Take advantage of small game hunting seasons to stay in the woods and fields before spring arrives, and enjoy winter’s last hurrah.
The problem of “Hunting is for everyone” touted by so many is that they leave off part of what they really want to say, which is “Hunting is for everyone after deer season ends so it doesn’t mess up my chances of killing a big buck.” Public land hunters, especially, snarl and gnash teeth when their outing is “messed up” by squirrel, rabbit or bird hunters enjoying a day.
To this I say, tough noogies. Boo hoo hoo. Get over it.
Hunting is for everyone, at any time of the legal seasons, whether you’re pursuing a whitetail, cottontail or bushytail. Rabbit and squirrel hunters, and upland bird hunters, have every right to be in the woods and fields as the big game hunters. Seasons overlap. Public lands are open to the public. Unless something is off-limits, perhaps for safety reasons, hunters should be out hunting. Duck hunters whine and complain about bass and crappie anglers being in “their” area on the water.
Small game hunting is incredibly fun and a great way to involve young or new hunters. Young hunters, especially, because you’re moving around, talking, yanking and shaking vines for squirrels and racoons, stomping fencerows or brushpiles for bunnies, maybe listening to and following dogs on a track. Action! Kids like action, unlike with deer hunting when most of the time is spent sitting still, quiet, without talking loudly, and often being told “put that down and watch for deer … I didn’t bring you out here to play on that phone.”
Kids aren’t like adults. Their attention span is about as long as a gerbil’s. Just go with the flow, if you’re deer hunting, and let them do their thing while also helping them learn your thing. This isn’t the 1800s where they have one cartridge and have to put something in the larder before going off to school. It’s yet another example of why small game hunting is great, and a super way to teach woodsmanship skills to kids or new hunters while also enjoying a heck of a fun time afield.
While a brace of snuffling beagles definitely is fun to hear and see with, you don’t need them to enjoy rabbit hunting. A good pair of boots, vest, box of shells and your favorite shotgun, and you’re off. That’s all you need, really, to get it done. Hounds are a bonus.
Obviously, you need habitat with rabbits to have a good rabbit hunt. I’ve stomped around what looks like good cover with fencerows and brushpiles and come up empty. And some areas that look so-so have been highly productive. The necessary things for rabbits are like with any animal: food and cover, for protection and a place to live. One other thing they must have is lack of coyotes and other predators. Both are cyclical: when rabbit populations are high, predator numbers may be low, and vice versa. A property I hunt currently has more rabbits than I’ve seen in years, but fewer coyotes and bobcats. If you own or lease property and want more rabbits, get to work on the predators and you’ll see a difference.
Stomp those fencerows and brushpiles, and keep your eyes open! Rabbits often will hold tight until the last second before darting away. Stay alert and be ready, while staying safe. Always know where other hunters are and be vocal. Rabbit right! There it goes! Whatever you say, say it loudly and be assertive. Keep your eyes open, know where folks are and take good shots.
If you wait until late winter to hunt squirrels, one plus is you’ll be able to see them. With no leaves on the trees it’s easy to find them holding tight to the trunk, scampering limb to limb or leaping to another tree. The downside is with a cache of nuts stored, they may not be out as much during the day seeking food. Morning and afternoon may be best.
But, as with any hunting, you go when you can. Your area may be rife with bushytails, giving you good hunting opportunities anytime. One of the most fun ways to hunt squirrels is with a good feist or terrier. A well-trained dog helps find more squirrels, keep them on a tree, and often follows them if they timber. Similar to beagles, a good feist isn’t necessary but is a wonderful bonus for squirrel hunting.
In late winter, hunting in areas that get the quickest and most sunlight is one way to make your game vest heavier. Areas that get immediate morning sun and warm up likely will be a squirrel playground. Also, trees will be devoid of leaves. Look for nests, which indicate squirrels in the area. I’m not a believer of shooting into squirrel nests. If you kill one, how would you know? But, to each his own.
Another thing for late-season hunting? Pulling and yanking on vines. With all the leaves off the trees, squirrels will hide in these clusters of muscadine, wild grape and other vines. Even just two or three hanging may be a tangled mess up above and a hidey-hole for a bushytail. Get your hunting pals to watch above and yank like crazy. It’s not automatic, but you may be rewarded with a shot or two.
Don’t overlook late winter hunting for rabbits, squirrels and other small game. Bundle up, put on your boots and head out for fun times and blast of nostalgia.
Article and Photos by Alan Clemons