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Beat the Winter Blues with Small Game Hunting

Mid-Winter Small Game Hunting Fun

 

This time of year, many people tend to get a little depressed. It’s probably because deer season is done, the holidays are mostly wrapped up, and the long winter months lie ahead of us. Not too encouraging, right? Fortunately, there are lots of great activities we can keep busy with over the cold, dark winter. Small game hunting is one way to satisfy our need to do something fun during this time frame. It keeps us active outdoors and can allow us to still do some hunting during a time when most hunting seasons are closed. Let’s dive in and discuss the species to hunt, habitats to find them, gear you need, and hunting methods.

 

Small Game Hunting Seasons Kentucky

 

Why Small Game Hunting?

As we mentioned above, there are so many reasons to hunt small game animals this time of year. First, you’re probably bored of watching television already and looking for something to do. Chasing small game critters is a way to spend an invigorating day outdoors. In fact, the cooler weather and lack of vegetation can make walking much more pleasant and increase your opportunity of spotting game before they flush. Second, it’s one of the few hunting seasons that are still open for most hunters to capitalize on. Small game animals are usually very plentiful and can be hunted for extended seasons in many areas. Additionally, small game hunting keeps your hunting and shooting skills sharp so you don’t have to wait as long until next season. Just because there are potentially a lot of small game in the woods doesn’t mean they’re easy to get. Some of them can really take a calculated plan of attack or catch you totally off-guard. A day of hunting small game animals in the woods will almost always teach you something new, so it’s really a good learning opportunity if you look at it that way. If you hunt with a dog in the fall, it’s nice to give them some extra exercise and practice by getting out during the extended small game hunting season, especially if you’re training a new puppy. Finally, very few people actually go out this time of year for hunting purposes. Nine times out of ten, you’ll probably have the public land woods to yourself instead of constantly running into other hunters.

 

Small Game Species, Habitats, and Seasons

So what animals are we talking about for small game hunting? It all depends on where you live and hunt, but these will generally consist of birds (e.g., ruffed grouse, woodcock, pheasant, waterfowl, quail, doves, etc.), squirrels (i.e., gray or fox squirrels), and rabbits (e.g., cottontails, snowshoe hares, jack rabbits, etc.). Of all these types of game meat, the larger birds and rabbits will easily provide a great dinner for two, while a few of the smaller birds and squirrels are great in a slow cooker together.

 

The bird species are found in all kinds of different habitats. Upland bird habitats can overlap a little in some locales. Grouse and woodcock prefer dense, brushy thickets of dogwoods or alder. Pheasant, quail, and doves prefer agricultural fields and grassy swales. Waterfowl species obviously prefer waterbodies, such as rivers, sloughs, or ponds. Go to your state’s natural resource website and you can easily find a list of game birds for your area.

 

Squirrels can be found in many places across the country, but both gray and fox squirrels require mature deciduous forests to really thrive. They use the mature trees to nest in and depend on the nuts and seeds they gather from them for food, though they will also happily raid bird feeders and corn cribs.

 

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The three primary rabbit species all use very different habitats. Cottontails and snowshoe hares can overlap their ranges a little. But wherever winters are tough and snow really piles up, snowshoe hares are more common than cottontails because of their adapted feet that keep them on top of the snow drifts. They also prefer conifer and aspen forests, while cottontails prefer dense brushy woodlots, shelterbelts, and overgrown fields. Jack rabbits are usually found out west in deserts, farm fields, and scrublands.

 

As we said, many small game hunting seasons extend for another couple months. Most of the bird hunting seasons tend to wrap up pretty quickly as the New Year approaches, so you don’t have much time to still capitalize on that. But keep it in mind for next year, as late December bird hunts can be a lot of fun. Fortunately, squirrel and rabbit seasons are often open through mid-winter, which allows you plenty of time to still stretch the legs and put some more meat in the freezer.

 

Best Small Game Hunting Gear

Obviously things will vary a bit depending on how far north or south you hunt and what kind of environment you’re in. But the basic hunting gear you need is pretty similar no matter where you hunt. You probably have a lot of it already, so the gear shouldn’t take you long to gather.

 

First and foremost, you need the right gun for small game hunting. Everyone likes to choose their own small game hunting weapons, but there are some recommendations. If you’ll be bird hunting, you definitely need a shotgun because any bird you hunt will almost never be sitting still when you shoot. They’ll likely be flying by your head in a feathery blur. For smaller birds like quail, dove, and even some grouse situations, you can get by with a 20 gauge. But for shooting at flushing pheasants, waterfowl, or grouse, a 12 gauge is a solid option. Provided you have the right ammunition, it has the power you need to knock them down quickly. In fact, it’s probably the best shotgun gauge for small game in general. The Remington 870 Express Tky 12 gauge is an attractive gun for small game hunting. It’s got a camouflaged synthetic stock and has a 21-inch barrel, so you can sneak it through the woods easily. But because it can handle 3-inch shells, you can also hunt larger waterfowl species and pheasants with no problem.

 

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For rabbit and squirrel hunting, you have another option. If you’ll be stalking up on squirrels and rabbits, you could also use small game hunting rifles. Typically, the best small game caliber is a .22 since a clean head shot won’t ruin any meat like a shotgun will. The Henry Classic Lever Action 22LR is a fun and fast-shooting rifle due to the classic Western style action. While the open sights are accurate for close-up shots, you could always add a scope for tack-driving shots at further distances. This could make it the best rabbit gun for these situations. The only downside with rifles is that you really need the animal to be holding still to make any ethical shot. Sometimes rabbits and squirrels will run a short distance and freeze, relying on their camouflage to hide them. This is the perfect scenario for the .22 mentioned above or even a small game air rifle.

 

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Other than small game guns, you’ll also require some of your basic outdoor gear, including good boots, warm clothing, and a hunting vest. There really aren’t many specific small game hunting accessories you need. Depending on the conditions, you should have performance clothing to keep your body warm and dry through whatever weather you might encounter. A vest with an over-sized and waterproof back pouch is nice since rabbits tend to make a mess and fill up space quickly.

 

Small Game Hunting Methods

Now let’s dive into some small game hunting tips you can use to put some winter meat in the freezer. For winter bird hunting, it can be really difficult to hunt by yourself simply because they will rarely flush unless you almost step on them. It’s best to bring a family member or hunting buddy along. Walking side by side, spaced about 30 yards apart can be useful for flushing birds to your partner. It’s critical when hunting with someone else to always know where they are and which direction is safe to shoot. This can sometimes be difficult if you’re hunting in dense conifers or brushy areas. But flushing a bird and passing on the shot is still better than walking around all day by yourself and not seeing anything.

 

With winter rabbit hunting, you can be successful by yourself or with a partner. If you’re by yourself, walk along key winter habitat areas (e.g., dense brushy areas or low-growing conifers) and pause frequently with your gun ready. This will often scare a rabbit into flushing out of cover. If you have a shotgun, point and shoot as soon as you can, trying to lead the rabbit a bit. If you have a rifle, wait and see if they stop. If they do, you’d better be quick and take a head shot right under the ear. For small game hunting with a friend, you can either use the same upland bird hunting approach above, or make miniature drives for each other. One person basically stands in a spot where they can see a distance or along a dominant rabbit trail. The other should make a big circle through thick cover no more than 50 to 75 yards away to try to flush a rabbit towards their friend. Again, knowing where the other hunter is at all times is critical.

 

For squirrel hunting, you can easily hunt by yourself. Start your hunt by quietly walking through a mature forest, keeping an eye on the canopy. You may startle a feeding squirrel from the ground, but by the time you notice them, they will likely already be up in a tree. When you see one, try to close the distance as best you can since they will already be 40 to 50 feet up in a tree before you even approach. Use other trees for rests if you’re using a rifle so you can get an accurate head shot.

 

This winter, get outdoors and do some small game hunting while you can. It’s a surefire way to beat the winter blues and cabin fever if you’re feeling a little claustrophobic inside. And you might luck out with some extra wild game meals.

Shotgunning Fall Upland Game Birds

Shooting Tips for Bagging Fall Upland Game Birds

shotgunning fall upland game birds | Whittaker GunsWhether you are busting big timber in search of grouse or moving alongside fence rows for pheasants, shotgunning fall upland game birds is a different kind of hunting compared to big game hunting. It requires a skill set unlike other types of hunting. Everything is moving, from yourself to the birds not to mention the concentration required while hunting to watch everything that is going on around you including other hunters. When it comes down to bird hunting, you want to know you have prepared well enough to be able to make a clean shot when that bird final flushes.

Wing shooting, in general, is a use it or lose it type of hunting skill. If you are not practicing and putting in the time before the season, your success rate is greatly diminished once upland bird hunting season rolls around. Take these five upland bird shooting tips, paired with a good shotgun, when you go afield this fall

5 Upland Bird Shooting Tips 

Your shotgun is important, no doubt about it. But even the highest quality shotgun is not going to improve your upland bird hunting without these wing shooting tips.

Pattern the Shotgun 

How often have you patterned your upland game bird shotgun? Probably less than your turkey shotgun and far less often than you should. Each shotgun shoots differently, and knowing the point of impact is critical for accuracy in the field. First, you want to know if your shotgun is shooting straight. If it is off too much, a gunsmith may be required to make some adjustments. Second, you want to pattern your shotgun in order to test various shotshell loads and chokes based on your intended use. Are there enough pellets at different distances with different combinations of shells (shot size, weight, length) and choke (modified, improved, etc.)? Answer these question before you take that first shot of the season at an advancing bird.

Clay Birds Are Your Best Friend 

Patterning your shotgun is first and foremost. After you have a good handle on shot dynamics, it is time to put some boxes through your barrel. Clay birds are a great way to practice your fall upland game bird hunting. Start by shooting easy floaters out in front of you to get a feel of swinging your shotgun and following a moving target. Once you are comfortable with that, move to more realistic shooting scenarios including shooting at clay birds through the woods, low to the ground and multiple targets at the same time. Also, do not think that you need an expensive automatic thrower to take part in practicing your game bird shooting, On the contrary, a hand thrower works as well if you can grab a buddy or two to shoot with.

Hunt Ready to Shoot 

No matter if it is grouse or pheasants, each step you take while hunting, you should be prepared to shoot. Fall upland game birds can be up and gone in several seconds and if you are not prepared to shoot as you are moving then you missed your chance. Carry your shotgun in a shooting position, but one that does not make your arms tired. Also, pay attention to your footwork as you move through the brush or open field. With each step, you should keep your feet shoulder-width apart and slightly turned with the left shoulder leading the way (reversed for lefty shooters). This puts your body in a shooting position over each step, making it much faster to pull up while bird hunting.

Forget About Aiming 

Each bird flush involves a split-second reaction so trying to aim will only leave you missing the shot. More appropriately, you want to point your shotgun to the flushed bird with both eyes open. Keeping both eyes opens allows you to naturally follow the target with almost any upland bird hunting shotgun. Natural instincts (muscle memory and practice) take control at this point and allow you to land a good shot on the bird by being relaxed, responsive and repetitive. Keep your swing steady and smooth, following the target to the point where you line up and pull the trigger.

Know Your Surroundings 

Hunting fall upland game birds is a fast-paced sport, much faster than say fall turkey hunting. Birds flush out of nowhere and frequently there are multiple people involved in the hunt. As you move through the brush or fields, be aware of your surroundings. Know where your hunting partners are and if you are hunting upland game birds with a dog, where the dog is. You want to be constantly thinking about this so when that bird flushes you do not have to think but only react.

3 Must Have Shotguns for Fall Upland Game Bird Hunting

Now that you have a few upland game bird shooting tips, what is the best upland game bird shotgun to carry and use with those tips? Well first, a good bird hunting shotgun is lean, light and shoulders fast and smooth. You want a shotgun that can be lugged through miles of terrain and perform at a moment’s notice when that long awaited bird finally flushes. Additionally, you want the right gauge to match the species you are pursuing. Pheasants can be taken with .12- and .20-gauge shotguns and grouse and quail can be handled with anything from a .12-gauge to a 28-gauge shotgun.

Shotguns for Sale Worth Carrying for Wing Shooting

Benelli Super Black Eagle II

shotgunning fall upland game birds | Whittaker Guns

The Benelli Super Black Eagle II is a long and trusted friend by many who hunt fall upland game birds. This gun can be carried for hunting birds, turkeys and waterfowl with minimal effort. It is lightweight and shoots fast, important in hunting upland game birds. Although the newly released Benelli Super Vinci has some nice upgrades compared to the Super Black Eagle II, it still packs a nice bunch for all your shooting needs.

Beretta A400 Lite

shotgunning fall upland game birds | Whittaker Guns

Beretta’s A400 Lite shotgun is the ultimate carry shotgun for long days bird hunting. It packs a big punch in a light, 6.6-pound frame that is easy to point and shoot. This semi-auto shotgun has a smooth action but only chambers up to 3-inch shells. Also, this shotgun has no camo option available yet for, which is not all that big of a deal for most fall upland game bird hunters.

Remington V3

shotgunning fall upland game birds | Whittaker Guns

The new V3 model shotgun from Remington is an updated version of the VersaMax with the same Remington reliability as its other semi-auto shotguns. The versatile VersaPort system lets you move from different shell types with ease, ejecting them quickly and smoothly. The V3 has good balance and shouldering is quick and clean. An all-around shotgun for many types of bird hunting situations.

In conclusion, whether you decide to pull out your trusted shotgun or maybe look to purchase a new shotgun, fall upland game bird hunting is here. It is not enough to head out once or twice a year but if you are serious about hunting upland game birds then you need to put in the time. The right shotgun and the right preparation can go a long way in putting more birds in your vest…and ultimately making the dog happy!