I don’t often hear a lot of discussion these days about small game. Usually when December rolls around, when hunters mention “the end of hunting season,” they’re talking about the close of deer season. The excitement generated by big game hunting (deer and bear season) overshadows almost everything else.
A couple of notable exceptions are pheasant and turkey, both of which are popular. Pheasant season stays open through Feb. 28, but honestly, the birds you may be hunting are on reserves or have escaped from reserves; there is scant evidence of wild pheasants left here in New York. Even most of the birds on state land can be traced back to the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Reynolds Game Farm near Ithaca in Tompkins County. The remainder comes from commercial game preserves or club-sponsored preserves scattered throughout the state. They might be the occasional wild bird, but they would be few and far between.
According to the DEC, while there are more than 60,000 small game hunters in New York, they just don’t get the same attention as big game.
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In this part of the state, pheasant season runs from October 1 to the end of February. Even hunters who take pheasants on licensed game preserves must comply with the rules that govern those hunting preserves. Keep the function from September 1 to April 15.
Turkey hunting is also popular. These cunning birds have amazing eyesight and keen senses. The spring turkey season gives hunters the opportunity to catch two bearded turkeys. In the fall, hunters can catch a bird of either sex. Unlike in the spring, fall turkey hunters cannot depend on calling enamored males within gun range. You’ll have to go find them.
Big game, turkey, and pheasants aside, there are plenty of other small game opportunities available through the end of February. If you’re interested in waterfowl hunting, you can hunt white geese through April 15, and they have one of the most generous daily bag limits of any game animal in New York, 25 birds per day.
“Small game” includes migratory and upland game birds; small game mammals such as squirrels and rabbits; as well as fur animals such as the fox, the coyote and the wild cat. All game species can be hunted only during their respective open seasons.
DEC has programs to help keep accurate counts of the harvest or that breed and release species, such as pheasants, to increase hunting opportunities. For example, turkey hunters must report their harvest. In addition, the department raises turkeys for release on publicly accessible land. Hunters can contribute to the effort to improve the hunt by keeping a grouse and woodcock hunting log and submitting it to DEC at the end of the hunting season.
Regardless of the game being hunted, a hunting license is required. You will also need to know that firearms can be used to hunt each species. You may not use a rifle or pistol to hunt pheasants or migratory game birds, and while a bow or crossbow may be used to hunt small game, a crossbow may not be used in Westchester or Suffolk counties.
My earliest hunting memories are of me hunting with an uncle. We spent the afternoon kicking up piles of brush to get the rabbits out of hiding. We usually did it on the edges of fields that were covered with crops all summer. Unfortunately, most of the farms are gone and the ones that aren’t don’t have much cover for rabbits. Agricultural practices have changed.
Squirrels still abound, and foxes, bobcats, and coyotes still lurk in the woods. You just have to decide what you want to hunt and where you want to hunt it. If you don’t plan on hunting on public land, you’ll need to belong to a club or find a willing landowner.
While going through the season dates etc in the Hunting Regulations Guide I was embarrassed to find a map showing that there is an official quail season in Putnam and Orange counties. I called a retired DEC biologist to ask if there really are quail here in the Hudson Valley. He “suggested” that there hasn’t been in 50 years or more. If you come across the same map, don’t get excited.
Be sure to learn about the Environmental Conservation Act and the latest regulations before you start your hunt by visiting the DEC website, www.dec.ny.gov.
There are indications that some deer were able to survive last year’s infected outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease. There are reports of as many as 15-20 deer by hunters this season that have lost their hooves, an indication of past exposure. With such a relatively small sample, it probably wouldn’t be wise to read too much into it.
I’m more interested in understanding what the broader implications are, such as whether EHD antibodies will be passed down through multiple generations of deer. At this point, I think we are a long way from understanding the impact the disease will have on New York’s deer herd for years to come.
Multiple freezes virtually eliminated calls to DEC reporting dead deer.
Bill Conners of the Federation of Fishing and Hunting Clubs writes about topics related to the great outdoors. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.