If there's one game animal that could use some additional attention in Pennsylvania, it's squirrels. Pennsylvania Game Commission field officers report squirrel populations are strong in most areas of the state.
Gray squirrels continue to be found across Pennsylvania in sizeable numbers, and the black-phase gray squirrel isn't hard to find north of Interstate-80 and east of the Ohio line all the way into the state's northcentral counties. Fox squirrels also are becoming increasingly available as they continue to push east of the Allegheny Front and north through Pennsylvania's ridges and valleys. Fox squirrels can be found as far east as the Susquehanna River.
Squirrel populations have been enjoying the benefits of declining hunting pressure and the maturation of habitat in the state for some time. These factors have spurred fox squirrel range expansion and recovery. Game Commission field officers believe squirrel hunting will be good to excellent in many of the state's forests and woodlots.
For county-specific details on game populations, habitat conditions and where-to-go hunting information, visit the Game Commission's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us). Reports filed by Wildlife Conservation Officers, Land Managers and foresters are available from every county. To access them, just click on the "Field Officer Game Forecasts" link found on the homepage.
"Gray squirrels are our most abundant game species and are found throughout Pennsylvania," said Tom Hardisky, Pennsylvania Game Commission biologist. "Look for mast-producing trees such as walnut, butternut, oak and hickory when searching for the best hunting areas. In agricultural areas, woodlots in the vicinity of standing cornfields often support large numbers of squirrels. They can be found throughout deep woods areas. The black squirrel is actually a color phase of the gray squirrel. In general, black squirrels can be found in the northern half of Pennsylvania. Squirrels with this black color variation often occur in local concentrations scattered about their northern Pennsylvania range.
"Fox squirrels are up to 50 percent larger than gray squirrels and weigh about two pounds," Hardisky explained. "Fox squirrels have been expanding their range eastward in recent years and now inhabit much of the western half of Pennsylvania. They prefer more open areas than gray squirrels and are not found in the deep woods. Fox squirrels favor open fields and pastures with large trees nearby. Small woodlots and forest edges are typical fox squirrel haunts. Although some gray squirrels may possess orange coloration along their sides and tails, fox and gray squirrels do not interbreed, nor do gray and red squirrels. Each squirrel species has some color variation, even within local populations. However, this color variation largely results from genetic differences. Local diet, habitat, and climate differences also may contribute to color variation."
When hunting squirrels, look for large-trunked trees near a food source. Larger trees offer better protection from predators and are favorite den sites. Gray squirrels are most active during the early morning and evening, while fox squirrels often travel during mid-day.
Squirrel season opens on Oct. 16, and runs through Nov. 27. The season reopens on Dec. 13-23, and Dec. 27-Feb. 5. The daily limit is six.
Pennsylvania's youth squirrel hunt will be held Oct. 9-15, and is open to youths 12 to 16 years of age who have successfully completed a hunter-trapper education course and are properly accompanied by an adult. A hunting license is not required to participate.
Hunters also are reminded that squirrels are listed as a game animal that can be pursued by youngsters participating in the Mentored Youth Hunting Program, which permits those under the age of 12 to hunt under the guidance of a mentor. For more information about this new program, visit the Game Commission's website and click on Mentored Youth FAQs in the "Quick Clicks" box in the upper right-hand corner of the homepage.
Information on both of these youth hunting programs also can be found on page 15 of the 2010-11 Pennsylvania Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations, which is provided to each license buyer.
Squirrel hunters are required to wear at least 250 square inches of fluorescent orange clothing, visible 360 degrees, at all times.