Small game ambassador in Starkville

STARKVILLE — Wildlife biologist Dave Godwin of Starkville is the epitome of a small-game hunting enthusiast.

He loves it.

He strongly believes in its benefits for young hunters.

He is dedicated to seeing small game hunting perpetuated.

Godwin’s current passion is squirrel hunting, and the 2009-10 season has been a rewarding one for him and wife Kris, also a wildlife biologist and an adjunct faculty member at Mississippi State University and state director of the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The season has produced two milestone moments for the Godwins:

— The first squirrel taken by son Eric, 8, on Dec 19.

— The 500th squirrel killed over family dog Anna, a 6 1/2-year-old treeing feist, taken by Dave on Dec. 22.

“Pretty fun stuff,” Dave Godwin said.

“I really think hunting with a squirrel dog is a great way to introduce kids to the outdoors. Unlike sitting in a deer stand, there is lots of action, you can get a lot of exercise and you do not have to be quiet at all. It can be a nice social activity.

“Another thing that I like about hunting with a squirrel dog is that kids can be active participants even if they are not ready to shoot.”

Eric Godwin is a perfect example.

“He started going along with us when he was 4,” Kris Godwin said. “At first he would just bring a bag and pick up treasures he found in the woods. Over the last couple of years he has been more involved in the hunting. He just shot his first squirrel, but he has been the ‘Primary Vine Shaker’ on many hunts and helped us bag a great number of squirrels.”

The Godwins have made squirrel hunting a family pastime.

Anna has made it special.

Owning a good squirrel dog has always been a desire of Dave Godwin, who like many hunters of his generation grew up small game hunting before trying turkey and deer.

“While doing turkey research on Tallahala WMA in the late ’80s, I met a man with a coon dog that treed squirrels,” Godwin said. “He’d go in the late afternoon and hunt squirrels, then switch to coon hunting after dark. I had a blast hunting with him, especially the squirrel hunting.

“I hunted with other folks with squirrel dogs and really liked it. Six years ago we bought a treeing feist puppy from a friend. With our kids getting to the age they could go in the woods with us, I thought a squirrel dog would be a good way to introduce the kids to the outdoors.”

Anna serves a dual role. She is foremost the family pet. Second, she’s a hunter.

“Anna is actually our daughter Brannon’s dog, and she has become very special to us,” Kris Godwin said. “She has become a nice hunting dog, but an even better family pet.

“In the time that we have hunted with her, we have bagged 500 squirrels. More importantly, we have spent a great amount of time together, which is real important to us.”

The Godwins and Anna are spreading the love outside the family.

“Each of the last four years, we have made it a point to take some kids who are interested in squirrel hunting along with us,” Dave Godwin said. “Sometimes these have been organized events, sometimes just informal outings with friends and their kids.

“I would strongly encourage everyone with a squirrel dog, or with rabbit dogs, to take time to take some kids hunting with them and introduce them to the sport they enjoy.”

Sound like an authority?

Dave Godwin is the small game/wild turkey program coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.

There couldn’t be a better fit.

Bobby Cleveland/The Clarion-Ledger