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Top-Notch Squirrel Hunting At A Bargain Basement Price
Many Alabama squirrel hunters have been forced onto WMAs to continue their passion, but their tradition is thriving.
 
By Mike Bolton
Originally published in the November 2017 issue of AON
 
There are an estimated 44,000 squirrel hunters in the state. Many of them have chosen to hunt portions of the 735,000 acres offered as public WMA hunting land.
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Like many Alabama hunters with any age on them, Jeff Stockman drifted away from his roots when the opportunity to hunt white-tailed deer presented itself.

“I grew up squirrel hunting with my granddaddy in rural Dallas County,” the Prattville native explained. “We were close to Mulberry Creek, and everybody there knew everybody. Nobody cared where you went. You could just take your dog and go wherever you wanted to go and hunt squirrels, but when the chance to go deer hunting came along, I got interested in that.”

A few years ago, Jeff said he became tired and weary from the deer-hunting rat-race. He thought back to the days when hunting was really fun to him. He said there was only one solution—return to squirrel hunting.

Unfortunately for him, the Alabama squirrel hunting landscape had changed drastically since his youth. When the white-tailed deer replaced the squirrel as the state’s most-hunted game animal in 1972, free access to a neighbor’s property began to be a thing of the past.

“Those days that I remembered were long gone,” said Jeff.

With nowhere to hunt squirrels, Jeff turned to squirrel hunting on WMAs.

Hunting on WMAs wasn’t a bad consolation prize, he discovered. It is a route that many of the estimated 44,000 squirrel hunters in Alabama have taken. For the price of a hunting license, Jeff found that he could pretty much have free roam on more than 735,000 acres of squirrel-infested forests across the state.

“It’s about as economical as you can expect,” said Jeff. “I’ve had a lifetime hunting license for years, so squirrel hunting is basically free for me. The only other thing you have to have to hunt squirrels on a WMA is a map of that WMA with the rules on the back. I can download that on my computer.”

Chris Smith, the assistant chief of wildlife for WFF, said there are no numbers as to how many Alabama squirrel hunters use WMAs because they are not required to purchase a WMA license like deer hunters. He said the number is undoubtedly substantial, however, because the WMAs are the only option for many small-game hunters.

“A lot of squirrel hunters and other small-game hunters have no place to hunt during the deer season because people don’t want them on their property,” he said. “They can hunt on a WMA all throughout the deer season, except on a few designated days when there are scheduled gun hunts.”

While hunting deer with dogs is prohibited on most WMAs, except for a few specialty hunts in south Alabama, the good news for squirrel hunters is that their squirrel dogs are welcome on WMAs.

“I decided to go back to my roots where I hunted squirrels with dogs,” Jeff said. “I went to Arkansas and bought a good Mullin’s feist. I now have a second Mullin’s feist puppy. He’s 6 months old and coming along real good.

“I hunt mostly by myself, but I’ll occasionally take some kids along if I get the chance. I don’t get much enjoyment in killing squirrels these days, but I love to watch the dogs work, and I love to see the kids kill squirrels.”

Like almost every other aspect of Alabama life, squirrel hunting has been greatly affected by social media. The Facebook pages of organizations like Alabama Squirrel Hunters, Squirrel Hunters of Alabama and South Alabama Squirrel Hunters have allowed a brotherhood of squirrel hunters to develop. Where in decades gone by a few neighbors or family members might have gotten together to hunt, these days hunters on the opposite ends of the state have a way to connect and share their passions.

It has become trendy for many squirrel hunters to make Facebook friends and then travel to unfamiliar WMAs for a new experience.

“There are several WMAs within an hour’s drive of my house,” Jeff said. “I mainly hunt on Lowndes and Autauga, but sometimes I like to travel. I’ve hunted the Upper Delta WMA, Blue Springs WMA and Oakmulgee WMA.”

Chris Alexander, of Calera, is one of those who enjoys traveling to different WMAs and meeting fellow hunters.

“I’ve hunted the Oakmulgee WMA pretty regular, but twice a year I like to go down to the Mobile-Tensaw Delta WMA and go squirrel hunting with my dogs,” said Chris. “I hunt with some people from Bay Minette who I met on Facebook. It’s a great trip. We take boats, and we camp and have a good time.”

Tuscaloosa’s Allen Shirley is another who has his favorite WMA close to home, but he enjoys traveling and meeting other hunters with the same passions.

“I squirrel hunt on the Oakmulgee WMA the most, but I’ve been traveling to Baldwin County to hunt down there for about 10 years,” he said. “There are very few places in Alabama that has big mature timber like they have down there.

“I’m not a deer hunter. I love hunting squirrels and coons with my dogs. If you still-hunt squirrels, it’s all about killing squirrels. If you hunt squirrels with dogs, it’s all about the dogs. You don’t have to get a limit to have a successful hunt. If I get two or three squirrels and my dogs perform well, I am satisfied.”

Allen said squirrel hunters all across Alabama are attracted to the WMAs in the Mobile Delta because of their reputation as a squirrel hunter’s heaven.

“There are a lot of squirrels,” he said. “There are some fox squirrels there, but they are where the hills and pines are. The grays are so plentiful that I’d rather hunt them.”

Allen, like many of his fellow hunters, said the opportunity to hunt with his dogs and children is what motivates him to be a squirrel-hunting addict.

“People bring their youngsters, and they run and romp and enjoy being around the dogs,” he said. “Children are interested in action. Children like squirrel hunting  a lot more than sitting in a  4x4 box looking at a green field.”

At Barbour WMA, a long-standing annual kids squirrel hunt is a major event that attracts squirrel hunters from across the state. The annual event, which has been held every year since 1996, is now held in February after the deer season ends. It is sponsored by a local Lion’s Club and is held in conjunction with ADCNR’s District IV office.

“We’ve had as many as 250 participating,” said Bill Gray, WFF District IV wildlife biologist. “We average 175 to 220 every year.”

Numerous squirrel hunters and wildlife biologists are quick to point out that if you think you can pull up to a WMA, hop out of the truck and start shooting squirrels, you’ll be badly disappointed. They say that just like deer hunting, those who do their homework and are willing to do a little walking will be the most successful.

Chris Smith says not all WMAs are the same when it comes to squirrel hunting, nor is hunting squirrels a piece of cake on any of them. He said squirrel hunters should be mindful that WMAs are typically made up of large acreages of commercial timber property, and many times large areas have been planted in pines. Pines do not make good squirrel habitat, he said.

He said almost all WMAs, however, have stands of hardwoods along creeks and in ravines that have not been harvested, and those areas have a bountiful supply of squirrels. He said those WMAs that have acres and acres of pines may not be as good for squirrel hunting as others.

WFF Wildlife Biologist Chas Moore oversees both the Cahaba River and the Mulberry Fork WMAs, and he said both are examples of great squirrel hunting WMAs that may not appear so good to the casual observer.

“You have to know where to go,”  said Chas. “You can ride up and down the roads, and about all you see are pine trees. That doesn’t look like a good place to squirrel hunt if you are looking at them from a truck window.

“Both WMAs have what are called streamside management zones. It’s where the hardwood timber has not been cut in the drains and ravines. Those are really good squirrel hunting areas. The serious squirrel hunters know where to go.”

While walking those WMAs to find those good areas might take a lot of hours and boot leather, the solution is a lot easier than that, he says.

“You can get on Google maps, and those areas are easy to find in aerial photos,” he said.

Andrew Maxwell, who recently moved from Helena to Auburn, has been a Cahaba River WMA regular for five years. He said it took awhile to figure out the key squirrel hunting areas, but once he did, it was like he had a squirrel hunters dream location all to himself.

“I guess in five years of squirrel hunting there I have seen maybe four other squirrel hunters,” he said. “It took awhile to figure things out. It’s just a matter of finding the hardwoods.”

Jeff said all the articles you read about the secrets of successful public-land deer hunting pretty much apply to WMA squirrel hunting, too.

“You’ve got to be willing to walk and study topo maps and aerial photos,” he said. “Put in a little time and locate some drains. You might get lucky and hop out of the truck and kill a squirrel, but you are going to have to get off the beaten path to kill a limit.”

Chris Smith said that hunters who hunt multiple WMAs should understand that the rules and regulations on each may differ. For instance, taking fox squirrels may be prohibited during parts of the season on some WMAs. The rules and regulations, as well as the dates hunters may hunt, are on the back of each WMA map that each hunter is required to have with them while WMA hunting.
 
 
 
 
 
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