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Squirrel hunting opens Wednesday in Illinois

Aborted nuts will be one variables when squirrel hunting opens Wednesday Illinois. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media

Aborted nuts will be one of the variables when squirrel hunting opens Wednesday in Illinois. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 2, 2012 6:17AM

The opening of squirrel hunting Wednesday in Illinois amuses me. It’s hot, and the canopy and ground cover are thick.

‘‘Hunting when they are cutting hickories is a tradition in southern Illinois, a habit and tradition,’’ forest wildlife program manager Paul Shelton said.

Squirrels dropping shell fragments when they open hickory nuts is a giveaway for hunters.

In northeast Illinois, acorns are the question in the drought of 2012.

‘‘Many oaks were flush with acorns but are aborting fast,’’ regional forester Tom Gargrave said. ‘‘There are thousands of immature acorns lying about the woodland floors. Some early seed drop is normal, but we are seeing a much higher rate this year.

‘‘Large, mature oaks are generally holding on without moisture, but trees with a previous injury or stress are showing branch dieback. Overall, the drought should not largely affect healthy, mature trees to a point of death.’’

While expecting less mast, Shelton said he doesn’t expect any significant impact on squirrels.

‘‘Our squirrel population will be fine,’’ he said. ‘‘The few guys who brave 100-degree weather will do fine.’’

The drought might be an advantage to hunters.

‘‘Wildlife populations are also stressed from wetlands, watering holes and creek beds drying up,’’ Gargrave said. ‘‘These wetland niches that normally provide soft mast, weed seeds and summer heat protection are dry. Less habitat means more wildlife in smaller habitat spaces [larger rivers, farms, towns, etc.]. Squirrel season should be the same, but look for them closer
to a water source.’’

Regulations — daily bag of five, hunting hours from a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset — are the same. Most northeast Illinois public sites open after the first few days of dove hunting in September. Iroquois County State Wildlife Area is a rare nearby one that opens Wednesday.

Perch reopener

Perch fishing reopens Wednesday in the Illinois waters of Lake Michigan after the July closure for those 16 and older. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of hope — for shore fishermen or boaters.

On Tuesday, 82-degree water was piled on shore, and the National Weather Service had a small-craft warning out overnight. But I expect hundreds or even thousands to try anyway. It matters that much.

Waterfowl hunting

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed liberal 60-day duck seasons with a daily bag of six. No word yet on Illinois’ proposed waterfowl seasons.

Places and faces

Ken Gortowski will be featured at a kids fishing derby from 7 to 10 a.m.
Saturday as part of North Aurora Days ( . . . Leinenkugel’s second annual Canoes for a Cause Chicago Friendly Float is filled for Saturday. . . . Bass Pro Shops’ Fall Hunting Classic begins Friday. . . . A major fish kill on Beaver Creek, a feeder of the Iroquois River, is being investigated.

Stray cast

The Olympics remind me of outdoors coverage in the Tribune.

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