Have you ever eaten rabbit cacciatore? Squirrel soup and dumpling? Groundhog crackers and gravy? What about the piccata grouse? If these dishes make your stomach growl, maybe it’s a sign you’re destined to hunt small game this fall. Small game hunting is one of my favorite outdoor activities of all time. Although I have only been hunting squirrels, rabbits and grouse for a couple of years, it has been enough to make small game hunting season an annual pastime. With its long season dates, affordability, and ease of access, small game hunting is the perfect way to try your first hunt or spend more time in the field between big game seasons.
What you need for small game hunting in Colorado
Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to chase small game in the Rocky Mountains. You’ll need a few obvious things, like a gun, ammo, a small game hunting license, and some decent hiking boots. I shoot small game with a .22 Long Rifle or a .17 HMR. Learning to aim with a shotgun is one of my goals for this coming fall, but I find shooting small game with a small-bore rifle minimizes meat loss and decreases the weight you carry into the field. My .22 is pretty light, weighing only 5 pounds. Comparatively, a pump-action 12-gauge Remington 870 weighs about 7 pounds. Also, ammunition for .22 and .17 are two of the smallest rifle cartridges. This saves you more weight and space in your backpack. However, keep in mind that if you are hunting upland birds, a shotgun is required in Colorado.
As with any type of hunting, states require that you first have an active small game hunting license. These are usually some of the cheapest tags you can buy from your state fish and game agency. For example, a Colorado small game hunting license costs $31.41 for a resident and $86.50 for a non-resident. At the other end of the spectrum, a nonresident Colorado bull elk tag costs $700.98. You’ll also need proof of your hunter safety certification and a Habitat stamp, which costs $10.59 and is automatically added to your first hunting or fishing license purchase of the year. You can get the most up-to-date information and purchase your Colorado small game license on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.
As a team, I always wear light hiking boots, pants I don’t mind getting dirty, a comfy shirt, and probably a hoodie. After November rolls around, I keep a couple of extra fleece layers in my backpack in case the weather changes or the wind picks up. I always have water, snacks, my Gerber knife with replaceable blades, hunting scissors, a game bag, and a few spare shopping bags in my backpack too. Sometimes I throw away my binoculars just in case; you never know when you’ll see a cool bird or a distant mule deer!
Small game legal to hunt in Colorado
Colorado offers a large number of small game species that you can hunt. Small game hunting in this state encompasses everything from waterfowl to upland birds to small mammals. You can find the complete list of game species in the 2022 Colorado Small Game and Waterfowl Brochure.
Colorado is home to two North American Flyways: the Central Flyway and the Pacific Flyway. The Continental Divide runs through the center of the state, dividing both migration routes. Each flyway has its own hunting regulations for taking waterfowl such as ducks and geese.
Twelve species of duck call this western state home, including mallards, pintails, blue-winged teals, wigeons, wood ducks, goldeneyes and more. American coots and mergansers can also be hunted. Colorado geese are grouped into two categories: light goose and dark goose. Think of snow geese and Canada geese. Each coloration usually has its own bag and corresponding possession limits.
When it comes to upland birds, 16 species can be hunted in Colorado. This state boasts iconic birds like pheasants, sooty grouse, and mourning doves, but we also have some unique species including prairie chickens, grouse, and chukar. Bird hunting is available throughout the state, from the eastern plains to the western canyons and everywhere in between. Just make sure you don’t shoot these birds with the .22!
Small mammals are also widely available from east to west. The hot, dry plains offer excellent hunting for prairie dogs, rattlesnakes, ground squirrels, and jackrabbits. In my neck of the woods, species like pine squirrels, snowshoe hares, and groundhogs run rampant. Whether you want to explore dark forests or open grasslands, there is a small game species for you.
The Eastern Plains
As mentioned above, a large number of small game species can be found on the plains of eastern Colorado. Small ponds, flooded cornfields, and large reservoirs are excellent stopover habitats for migratory waterfowl. Cottonwood’s bottoms offer everything from pigeons to prairie dogs to furriers. Sage-covered slopes with grassy bottoms hide pheasants, rabbits, and just about everything else. With this type of habitat covering 50 percent of the state, you can’t go wrong when deciding to hunt on the plains.
This type of habitat is generally very windy, dry, and exposed. It’s important to pack for the conditions when exploring the plains country. If you’re hiking in the hills of eastern Colorado, bring extra water, light clothing to cover your entire body, sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen, and light boots, and consider bringing a layer for wind or weather. rain. You may even want a small umbrella that you can set up to take a break from the harsh rays. Don’t forget to watch out for rattlesnakes!
the western mountains
If you go hunting in the Colorado Rockies, you’re in for a surprise. Although this habitat isn’t exactly easy to navigate, dedicated hunters will be rewarded with packs full of squirrels, rabbits, and grouse. Changes in elevation also offer different hunting experiences. Marmot or ptarmigan hunts at high altitudes will test your ability in low-oxygen environments. Squirrel, hare and rabbit chases at mid-altitudes will take you through willow bottoms and doghair pine groves. Plus, it could snow on you basically any minute.
The western slope has many rugged mountains, but also features countless canyon bottoms. These places are where chukar, greedy squirrels and rabbits, and a very neat animal called the ring-tailed cat, call home. Inherently unique gorges and canyons will put you to the physical test; they can be some of the most challenging places to hunt. However, determined hunters will be impressed by the beauty of these hunting spots and take home an unforgettable experience, even if they never fire their guns.
Whether you’re looking for upland birds, small mammals, or waterfowl, Colorado won’t disappoint when it comes to small game hunting opportunities. Extensive species and public lands are available to any hunter willing to get out and explore this incredible Rocky Mountain state.