Now that deer season is over and most of the turkeys are still too cold to gobble, it seems like the perfect time for hunters to kick back in the old lazy chair and hibernate until spring.
But for Mark Williams, of Blackshear, kicking back in a recliner is the last thing on his mind. Instead, he dedicates the whole month to chasing squirrels and doing some early scouting for turkey season on multiple WMAs in south Georgia.
“I’m as sad as anybody to see deer season end, and I’ve already got my turkey gear ready to go, but the fact is it’s gonna be a while before the season comes in. I think a lot of folks would be surprised at just how much fun chasing bushy tails can be,” said Mark.
Mark was happy to take me on a squirrel hunting road trip, as we managed to do some hunting on three different WMAs, all located in WRD’s Game Management Region 7.
Our road trip started on a cold January morning right after Mark ended his shift at the Waycross Fire Department where he has served as a paramedic for 27 years.
First up on our list was Griffin Ridge WMA, located between Jesup and Ludowici. As we pulled past the WMA sign and up to the kiosk to sign in, a squirrel quickly scurried across the road and up an oak tree.
“Well at least give us a minute to get ready,” Mark chuckled.
After signing in and grabbing our guns, we headed into the woods. It didn’t take long for Mark to pick off our first squirrel with his trusty Ruger 10-22 rifle.
“One thing I’ve learned about squirrel hunting, particularly in river bottoms, is the majority of the time you can kill them on the ground feeding on acorns a lot easier than chasing them through the woods from limb to limb,” said Mark.
For this reason, Mark moves slowly and takes a few steps at a time, followed by a long 30-second pause.
“The most common mistakes I think hunters make is being too loud and moving too quickly. Squirrels are much smarter than what hunters give them credit for,” said Mark.
With several bushy tails tucked in our vests, and my white pickup truck still barely visible through the oak bottom, it was clear that our strategy of slipping through the woods along the highway was paying off. We spent the next few hours working slowly and methodically toward the river, picking off some squirrels and admittedly missing a few of those hard-to-hit rascals.
“This whole management area is mostly comprised of oak bottoms and swamps along the river,” said Mark. “There is lots of prime squirrel habitat to hunt. I just like this area along the highway because the squirrels are so plentiful, and they are so easy to get to.”
For those interested in hunting Griffin Ridge, its 5,600 acres offer more than ample opportunity for a successful squirrel hunt this month. The area will remain open through Feb. 28 for small-game hunting, and keep in mind the area close to the river harbors a good population of hogs that can be harvested with small-game weapons, as well.
After loading up the truck and hanging a hard left toward Ludowici, our next destination, Townsend WMA, was a quick 20 minutes away. The area is a vast 24,000 acres and is broken into three main sections: the North Tract, South Tract and Pine Island Tract.
Mark said he felt the North Tract would be our best bet, so we signed in and headed down the main road. After roughly 10 minutes of riding, we parked at a clearing that bordered a cypress swamp right off the road.
“You can’t go wrong looking for squirrels, or any wildlife, along a pine thicket that borders a cypress swamp,” said Mark.
As we began to work our way along the swamp searching for squirrels, we came across a fairly fresh deer rub. Mark took out his phone and began to tell me about an app he likes to use in the woods for recording data.
“Hunt Stand is a great app for hunters to download on their smartphones, particularly if you don’t own a handheld GPS,” said Mark.
The app uses your coordinates to show your current location, allows you to mark sign and mark spots to visit at a later date.
“When I’m out squirrel hunting and stumble across any promising sign, whether it be hog, deer or turkey, I can mark it, and I have a head start when the season comes in. Oh, I almost forgot to mention the best part, it’s completely free,” said Mark.
As we made our way back through the cypress swamp, the wind began to pick up, and the squirrels were nowhere to be found. Climbing into the truck, we rode another five minutes farther into the WMA and parked the truck at the entrance to a closed road.
As we began to slip along the road, a few squirrels managed to elude us, but it quickly became evident this area would likely be a turkey hot spot come March. Feathers, tracks, scratchings and even a roosting location were all present and looked very promising.
“Ninety nine percent of my success during turkey season is because of the steps I put in during February chasing these bushy tails. Being out here putting miles on your boots will really put you in touch with the woods and the game that inhabits them,” said Mark
Mark mentioned that Townsend is full of great places to pick off a squirrel, and like other coastal WMAs, you can’t go wrong if you’re hunting near water. The area is rather large, so Mark recommends picking out small blocks of woods and exploring them as you go.
“On Townsend, you may kill 10 squirrels one day and two the next, but I can guarantee you’re going to benefit from scouting these woods. It may be discovering a bedding area to revisit next bow season or finding a place to kill a gobbler on opening day. Whatever it is, you will benefit from a trip here,” said Mark.
As we left Townsend, we headed for our final stop of our mini road trip. After roughly 45 minutes, we reached Little Satilla WMA, where we parked at the Zirkle Boat Landing. The Little Satilla River winds its way through the entire area, hence the name Little Satilla WMA. For squirrel hunters, this means a whole lot of river woods to hunt.
“Your strategy here is basically the same as Griffin and Townsend. Stick to the water, and you won’t have any trouble locating squirrels,” said Mark.
One major difference he did note was the availability of acorns compared to the other areas.
“These live oak acorns are really special,” said Mark. “Unlike most other types of acorn trees, they drop a little later and don’t rot as easily on the ground, thus providing a late-season food source that is hard to beat in coastal Georgia.
“Townsend and Griffin Ridge both have good acorn crops this year, so squirrels are virtually all over the place. On Little Satilla, there are plenty of acorns, but they tend to be more spread out. And, this concentrates the squirrels around the available acorns.”
For this reason, Mark recommends using a different strategy to hunt this WMA. Instead of slowly stalking, Mark likes to locate an area with plenty of acorns and wait them out. By bringing his turkey stool, he will hunt an area for two or three hours, waiting for squirrels to come out and shooting them when they do.
“When using this method, you want to remain still and quiet and wait until you’re done hunting to pick up your squirrels. If you can do that, you can kill a pile in a hurry,” said Mark.
“One additional strategy that has worked well for me on this property is to bring my kayak or boat and use it to cross the river to reach areas other hunters aren’t willing to work to get to,” Mark added.
Even without a boat, we managed to find some bushy tails and lots of deer sign that Mark saved on his Hunt Stand app to return to next deer season.
As we ended our trip at around 2:30 in the afternoon, the day had been a complete success. We managed several squirrels, marked numerous areas for the upcoming turkey season and some areas that we will likely hang a climber next bow season. The best part of all is we never saw another hunter or even a vehicle all day. We had the woods all to ourselves.
If you’re able, give one or all of these areas a try this month. It sure beats the recliner, and with a little luck, you will have a mess of squirrels to throw in the crockpot and a prime location to kill a gobbler come spring.
Editor’s note: For anyone who wants to reach Mark in regards to WMA hunting, you can follow his group, “Satilla Outdoors” on Facebook where you can connect with him along with other members to find out the latest hot spots for squirrels and other wildlife in south Georgia.