Small game biologist Rick Hamrick gives a snapshot of the hunting season – Mississippi’s best community newspaper
STARKVILLE – They say that the apple does not fall far from the tree. For Rick Hamrick, small game biologist with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree.
His father was a wildlife biologist, so career was something he was familiar with. In 2007, he joined the MDWFP.
“There was nothing else I wanted to do. I grew up knowing him, ”Hamrick said. “Plus, I grew up in a rural area and was an outdoorsy kid. I loved squirrel hunting when I was a kid. I enjoyed my graduate studies with a quail project at the University of Georgia. Naturally, I turned to the small game of wildlife biology.
The small game season begins on October 1 with the squirrel season. Every year it’s a guessing game about how squirrel season unfolds. The trees begin to lose their leaves and their nut crops as the month of October arrives. He said he was starting to see the squirrels start to get active.
Typically, there is a lull in summer squirrel sightings due to their late summer breeding season and in the heat they are not as active. Watching the harvest of acorns, pecans, walnuts and pine cones is one way to predict squirrel season, he said.
“You should research what the mast crops should be. It’s starting to get to where we can tell what it might look like, ”Hamrick said. “I think the mast harvest was sporadic last year. Often we have to guess. Harvesting the mast wears them through the winter, which has an impact on the squirrels. I think last year we had a bad year compared to the previous year or two.
It takes a few weeks of the hunting season to get an estimate of the squirrel population, even then it’s a bit of a speculation. Harvest figures are related to nut crops. Pine seeds are another often overlooked food source, he said.
Start of season dates
Once upon a time, Mississippi had three areas with different squirrel start dates, he said.
“This was caused on the basis of the bat fly larval cycles,” Hamrick said. “They are parasites of squirrels and rabbits under the skin. This causes a little swelling. Zoning was intended to minimize the spread of squirrels. They usually don’t harm squirrels, but this was an attempt to reduce the occurrence of times when these larvae were visible.
About a decade ago, the MDWFP moved to a statewide start date. He said people in different areas of Mississippi would ask why one would start earlier than the other. They stayed with the northern Mississippi start date of October 1. Rabbit season begins Oct. 16 due to the law, he said.
“For the most part, most of the squirrels left the nest in October,” Hamrick said. “We want to minimize any negative effects on reproduction. Rabbits have their date set in the laws. I tried to suggest that they change it to happen at the same time as the squirrel season. This is only a legislative process. For now, rabbits have their own day.
He said he couldn’t recommend a specific number of squirrels that hunters should harvest on their property. This is in part due to the diverse landscapes of the Mississippi and other factors that impact the properties.
In general, he said there is no specific evidence that suggests overexploitation of gray squirrels is a concern. Hunters can reduce the number of squirrels in a confined area, he said.
“Their activities change throughout the year, and we haven’t seen where the harvest has impacted a population,” Hamrick said. “There are enough forests to cover most of the state where you’re going to have connected populations. When you remove individuals, you create opportunities for others to move in. There isn’t much to suggest that harvesting has a detrimental effect on their numbers.
There is one exception. Harvests could have a different impact on fox squirrels due to the loss of the quality of their habitat, he said. Fox squirrels prefer open conditions favored by agriculture. In the meadow, they use corn and oak trees along the edges of the fields. They are more comfortable in the open air, he said. However, dense pine plantations are not as favorable to fox squirrels.
People have several choices when hunting rabbits. He said the majority of people who are serious about rabbit hunting use dogs, but if you don’t have a dog, you can take the rabbits out of their hiding places in the fields.
Mid-October provides a great opportunity for hunters to harvest both rabbits and squirrels in the same hunt.
When hunting for rabbits, it is important to find their favorite cover of brush and blackberry patches. One management tactic people might try is to pile the brush with the downy limbs to give them a place to hide between times when they are foraging.
“It’s a challenge if you’re looking for something stimulating,” Hamrick said. “Practice safety. Know where you are shooting. If you are with other people, you have to be careful about safety.
Small game isn’t just limited to rabbits and squirrels. Quail, snipe and woodcock are small game species that hunters can pursue in the fall.
“There is a renewed interest in small game,” Hamrick said. “I hope the young people can manage the land for quail and other small game species. “