Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Squirrels Abound In Pennsylvania's Forests And Woodlots
If there's one game animal that could use some additional attention in Pennsylvania, it's squirrels, according to Pennsylvania Game Commission biologists. Squirrel season opens on Oct. 13, and runs through Nov. 24. The season reopens on Dec. 10-24, and Dec. 26-Feb. 23. The daily limit is six.
Squirrel populations have been enjoying the benefits of declining hunting pressure and the maturation of habitat in the state for some time. These factors have spurred fox squirrel range expansion and recovery. The calculated squirrel harvest has been relatively stable over the past seven years, ranging from 530,125 to 784,741. Last year, an estimated 690,141 squirrels were harvested by hunters.
"Gray squirrels are our most abundant game species and are found throughout Pennsylvania," said Tom Hardisky, Game Commission biologist. "Look for mast-producing trees such as walnut, butternut, oak and hickory when searching for the best hunting areas. In agricultural areas, woodlots in the vicinity of standing cornfields often support large numbers of squirrels. They can be found throughout deep woods areas."
Squirrel populations may be reduced in areas where last year's mast crop failed or was extremely poor. Winter survival is largely determined by the available food supply cached by squirrels during the previous fall. If overwinter survival of females was poor and body condition of survivors weakened, squirrel numbers will likely be reduced this fall in those areas. Adult gray and fox squirrels older than 14 months can have two litters with two to three young each year under favorable food conditions. During food-stressed years, one litter is typical.
Annual food abundance and corresponding body condition of female squirrels are key factors limiting population growth.
Hardisky noted that the black squirrel is actually a color phase of the gray squirrel. In general, black squirrels can be found in the northern half of Pennsylvania. Squirrels with this black color variation often occur in local concentrations scattered about their northern Pennsylvania range.
"Fox squirrels are up to 50 percent larger than gray squirrels and weigh about two pounds," Hardisky said. "Fox squirrels have been expanding their range eastward in recent years and now inhabit much of the western half of Pennsylvania. They prefer more open areas than gray squirrels and are not found in the deep woods. Fox squirrels favor open fields and pastures with large trees nearby. Small woodlots and forest edges are typical fox squirrel haunts.
"Although some gray squirrels may possess orange coloration along their sides and tails, fox and gray squirrels do not interbreed, nor do gray and red squirrels. Each squirrel species has some color variation, even within local populations. However, this color variation largely results from genetic differences. Local diet, habitat, and climate differences also may contribute to color variation."
When hunting squirrels, Hardisky said hunters should look for large-trunked trees near a food source. Larger trees offer better protection from predators and are favorite den sites. Gray squirrels are most active during the early morning and evening, while fox squirrels often travel during mid-day.
Pennsylvania's youth squirrel hunt is Oct. 6-12. The season is open to youths 12 to 16 years of age who have successfully completed a Hunter-Trapper Education course and are properly accompanied by an adult. A hunting license is not required to participate.
Hunters also are reminded that squirrels are listed as a game animal that can be pursued by youngsters participating in the Mentored Youth Hunting Program, which permits those under the age of 12 to hunt under the guidance of a mentor.
Squirrel hunters are required to wear at least 250 square inches of fluorescent orange clothing, visible 360 degrees, at all times.