Steve Griffin: Small game can be larger than life

Small game hunting kicks off with a bang next Wednesday, September 15, with open seasons for grouse, woodcock, rabbit and squirrel. And Midland and neighboring counties offer great opportunities.

Deer hunting is complicated and waterfowl hunting complex. It can take years to collect enough preference points to earn a bear or moose license.

But for small game, you can buy a “basic” hunting license, maybe add a woodcock stamp, grab a small-bore shotgun or rifle, call a dog if you want, and head somewhere nearby, in full force. daylight, on not much more than a whim.

Sure, not all small game hunters see it that way. There are places on public land in Midland and Gladwin counties where you’re just as likely to see a luxury bird hunting truck equipped with a kennel from another state as an everyday vehicle belonging to your neighbor.

Or yes, after October 1st he opens his season, maybe also a bowhunter’s car. To minimize conflict with bowhunters, who typically hunt at dawn and dusk, I do most of my bird hunting between about 10 and 3 after that date.

That sounds like a short day compared to the tales of those who tell of dawn-to-dusk adventures behind their dogs. Bush after a couple of hours in good, dense bird habitat, I raise an eyebrow and wish them well. My sweet little Brittany agrees.

Most hunt grouse and woodcock in tandem, although the birds have distinct differences. Grouse are noticeably larger, with shorter beaks. Woodcocks have long beaks with which they probe the moist soil for earthworms, their main food.

Woodcock tends to cling more to pointers, endearing them to hunters.

Capercaillies grow patches on their toes as winter approaches, to better move through deep snow. Woodcock takes a different approach: flying to Louisiana and other southern climes as human “snowbirds.”

While early-season grouse families soon split up, making individual shoots the norm, migratory aggregations of woodcocks can provide unforgettable action.

And unlike grouse that fly away, woodcocks often land back in sight, offering another chance to a dog and a poor hunter. (I have tried this many times).

Both grouse and woodcock prefer early-growth forests, especially aspen 10 to 20 years after clearcutting. When such a rejuvenated outpost abuts a mature forest and/or grassy field, look for good game.

If grouse and woodcock are the photographic species on the calendar for the September 15 opening, rabbits and squirrels might as well be discussed on the reverse side of the page, as they are abundant creatures that offer great sport, especially for the new hunters.

Apparently there are fewer kennel beagles than there used to be, but those who own a beagle (or have a friend who does) love nothing more than to unleash a sharp-nosed, screaming little rabbit hunter to wriggle through the tight undergrowth and the piles of weeds. .

A bunny can burst at any moment, most likely ricocheting in a wide circle and perhaps offering a quick shot with a .22 rifle or small-bore shotgun before darting into a guard hole or other hiding spot.

Some hunters do the dog work themselves, kicking up mounds of brush while they and their companions watch for a rabbit to escape.

For many, a squirrel hunt means heading to a sun-kissed oak ridge, taking a seat and waiting 15 minutes to a half hour for the alarmed squirrels to calm down and resume acorn collecting. Shotguns can interrupt that work, although for many there is no better sport than attempting a headshot with a .22 rifle.

Midland and Gladwin counties have many state lands rich in grouse, woodcock, rabbit and squirrel, with especially large tracts in western Midland and eastern Gladwin counties. Visit for ideas. Map layers can display coverage distinctions and other useful information.

After school, after work, on a weekday off, before errands on Saturday or after lunch on Sunday, small game is among the best gifts of fall.

Small game, perhaps, but there is nothing small about hunting them.

Midland Outdoors freelancer Steve Griffin returns to write a column for the Daily News on the second Wednesday of every month. He can be reached at [email protected]