Beginning Sept.12, Pennsylvania hunters will experience an earlier start to small–game hunting opportunities than ever before, as squirrel season will open statewide and run through Nov. 27, before closing and opening again in mid-December.
The early kickoff was pitched in a two-fold effort to recruit additional new hunters while simultaneously reversing a downward trend in squirrel harvests over the past several decades.
According to Game Commission data, more than 400,000 Pennsylvania hunters harvested greater than 2 million squirrels annually throughout the 1980s, but fewer than 80,000 squirrel hunters bagged less than 300,000 bushytails during the 2018-19 hunting season.
Recognizing the majority of current hunters cut their teeth hunting small game, the agency views this as the perfect opportunity for adult, junior and mentored alike hunters to pursue an abundant game species earlier in the fall, before other seasons open.
The September season occurs toward the end of the summer breeding season for gray and fox squirrels, but research shows minimal risk of negatively impacting populations by offering earlier than normal hunting opportunities. Still, the agency plans to keep close tabs on harvest data by sending out mail-in hunter surveys as it assesses this new opportunity.
Those heading afield are reminded that the daily harvest limit is six squirrels, and at least 250 square inches of fluorescent orange must be worn on the head, back and chest combined.
Hunters can employ the same tactics they would in the October season by finding the food and staking out prime locations to intercept squirrels on the move. But it might be wise to dress light and pack some insect repellant to combat warmer than usual temperatures and the bugs that come with them. Also, denser foliage may present challenges for hunters who prefer a .22 rimfire or air rifle, making a light shotgun, such as a .410 or 20-gauge, a preferable option.
Time will tell if the September squirrel season brings more hunters to the sport and yields a better overall harvest, but those looking for a jumpstart on small game are sure to be satisfied with the expanded hunting opportunities.
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