by Bruce Sitko
|Pursuing squirrels among the tall pines is a fall tradition enjoyed by many hunters. Their objectives are diverse. Some come from metropolitan areas to get in one more camping trip before winter takes hold. Others are breaking in young hunters on the small, bushy tails. Lucky ones have drawn their fall big game permits and are mixing their scouting with pursuit of small game, and yet others are simply dyed-in-the-wool squirrel hunters.
Because of the past two mild winters, the outlook for the fall squirrel hunt in eastern Arizona is above average to excellent. The typical squirrel hunter annually spends about three days in the woods to bag a total of six squirrels. Those who do their homework and practice stealth tactics increase their chances of success. The first bit of homework is determining where to find good numbers of squirrels.
The Abert, or tassel-eared squirrel, and red squirrel are the predominant species above the Mogollon Rim and in the White Mountains. The Abert is dependent upon ponderosa pine forests, and is found primarily between 6,500 and 8,000 feet elevations. The red squirrel is found in the fir and spruce forests above 8,000 feet, the area around Big Lake and Escudilla Mountain, for example.
The red squirrel is more difficult to spot than his gray cousin, partly because of the dense vegetation he lives in and partly because his live weight is only 1/2-pound. Listen for their shrill "chr-r-r---che-e-e call," and remain motionless while spotting the critter.
The Abert squirrel is nearly three times bigger, and is a more desirable quarry for the seasoned squirrel hunter. Almost anywhere one finds ponderosa pine trees; at least a few Aberts will be close by. To find areas with higher densities of the gray bushy tail, look for sites with clumps of large, yellow pines with interlocking crowns. Walk under these trees to look for fresh squirrel sign. Pine cones with only the cores remaining and cone scales scattered about are signs of squirrels. Twig clippings with needles attached and peeled, and small-diameter twigs two to four inches in length are other clues to look for. If the sign is fresh, squirrels will be in close proximity.
Good areas to begin searching for squirrels include the southern parts of Units 4A and 4B, the Mogollon Rim area from Black Canyon Lake east to Show Low in Unit 3C, and east of Carnero Lake and the Greer area in Unit 1. Although it's a longer drive, outdoorsmen will find scenic country, quality camping, and good numbers of Abert squirrels in the Black River country of Units 1 and 27.
Don't forget that squirrel season also coincides with the changing of aspen colors to brilliant yellows, oranges, and reds in the high country. This fall, think about taking the time to visit the Mogollon Rim or White Mountains country, and enjoying the pursuit of the elusive bushy tail.
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