Spring Squirrels and More
DID YOU KNOW THERE IS a spring squirrel season, May 1 to 31 in 51 East Texas Counties?
That’s right, hunters have an opportunity for some of the finest small game hunting to be found anywhere. Also, it’s in a region of the state with much public land.
Whether it’s the Davy Crockett, Sabine, Angelina or Sam Houston National Forest or a myriad of Texas Parks & Wildlife Department-managed public hunting land, this region is ripe for super spring squirrel hunting.
The Pineywoods is the heart of squirrel hunting in Texas. It’s deep traditions run back to a time when schools would close the opening day of the fall squirrel season. Roadsides from Deweyville to Dallas would be lined with the hunter’s trucks.
But that doesn’t mean great opportunities do not exist elsewhere. Some 157 Texas counties have no season or bag limit on squirrels so there is always an opportunity to score on some fast-paced action for these fantastic sport animals.
Squirrel hunting is where many hunters began their outdoor quest and there is still a strong contingent of hunters who love to hit the woods in squirrel season.
“Squirrel hunting is where it started for me,” said Josh Slone who along with his brother Jeremy operate a hunting club in Newton County.
“It’s tons of fun, a great way to get kids started hunting and with an East Texas spring season it offers a good excuse to get back in the woods,” he said.
Some young hunters start off with a .410 or perhaps a .20 gauge but eventually graduate to a .22 Long Rifle.
The .22 LR is the standard issue for serious squirrel hunters. The challenge of being able to plink them off of trees builds patience and skill in a hunter. In areas where squirrels receive real
hunting pressure, it can push even veterans out of the game.
The CZ 457 offers a variety of options for squirrels and other varmints. The 457 Scout is idea for young shooters with a 12-inch length of pull and simple iron sights. The 457 American has no sights and is meant to be mounted with a scope.
Scopes offer a great advantage for hunting squirrels and other varmints in dense forests. Some of the best shooting is down early in the morning and later in the afternoon. Some hunters want to shoot a little farther in more open country to take out other varmints. For them, the 457 varmint has a heavier barrel and a little more stability.
The majority of squirrels taken in the Pineywoods are gray squirrels often called “cat squirrels.” They are the smaller of the two main squirrel varieties and are super wary. These squirrels have grayish-brown fur with a paler white/gray fur on the underside. The tail typically has gray tips with most of these squirrels growing to around 18 inches. They spend the bulk of their time in trees.
The late outdoor writer Ed Holder used to hunt them by what he called “vine shaking”. He and his friends would literally go up to giant oak trees in the Neches River bottoms where they hunted and pull and shake vines to get the wary squirrels to pull away from cover.
According to officials with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department the fox squirrel is a large tree squirrel, about 21 inches long and 1 1/2 to 2 pounds. It has gray and black fur on its back and orange-colored fur on its belly. The tail color is cinnamon mixed with black. The feet are cinnamon. Fox squirrels got their name because their gray and red fur coat resembles that of a gray fox.
“Fox squirrels are large tree squirrels. Their ability to adapt to a wide range of forest habitats makes them Texas’s most common squirrel. They occur mostly in open upland forest with a mixture of oak and nut trees. Fox squirrels are an important game animal, but many farmers consider them to be pests because of their fondness for corn and pecans.”
Squirrels find only a portion of the nuts they bury and are important in planting many species of nut trees. A single squirrel can bury several thousand pecans over the course of three months.
This may be good for nature, but pecan farmers in Central Texas find it economically straining. In that region squirrel season is open year-round and pecan growers are happy for hunters to curtail numbers of these rodents.
Squirrels will sometimes produce rare color phases with albinism showing up regionally in gray squirrels. Melanism (black) occasionally shows up in fox squirrels.
Do not confuse melanistic fox squirrels however with the rock squirrel of Central Texas and the Trans Pecos. These ground dwellers are always black/gray and quite a bit smaller than their husky tree-dwelling cousins.
Plenty of other critters can be taken while squirrel hunting. This includes badger, beaver, fox, mink, muskrat, nutria, opossum, raccoon, otter, skunk and ringtails, which are often called ring-tailed cat (although they are not a cat).
A hunting license holder may take a fur-bearing animal provided the furbearer is not to be sold or exchanged for anything of value. There is no bag or possession limit on furbearers.
These animals can be taken at night and in some cases hunting them is literally an act of conservation. Nutria are a non-indigenous invaders that causes tremendous wetlands loss and can damage levees.
Their meat is quite tasty and has been marketed as “marsh hare” in Louisiana gourmet restaurants. Also, their skulls make a cool trophy as they have huge orange teeth, and they have an impressive pelt.
A squirrel hunter in good habitat with a quality .22 LR could do well to bring a varmint call along and see what comes in. A raccoon might come lumbering by, or they might get a quick opportunity at a sly red fox.
The possibilities are virtually endless in Texas. This makes kicking off a small game safari with squirrels in the spring a great way to stay in the field and on the pursuit.
A Variety of Varmint Guns
CZ-USA HAS A WHOLE line of rifles designed for squirrel and other varmints.
The classic American-style rimfire rifle, this gorgeous 457 has a 24.8-inch barrel with no sights and is meant to be topped with a scope. Its Turkish walnut stock has a high, flat comb and a classic checkering pattern. Like all 457s, it has an 11mm dovetail milled into the top of its receiver for attaching scope ringmounts.
Designed in the European style, the Lux has a hogback stock fashioned from Turkish walnut. With a cheekpiece and comb along with, its crisp iron sights, this 457 is one classy plinker.
Like all 457s, it has an 11mm dovetail for mounting optics and can be quickly and easily swapped to a different chambering with the addition of a second barrel set (sold in the CZ webstore). One five-round magazine is included.
Built to be an ideal first gun for young shooters, the Scout has a short 12-inch length of pull. With a simple leaf rear sight and blade front (rear adjustable for windage, front for elevation), learning the basics of sight picture has never been easier. 11mm dovetails on the receiver make adding a scope a breeze.
Own a suppressor? 457 Scouts have a muzzle that’s threaded 1/2×28. This allows for hearing-safe shooting without the need for muffs or plugs.
Adding a larger stock is easier than ever, once a kid outgrows the short length of pull. All 457s use the same stock inletting (with two-barrel channels specific to standard and varmint-weight barrels).
The entire 457 platform is modular. This means swapping different barrels/chamberings or stocks is done quickly and easily with only a few tools.
Shipped with a single shot adapter to teach ammo conservation, any 457/455 magazine will fit, from 5 to 25 rounds.
CZ 457 Varmint
The standard heavy-barreled version of the 457, the Varmint has a .866-inch cylindrical barrel. Not only does the heavy barrel make for good harmonics, it also allows the Varmint to perform well with a wide variety of rimfire loads. It is an accurate platform for shooting targets or getting game. The Turkish walnut stock has an American-style comb for use with a scope and a wide, flat forend that rides a sandbag well. Laser-cut stippling gives a firm grip fore and aft.
457 Pro Varmint Suppressor Ready
Always one of our most popular Varmint models, the Pro Varmint has a heavy 16.5-inch barrel threaded 1/2×28 for use with a suppressor or other muzzle device. Its black-painted laminate stock incorporates features found on much more expensive stocks without pushing the price of the rifle through the roof.
The short barrel gives plenty of time for the cartridge to get a full burn while increasing the rigidity of the barrel. This results in a rifle that drives tacks—quietly.
According to CZ if they were to pick one thing that our previous rimfire platforms were lacking, it was an American-style push-to-fire safety—something Hunter’s Education instructors and 4-H shooting coaches have wanted for years.
“Though that was the most obvious change, we also took the opportunity to tweak a load of small things at the same time. In addition to the receiver-mounted, push-to-fire safety, we chopped almost an inch of length from the action and slab-sided it to reduce its footprint and weight,” a CZ spokesman said.
The stamped bottom metal of the 455 is gone, swapped for a classy two-piece interlocking system. To make scope fitting easier, we ditched the 90-degree bolt rotation in favor of a 60-degree bolt, allowing for larger ocular bell diameters with lower ring heights. To top it all off, the 457 now features a trigger adjustable for weight, creep and over-travel.
With the exact same swappable barrel system as the 455 and the same reliable polymer magazine system, the 457 is without a doubt the best rimfire platform CZ has ever fielded.
Join a father and daughter as they go squirrel hunting at the Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area and discover that time spent together in the woods is time well spent.
— TF&G STAFF REPORT