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February perfect for squirrel hunting

By By BEN NORMAN
Outdoors Columnist
Another deer season has come and gone. Some are anxiously waiting for that call from the taxidermist telling them their trophy is ready to hang on the wall. Many are still assessing what they did wrong and making the same good-natured excuses for not bagging a buck. It really matters little if you got a buck or not, as you can still have a successful season by just being in the woods and going hunting with people whose company you cherish.
Many will clean their deer rifle, wash and pack up their camo clothing, and wait for next deer or turkey season. But they may be cheating themselves out of some quality time in the woods by not taking advantage of Alabama's long squirrel season that runs through February.
There is no better animal to introduce a youngster to hunting and firearm safety than the gray or fox squirrel. If you are introducing relatively young hunters to the sport, you can use a squirrel dog or casually stroll through the woods shaking vines and watching the treetops for movement. It's not necessary to remain absolutely quiet with this method of squirrel hunting.
Alabama is blessed with an abundant squirrel population. Grays are more numerous and account for the majority of harvested squirrels, but quite a few of the larger fox squirrels are bagged too.
Squirrels eat pecans, dogwood berries, wild fruit, peanuts and corn. During the spring they eat buds, barks, twigs, and some flowers. Gray squirrels prefer hardwood bottoms with plenty of acorn producing oaks. Fox squirrels are also found in hardwood bottoms but prefer more open fringe areas or "edge" with large scattered pines. Fox squirrels build leaf nests and rarely nest in hollow trees. The gray squirrel will nest in a hollow tree if available as it provides better protection from predators and bad weather. Grays only build leaf nest when a hollow tree is not available.
Not only is squirrel hunting exciting within itself, it is an excellent opportunity to scout for turkey signs for the coming spring season. Roost sites and feeding areas can be verified well before season opens. February is also an ideal time to scout for next years trophy buck. With the rut getting in full swing and fewer hunters in the woods because deer season is over, it's a good time to learn more about the really big bucks in the area.
Most any shotgun or accurate .22 will do for squirrel hunting. Shotguns with modified or full in smaller gauges and no. 6 field loads are adequate. A scoped .22 rifle is excellent for teaching youngsters marksmanship and for keeping the not so young shooting skills honed.
Watching the rising sun's rays sparkle off a heavy frost as you listen to the bark of a distant squirrel perched high in a giant white oak can excite a young hunter-and make the young hunter in you come alive again.