Squirrel hunters don't have to worry about disguising their scent, and while they should remain quite still, an occasional movement or whisper isn't likely to ruin the hunt.
"Also - and especially since we started opening the season in mid-September instead of early October, weather conditions tend to be very moderate," Johansen said. "When you have youngsters out there, it's a lot easier to teach the principles of woodsmanship when the kids are comfortable than when it's freezing cold and their teeth are chattering."
DNR officials caught some flak in 2011 when they went to the earlier opening day. Critics complained that female squirrels might be killed while they were still nursing pups born just weeks earlier.
Johansen said there is "no evidence that any effect on the population has taken place," although he acknowledged that agency biologists have no data to confirm that.
"Basically, squirrel populations are more dependent on mast abundance than on anything else," he explained. "If you have a good mast crop, with plenty of acorns and other nuts, squirrels will produce a lot of young for the following season."
Last year's mast crop was what DNR biologists call "spotty," meaning there were areas of abundance and areas of scarcity.
"Overall, squirrel populations should be pretty good this fall," Johansen said.
If anecdotal reports can be believed, squirrels could be extraordinarily plentiful next year. DNR biologists say beechnuts and hickory nuts, two early season squirrel staples, appear to be quite abundant. Ditto for walnuts, which squirrels tend to exploit a little later in the season. The acorn crop once again appears to be spotty.
Those observations will be confirmed or modified in late September, when DNR officials publish their annual Mast Report and Hunting Outlook.
By then, though, the season will have been open for a week or more. Hunters who head afield early in the season would be well advised to find nut-laden hickory or beech trees, since squirrels tend to concentrate on those species first.
Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231 or johnmc...@wvgazette.com.