squirrel art

Gray squirrels are commonly found anywhere nut- or fruit-bearing trees are located, and they make an excellent first game for new hunters. They can be every bit as wary and alert as big game, but their high population numbers mean there are many more opportunities for hunters to learn from their mistakes.

Youngsters ages 10 to 15 may take part in one of six youth squirrel hunts organized statewide, all set to take place on Feb. 1. There is no fee involved and all relevant equipment will be provided, but they must be registered online at mdwfp.com by Wednesday.

“One of the primary things we want to do is introduce new hunters to hunting,” said Rick Hamrick, small game program leader for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “We’d especially like to introduce hunting to youth who are interested in hunting but who might not have had a chance to get into the woods.”

Hunts will be held on Canal Section Wildlife Management Area in Itawamba County, Yockanookany WMA near Koscuisko, Pascagoula River WMA near the Gulf Coast, Pearl River WMA near Canton, Copiah County WMA near Hazelhurst and on Camp McCain, in partnership with the Mississippi National Guard, near Grenada.

“We do take some kids who have prior hunting experience, as well as brand new hunters,” Hamrick said. “There’s always a chance to teach something new. From biology to hunting safety to working with dogs, we cover a fair number of different components. There are always things a kid who has hunted before can pick up, but we primarily connect with kids who have an interest in hunting but who lack a mentor or an opportunity.”

Good cooperation

State and federal wildlife officials and area volunteers will host the groups of youngsters at each of the six locations. The events will begin at noon on Feb. 1 with seminars on the role hunting plays in conservation, small game ecology, hunting regulations and safety in the field.

Practice, practice

Participants will then practice their shooting skills at an outdoor range under the supervision of qualified instructors. The kids will then go to the woods under guided supervision to participate in an actual hunt and have the opportunity to harvest small game. They will watch squirrel dogs work, a treat in itself, and see how hunters on four legs and those on two work together in the field.

“These events provide a small game hunting opportunity even kids who’ve hunted a good bit may not have had before,” Hamrick said. “There’s so much more to hunting than sitting in a deer stand.”

To apply for the hunt, complete the application at mdwfp.com by Wednesday. All applicants must be 10 to 15 years of age. Upon registering, applicants will be asked for a first and second choice of location, and organizers will do their best to place all applicants in a hunt. Those who apply will be notified of availability via email.

No fees required

Applicants do not need to have completed a hunter education course to take part, but they must be accompanied by a parent or guardian throughout the day.

Each event concludes at 6:30 p.m. and includes supper, also free of charge, though each should either bring a lunch or eat before arriving that morning.

“It’s very rewarding to be a part of these events,” Hamrick said. “The dog handlers who volunteer for these always comment on how much they enjoy it. Putting this on for kids is really special. The kids enjoy it, and they have a good time outside, tromping around in the mud and just enjoying nature. All the volunteers are aways very enthusiastic about it.”

Events that introduce youngsters to the practical sides of the outdoors invariably create lasting memories for the kids and adults as well.

A great time

For kids looking for a chance to hunt, put healthy food on the table and gain a significant amount of self confidence and self reliance as well, an introduction to hunting and nature is just the thing.

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