The Garden State small game season for gray squirrels and cottontails begins at sunrise on Saturday, September 24.
Jackrabbits and jackrabbits are included, but good luck finding one of these. In fact, these are so rare, if they still exist in New Jersey sheds, that the daily intake is limited to one of each. Again, good luck finding one, let alone pulling it out of hiding.
Swampers, those large rabbits found in the lowland swamps and bushes in the southern counties, while approaching the size of a jackrabbit, are classed as cottontails and fall below the daily limit of four rabbits.
Squirrels, affectionately referred to as Bushy Tails, have a daily bag limit of five creatures.
Until mid-October, we look for rabbits on the grassy edges of the deck at legal first light to shoot when they venture out for an early feed. So it’s all about quick handling with a shotgun (we’re fans of the 20 gauge) as they dash backwards into tall things and disappear.
When the conditions are right, we sometimes try to sneak up and take a headshot with our .177-caliber pellet rifles. These and the .20 and .22 caliber pellet guns are legal and can be a real challenge.
Later in the season, when the numbers have been pruned and stick to the thicker cover, that’s when we start a hunt(s) with acquaintances who have a beagle or two. Then it’s strictly shotgun time when the rabbits run and perform a variety of evasive maneuvers ahead of the hounds that follow and howl.
When it comes to squirrels, it’s either sit and wait, or slow stalking. The latter is exciting and the way to go when the ground and leaves are wet, thus silencing footsteps as you scan the upper limbs trying to spot a bushytail busy chopping down a pole or making its way from tree to tree.
The first involves locating a group of oaks or other nut-producing trees, sitting against a tree trunk, and waiting for the squirrels to appear. Another productive place to set up shop is right inside a cornfield. Bushytails enjoy ears of corn and will go to great lengths to get to them. We’ve seen cobs hidden in holes in trees, and anyone who has used corn as deer bait can attest to the rodent’s affinity for the yellow kernels.
While pellet guns in the aforementioned calibers are legal, as are bows armed with flu-proof arrows and blunt tips, we prefer #5 or 6.20-caliber payloads, especially since the bushy tails run at speed of lightning along the ground or through the treetops. .
Rabbit and squirrel season runs through February 25, 2023. It is closed December 5-10 and 14. Legal hours are from sunrise to half an hour after sunset, except on November 12 (pheasant and quail opening) when the opening is at 8 am.
For those with a borderline bent, there is a muzzleloader season in two areas of the state, encompassing significant portions of the southern and northern regions. See page 60 in the ’22-’23 Hunting & Trapping Digest for the map. Projectiles are limited to .36 caliber or less. A rifle permit is required. The season runs from September 24 to November 11, then from January 7 to February 25, 2023. The legal hours and the daily baggage limit are the same.
Fluorescent Orange (Hunter) (cap, jacket, or vest with at least 200 square inches visible from all sides) is required whether hunting with a shotgun, pellet gun, muzzleloader, or bow.
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