With the big unofficial start of the summer outdoor season, campers, boaters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiast are set to take advantage of the Memorial Day holiday. However, hunters like Russell Blake of Clinton were able to get a jump-start on the big weekend.

With the big unofficial start of the summer outdoor season, campers, boaters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiast are set to take advantage of the Memorial Day holiday. However, hunters like Russell Blake of Clinton were able to get a jump-start on the big weekend.

Squirrel season in Missouri starts on the fourth Saturday of May, so last Saturday the long season opened with increased daily and possession limits. This season, hunters can take 10 bushytails, up from the six last season, and the possession limit increased from 12 to 20.

Blake is one of the few squirrel hunters who doesn’t mind the heavy ground cover, ticks, heat and mosquitoes of the early season for a chance to take some squirrels.

“When I’m out there, I am thinking about how good it will be to have fried squirrel with biscuits and gravy for breakfast,” Blake said. “There are several things I like about early-season squirrel hunting, including not many other hunters. Last year I never saw another hunter in the woods where I was hunting. I know the number of squirrel hunters are down, but the number of squirrels are up and that makes it good for me.”

The 72-year-old-squirrel hunter got his start when he was 6 years old by following his big brother into the woods.

“I tagged along and learned a lot about squirrel hunting,” Blake said. “My brother showed me where to look for the bushytails and what to expect from them. By the time I was in high school, I would spend nearly every weekend in the squirrel woods. Today, I don’t walk nearly as far as I used to and the hills have grown higher and the trees a lot higher, but I still manage to bag a few squirrels.

“I still use my .22 rifle and try to hit the target in a place where it won’t hurt the meat. It’s a lot easier to shoot one with a shotgun, but when you bite into a pellet, you go back to the rifle.”

Another early-season squirrel hunter is George Atkinson of Oak Grove, who was in the Jackson County woods near Lone Jack last weekend.

“It didn’t take long to get four reds and two grays,” Atkinson said. “I had a great start of the season. Although the limit was raised this spring, six squirrels is plenty for me.”

Another season that opened May 22 was the bass fishing in Ozark streams. Fred Thompson of Springfield hit the Eleven Point River Sunday and caught several smallmouth bass with the largest weighing close to 3 pounds.

“It was a great was to start the season,” Thompson said. “I had caught several smallmouths earlier, but had to release them since the season wasn’t open, but I usually would release them anyway. The way they fight, I would like to give other anglers a chance to experience the same feeling I get when a nice bass hits.”

Thompson has caught smallmouths this spring from Stockton where the state-record smallmouth was taken back in 1994. That fish weighed 7 pounds 2 ounces.

“I know there are some big smallmouth in the lake, but there’s nothing like floating down an Ozark stream and catching smallmouth,” he said.

With the first big holiday weekend just ahead, safety is the key to enjoying it to the fullest, so play it safe when in or on the water.