The purists prefer a .22.

Others like a shotgun, maybe an old .410, but no more than a 20 gauge.

But these days, as another fall squirrel season gets under way in East Texas, there are not many purists or anyone else taking to the woods to scour the treetops in the early morning light, looking for the slightest movement that would give up a squirrel's hiding spot.

There was a time in East Texas when squirrel hunting was the thing to do. Squirrel camps were scattered throughout the woods where deer camps can be found today. Men would come from the cities or farms and stay for days stalking silently or with a trained dog in search of a mess of squirrels.

Those days came during an interim period after the first logging period in the state and the disappearance of white-tailed deer from the countryside. But that era began to decline in 1960s and was pretty much gone by the 70s as restocking efforts brought deer back into the region and hunters switched from one of the state's smallest game animals to one of its largest. In 1986 there were still almost 200,000 squirrel hunters in Texas, but by the time Texas Parks and Wildlife Department last counted in 2004 that number had nose-dived to about 75,000.

The target for most seasoned hunters looking for squirrels to eat is cat squirrels, also known as gray squirrels. They are most commonly found in the bottoms or along drainages, but will move to the uplands. Cat squirrels are more site specific than fox squirrels, the other squirrel in East Texas and the remainder of the state. They are more upland, but can also be found in the bottoms.

While not as glamorous as deer hunting, squirrel hunting probably requires more skill or woodsmanship.

There are two techniques in squirrel hunting. One is still hunting, or waiting on the squirrels to come to you. It sounds simple, but a squirrel can be more wary than a deer. The best hunters simply lean against a comfortable tree with good vision and wait.

More challenging is the spot-and-stalk method. With numerous sets of squirrel eyes on lookout, it requires a slow pace and skilled eye. It does teach a hunter how to be stealth, and in the fall is best accomplished early when the trees still have leaves and the ground is wet to reduce noise.

Sean Willis, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department district biologist from Lufkin, said this should be a good year for squirrels, but a tough year for squirrel hunters.

"There is a ton of acorns, particularly water oaks, and red oaks are covered up. There are not as many on the white oaks that I have seen. That should be good for the squirrels," he said.

Willis added that spring and summer conditions were beneficial to a spring squirrel hatch. Squirrels will have two to four young a year, and along with spring nesting season there is often a smaller, early fall nesting as well.

This year's season in 51 East Texas counties, which opened Wednesday, has been expanded and runs through Feb. 22. Previously it had closed the Sunday closest to Feb. 1.

The extended season was requested by hunters who use dogs that prefer to wait until the leaves have fallen from the trees and need to wait until after deer season to use their dogs.

"They like to hunt later because the squirrels get on the ground more and the dogs can scent them," Willis said.

The daily bag limit is 10.

For those without access to private squirrel woods, most TPWD wildlife management areas in East Texas are open to hunting either all or most of the season. An annual $48 public hunting lands permit is required to access the areas. The permits are available anywhere hunting licenses are sold.

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