Hunting season is upon us once again, with the opening of New Hampshire’s small game season this past weekend. Squirrels, rabbits and grouse are all on the menu this time of year, but they offer much more than a hot meal on a crisp fall evening. Small game hunting is a great introduction to the great outdoors for new hunters of any age, as well as a great way for experienced hunters to brush up on their skills in the woods before deer season. It can even be an exciting activity in itself, allowing you to spend time in the woods to enjoy the solitude of nature and the gifts of the forest.
Small game animals abound in the forests of New England, and their prey can be found on almost any expanse of public or private land. You don’t have to go out into the wild to spot some squirrels, making them one of the easiest species to hunt in the Northeast. This fact alone goes to show that small game hunting is a great way to introduce new hunters to the woods, as they don’t need to be masters of woodcraft to have a reasonably successful hunt. Activities such as orientation and tracking are not necessary for a successful hunt during small game season.
Quarry hunting such as squirrels, rabbits, and birds also does not require the most expensive or unwieldy equipment. There is a fairly low barrier to entry when it comes to small game. All one really needs is a hunting license and a functional .22 basic or rimfire shotgun. There’s no need for high-powered rifles that take a lot of practice to shoot accurately, or expensive clothing and accessories, when you’re just heading into the woods for a couple of hours to put food on the table.
However, just because small game hunting is easy to start doesn’t mean it’s not as fun as hunting larger game animals. Finding a squirrel in the forest where they have countless holes and trees to hide in makes for a fun and interesting challenge. Rabbits are some of the fastest animals in New England and have a knack for hiding in the thickest brambles and thorny bushes in the woods. Birds such as grouse and woodcock of course take flight, making for a challenging moving target, especially among the thick trees and undergrowth of the region’s forests. Small game hunting always presents new and exciting challenges, even for those who have been hunting since childhood. There’s always a new stretch of forest to explore, a new weather pattern to contend with, and a new animal to chase.
With that said, small game hunting is not only an important milestone for first-time hunters, but a great way to keep veteran hunters in the woods. Deer season is short in New England, and most hunters only have a couple of tags that allow them to hunt deer. Moose tags are even rarer, and trips to Wyoming or Alaska to hunt new and different types of animals are too expensive and impractical for the vast majority of hunters. So a really skilled (or lucky) hunter may only spend a couple of days hunting each year before filling out his tags and having to stay home if he’s only targeting big game. However, small game hunting offers essentially unlimited opportunities to spend time in the woods during hunting season.
Small game hunting season also conveniently opens before the start of deer season here, offering the opportunity to enjoy hunting a variety of game while exploring up-and-coming locations for the first day of deer season. It also provides a low-risk opportunity to get back in shape for hunting season after a long summer fishing from a lawn chair. Believe me when I say that the best substitute for going to the gym is trying to pick your way through a thick, thorny meadow in search of a hare or grouse.
So head out into the woods this fall and you’ll be surprised how much fun can be had in getting the ingredients for a dinner of fried grouse or a steaming bowl of hasenpfeffer.