growing in most WMAs.

Best bets for 2010 include the river bottoms in Tuckahoe WMA near Sylvania off Highway 24. This public-hunting area covers more than 15,000 acres and is mostly bottomland with dense oak stands.

Redlands WMA, covering 37,500 acres off state Highway 15 near Greensboro, is also recommended as a good place to start your 2010 squirrel season. The small-game season (including squirrels) is open from Aug. 15 to Feb. 28 with no splits or other closed periods.

Other hotspots include the Oconee WMA and Clarks Hill WMA. Vic suggested hunters target the hardwoods for gray squirrels and the pines for fox squirrels. Both species will be found on the edges of pine-hardwood stands. He also noted (in mid-July) that squirrels were already working hickory stands, which apparently came on earlier than usual this year.

For details, contact WRD’s region 3 office at (706) 595-4222.

Region 4

Bobby Bond, WRD wildlife biologist, said region 4 has plenty of gray squirrels and a few fox squirrels, particularly in areas that are being managed for quail — open pines with plenty of room between the trees.

“Those open pines are best for fox squirrels,” Bobby said. “That open cover gives them room to move around. We are managing more of our areas to increase the fox-squirrel population.”

Bobby said still hunting and dog hunting are most popular in his region. Some of the best WMAs in the region include Cedar Creek WMA, with 40,000 acres off Highway 16 near Monticello; Rum Creek WMA, with 5,739 acres off Highway 18 near Forsyth; and Big Lazer Creek WMA (7,200 acres) off Highway 80 near Talbotton.

For more information, call the Region 4 office at (478) 825-6354.

Region 5

Julie Robbins with WRD said the southwest region had a good mast crop last year, so squirrels had plenty to eat all season.

“We have had a lot of nuisance squirrel complaints from homeowners and pecan growers, and that usually means there are a lot of squirrels out there,” Julie said.

Daymond Hughes, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and an avid squirrel hunter, said he had observed good numbers of young squirrels this year in the southwest region.

“A good mast crop depends on rain, and we’ve had plenty of rain here in the last few months. With good mast production, we should have plenty of squirrels this year.”

Both experts recommended Chickasawhatchee WMA off Highway 62 near Albany. This 19,700-acre public hunting area has a number of quota and specialty deer hunts in the middle of the squirrel season, but there’s still ample opportunity when deer hunts aren’t being conducted. The area has plenty of bottomland hardwoods.

Daymond also recommended Flint River WMA (2,300 acres outside of Vienna off Highway 27) and the Montezuma Bluffs Natural Area (500 acres just outside Montezuma). He suggested squirrel hunters focus on mature pine stands and hardwood bottoms in these areas.

For more information, contact the WRD’s southwest region office at (229) 430-4254.

Region 6

WRD Wildlife Biologist Chris Baumann said squirrel hunting on the south-central WMAs should be excellent again. Good numbers of squirrels and a good mast crop are all hunters need for another banner season.

Chris rattled off four hot options for squirrel hunters to consider: Big Hammock WMA (6,900 acres off Highway 144 out of Glennville); Beaverdam WMA (5,500 acres out of Dublin on Highway 441); Horse Creek WMA (8,100 acres near Jacksonville on Highway 117) and Flat Tub WMA (3,597 acres near Douglas on Highway 107).

According to Chris, all of these WMAs should offer good squirrel hunting in the river and creek bottoms. Look for squirrels in pine stands as well as in the oaks in the bottoms and the occasional hickory on higher ground.

For additional information, call Chris at (478) 296-6176, or call the WRD region 6 office at (229) 426-5267.

Region 7

Ed Van Otteren with WRD said gray-squirrel numbers are high and stable.

“We have a good mast crop every year, and that gives the squirrels all they need to breed two or more times each year. I’d say the outlook for this area is very good for 2010,” Ed said.

Hotspots for coastal-region squirrels include the Altamaha River corridor, especially the Griffin Ridge WMA (5,600 acres off Highway 301 near Ludowici); the Altamaha WMA (29,300 acres off Highway 17 near Darien); and the Penholoway Swamp WMA (4,269 acres off Highway 341 near Mt. Pleasant).

Ed suggested hunters focus on the river-bottom oak stands, where squirrels are traditionally plentiful and easy to hunt.

He added that dog hunting for gray squirrels is popular in the region, especially when the leaves are down. He noted fox squirrels were scarce throughout region 7 due to a lack of suitable habitat.

For additional information, contact the region 7 office at (912) 262-3173.

In a nutshell, Georgia’s squirrel hunters can expect another great season in 2010. Squirrel numbers are high and stable statewide, and most state WMAs have plenty of good habitat with plenty of room to roam.

A hunting license is required to hunt squirrels in Georgia, and hunters must possess a WMA stamp while hunting WMAs.

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