Lasting drought impacts squirrels, deer, other wildlife
Squirrel season is almost here, and despite the heat and drought there should be plenty of squirrels to hunt.
The Indiana season opens Aug. 15, but due to the heat and leaves on trees, many squirrel hunters won’t take to the woods until later this fall.
Indiana’s season remains open through Jan. 31 of next year, and the daily limit is five.
Squirrel populations are dependent on a number of factors, however two keys include weather and mast (nut) availability. The nut crop one year impacts the population the following year.
Based on last year’s nut crop, there should be squirrels around this fall. However dry conditions may make it more difficult to slip up on squirrels, but on the other hand they may be more concentrated around the remaining limited water resources.
Squirrel, fried crispy brown is mighty tasty, and there is nothing better than squirrel gravy made with the skillet leavings. Fried squirrel, and the gravy over mashed potatoes make a great meal, unless you are on a serious diet.
# # # #
DROUGHT PROBLEM -- Oaks are the most important tree species to wildlife in forests, but the impact of this years drought remains to be seen. White oaks are faring better than red oaks so far, according to information from the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources.
White oaks produce acorns that are a critical food source for squirrels, white-tailed deer, wild turkey, black bear and many non-game species. White oak acorns are preferred by wildlife because they are more palatable. Acorns produced by red oaks contain tannin, which makes them bitter.
White oaks can produce acorns every year. Entire crops are often lost due to late freezes and heavy rains just as pollination of oak flowers begins as well as summer droughts.
Philip Sharp, a private lands wildlife biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources in Crittenden County, said its too soon to make a prediction on the mast crop in western Kentucky, the area of the state most affected by drought. The situation in much of southern Indiana is similar to the conditions across the Ohio.
White oaks have small acorns now, but that is pretty typical for this time of year. They can grow a lot in a short period of time and fill out in late summer, according to Sharp.
Red oaks are not faring as well. Some areas of western Kentucky are really dry. There are places that have had about a half inch of rain in the past two months, said Sharp. “I’m concerned. The dry conditions are killing some of our red oak trees on ridges with thin soils.”
The impact on the oaks may have a larger effect on next year’s squirrel population than this year.
# # # #
DUCK HARVEST LATER -- A Delta Waterfowl study has confirmed what veteran duck hunters have long suspected: harvests of many waterfowl are taking place significantly later in the year than in previous decades.
The study examined data from the annual Parts Collection Survey. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has collected comprehensive harvest data from hunters since 1961.
“With few exceptions, harvest dates for mallards throughout the mid-latitude and southern states have become consistently later,” says Dr. Rohwer. “Mallard harvest is on average 10 days later in Arkansas, 15 days later in California, 16 days later in Illinois, and 12 days later in Virginia.”
The study found that most migrant duck species, including gadwall, ring-necked, pintails and green-winged teal, have significantly later harvest dates. Blue-winged/cinnamon teal and mottled ducks were the only species to run against the trend.
In Illinois, Kentucky and Indiana milder weather seems to have delayed migrations, according to many waterfowl hunters. In fact, there has been concern that many of the waterfowl never completely travel south as they end up staying around open water lakes where there is food nearby.