Trolling for squirrel along the river banks

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Squirrels may be small, but hunting them is big fun for Billy Mclean. The 76-year-old Freeport resident has squirrel hunting in Walton County since he was 12.

Tina Harbuck @DestinLogTina

Squirrels may be small, but they can be big fun.

“We do love it,” said Billy Mclean of Freeport, who goes squirrel hunting pretty regular. 

Mclean, now 76, has been squirrel hunting since he was 12 years old in the woods up and down the Choctawhatchee River in Walton County. 

As a matter of fact he’s already been about a half dozen times this season. 

The season opened up Oct. 14 and will close March 4. 

“Gray squirrel hunting usually requires little planning and less gear than hunting other species,” wrote Tony Young of Hunting and Game Management with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in an email. 

Plus it allows hunters to pass along time-honored skills and traditions to youth or adults new to hunting, Young added. 

Young said the best places to find squirrels are near oak trees with good limb structure that can provide cavities for denning. 

“Squirrels are often found on tree lines, oak/hickory ridges, and hardwood hammocks bordering creeks, rivers or lakes,” Young wrote. 

For Mclean, they like to troll along the river banks of the Choctawhatchee River to hunt squirrel. 

“We try to pick nice days when the wind’s not blowing and not much movement in the trees … so we can see the squirrels jumping from limb to limb,” Mclean said. 

Mclean uses a 12 gauge shotgun with No. 8 low brass shell. 

And he likes to get on the water early. 

“Just after the fog lifts, right after daylight,” he said is when he launches his boat at Black Creek Lodge just north of the Clyde B. Wells Bridge. 

“There’s a good crop of squirrel this year,” Mclean said, noting the ones this year are pretty lean. 

And there seems to be plenty of them. 

“We haven’t hunted a full day this year,” he said. 

On opening day, he and his buddy hunted from daylight to about 3 p.m. and picked up 17 squirrels up and down the Choctawhatchee River. 

“We probably killed about 22 but there were some we couldn’t find,” he said. “You’ve got to be on your toes. 

“It’s not like shooting those around the house. Up there in the swamp they are more skittish,” he added. “You’ve got to keep an eye on that tree and limb.” 

One reason is because sometimes when you shoot a squirrel it doesn’t quite kill them and they crawl off in a hole, Mclean said. 

The bag limit for squirrel is 12 and they can be hunted from half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset. 

In addition to enjoying fried squirrel with gravy after the hunt, Mclean loves his time on the river. 

“I like just being on the river … the quiet and the camaraderie with my friends,” he said.

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