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Start date of squirrel season generates talk

| Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Might Game Commissioners move opening day of the state's squirrel season up to early September?

That's not something biologists are recommending yet. But commissioners recently asked for and heard a report on the feasibility of such a move.

Squirrels are almost universally abundant across the state. “If there's one game animal that could use some additional attention in Pennsylvania, it's squirrels,” reads the news release the commission put out prior to the season last fall. The agency — always on the lookout for ways to recruit new hunters into a dwindling license-buying base — also has touted squirrel hunting as a good way to introduce kids to hunting.

Yet the Game Commission traditionally waits until mid-October to open the season on squirrels; it began Oct. 13 this past fall. By comparison, Indiana opened squirrel season Aug. 15, Kentucky Aug. 18, New York, Maryland, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Ohio and Virginia Sept. 1, West Virginia Sept. 8, Massachusetts Sept. 10, Michigan and Delaware Sept. 15, and New Jersey Sept. 29.

The two reasons given in support of a later opener — the possibility of shooting pregnant squirrels and the presence of warble or bot flies — don't hold a lot of water, it seems.

Commission biologist Matt Lovallo said research done in New York in the 1980s as a result of a legal challenge found that only about 0.5 to 2.8 percent of the squirrels taken by hunters in September were lactating females. That was not shown to be enough to impact populations, the study found.

Commissioner Dave Putnam of Centre County pointed out that concern with lactating females also was a concern when commissioners first talked about extending squirrel season into February, as is the case now. But that's caused no problems, he said.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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