Wanna step outside: Out with the turkeys, in with the squirrels

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 9, 2024

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By Dan Kibler

For the Clemmons Courier

If you thought the end of spring wild turkey season on Saturday marks the end of hunting in North Carolina until September rolls around, you’re wrong.

Yes, May 11 is the final day of turkey season, but after a day-off on Sunday, hunters can get back into the woods on Monday, May 13, for two weeks of the state’s second-annual spring squirrel season.

Spring squirrel hunting is allowed through May 27 on private lands only. Hunters can take a daily limit of eight squirrels, with no season limit.

The spring squirrel season was largely overlooked when it was implemented last year in an effort to give hunters more time in the woods at a time when squirrel populations are at their highest levels.

Besides North Carolina, 10 states have spring squirrel seasons: Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia.

Spring squirrel seasons in many states were closed years ago because the closings would improve the fall squirrel seasons. However, studies by wildlife agencies discovered that squirrels can be hunted in the spring without endangering populations — as long as seasons are timed with the peak in squirrel numbers after the year’s first nesting period and before the second breeding period begins.

As usual, finding food sources is the key, because they concentrate squirrels. That’s a positive and a negative, because the foods that most squirrels are eating during the usual fall season — acorns and other hard-mast nuts — are unavailable in May. But finding budding trees that squirrels like (my Mississippi connections say budding mulberry trees are squirrel magnets) is a guarantee for success.

Squirrels will also likely be foraging on the ground for mushrooms, fungi and even grubs. Pines are another possible food source, as cones are just starting to develop and are tender and succulent.

State sets up CWD surveillance areas for 2024-25 deer season

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has announced the surveillance areas for chronic wasting disease among white-tailed deer in North Carolina, with many of the same areas and same special regulations as last season.

The CWD primary surveillance areas are: Cumberland, Stokes, Surry, Wilkes and Yadkin counties. Secondary surveillance areas are: Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Bladen, Davie, Forsyth, Guilford, Harnett, Hoke, Iredell, Robeson, Rockingham and Sampson counties.

In the surveillance areas, it’s illegal to establish or refresh mineral lick sites and put out bait or food products to purposefully congregate wildlife from Jan. 2 through Aug. 31 annually. These regulations attempt to cut down on the possibility of the transfer of CWD through the use of common areas by deer.

Hunters are also required to submit a sample for testing for each deer taken during the following dates and following counties:

  • Nov. 23-25 in Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Davie, Forsyth, Guilford, Iredell, Rockingham, Stokes, Surry, Wilkes and Yadkin counties;

  • Nov. 16-23 in Bladen, Cumberland, Harnett, Hoke, Robeson and Sampson counties.

The Commission will have numerous sites across the affected counties where hunters can drop off deer for sampling, including many taxidermists and deer-processing centers.

End of comment period approaches for saltwater fish harvest reporting

Fishermen have less than two weeks to offer comments about temporary rules that the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries have been directed to put in place by the N.C. General Assembly involves reporting the harvest of a handful of saltwater fish species from North Carolina waters: striped bass, spotted seatrout, weakfish (aka gray trout), flounder and red drum.

May 20 at 5 p.m. is the deadline for the public to access agency websites (https://www.deq.nc.gov/mandatory-reporting-public-comment or regulations@ncwildlife.org) to comment on rules that will enact the aims of a bill passed last fall by the NCGA that will require all recreational and commercial fishermen to report all catches of those five species from North Carolina’s coastal and joint fishing waters.

Under the bill, such harvest reports will become mandatory on Dec. 1, 2024. Failure to report catches will result in warning tickets beginning Dec. 1, 2025, and violation tickets can be handed out beginning Dec. 1, 2026.

A video explaining the new law and the agencies’ attempts to enact fish-harvest reporting can be accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrbusdMjOiA.