GULFPORT, Mississippi — A new state law has expanded squirrel season in Mississippi.
The fall squirrel season opens statewide on Wednesday and closes Feb. 28.
Gov. Phil Bryant signed the legislation earlier this year and it officially became effect on July 1.
Last year, squirrel season had three separate starting times: Northern Zone (Oct. 1), Central Mississippi (Oct. 15) and Southeast (Oct. 28).
"These changes will increase squirrel hunting opportunities and eliminate confusion regarding squirrel hunting zones," Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks Small Game Program Coordinator Dave Godwin said.
The bag limit for squirrels hasn't changed, remaining at eight squirrels a day. The state has two different species of squirrel: the eastern gray squirrel and the eastern fox squirrel. Both species can be found throughout the state, but gray squirrels are the most common.
MDWFP officials anticipate another strong hunting season for squirrels. Areas with mature, hardwood forest cover provide the best squirrel hunting. Squirrel populations occasionally fluctuate annually in response to the abundance of the previous year's autumn mast crops: acorns, nuts, pine seeds, berries, and fruits.
"We expect squirrel populations to be abundant throughout most of the state, and it looks like hardwood mast crops will again be good in many areas," MDWFP Small Game Biologist Rick Hamrick said. "Although we had another cold winter, we believe squirrel reproduction was good this summer, and hunters should find plenty of squirrels."
The coast has several places to hunt for squirrel. Some public areas also allow small game hunters to hunt with dogs.
Five Wildlife Management areas are available: Ward Bayou, Red Creek, Little Biloxi, Pascagoula River and Leaf River. A WMA User Permit can may be purchased anywhere hunting licenses are sold is required of anyone using a WMA.
Ward Bayou is located in Jackson County near Moss Point. Red Creek is located in Stone, George and Jackson Counties near Wiggins. Little Biloxi is located in Stone and Harrison Counties near McHeny. Pascagoula River is located in George and Jackson Counties near Lucedale. Leaf River is located in Perry County near Wiggins.
National Wildlife Refuge also has three places to hunt squirrels: Grand Bay, Mississippi Sandhill Crane and Bogue Chitto. Grand Bay is in Moss Point. The Sandhill Crane and Bogue Chitto resides at Gautier and Picayune.
De Soto National Forest, located between Hattiesburg and Gulfport, is another good place to hunt squirrels. The pine forest can be accessed by U.S. Highway 49 and U.S. Highway 98, lying in 10 counties: Perry, Wayne, Harrison, Forrest, Stone, Greene, Jones, Jackson, George, and Pearl River counties.
Information from: The Sun Herald, http://www.sunherald.com