Hunting in Iowa has changed significantly over the years. Four decades ago, wild turkey and venison were rare or non-existent in much of the state. Most hunters started out shooting squirrels and rabbits before moving on to pheasants and/or waterfowl. Only then did they graduate to a bigger game, if they had access to it at all.
Since then, turkey and deer restoration efforts have been more than successful, and the juvenile seasons offer beginning hunters their first shot at both. Many young people, some who are not yet of school age, start out in the field taking advantage of this big game reward.
Both species lend themselves to blind hunting, eliminating the need for stealth or silence. Youth who lack the strength or maturity to take a loaded gun to the field can use a shooting support under the watchful eye of a mentor who can offer advice on safe and proper shot selection.
While it’s hard to criticize anything that gets youngsters involved in hunting from the start, this new emphasis on big game hunting has come at a cost. Having experimented with deer and turkey, many younger hunters never “go back” to hunting small game. When they become fathers and mentors in turn, they have no highland traditions to pass on to the next generation.
It’s a shame. The Upland game offers hunters the opportunity to extend their season while perfecting their wood handling, marksmanship, firearm safety skills and patience. Rabbits and squirrels are abundant and underutilized in most places, while pheasants are recovering from recent record lows.
Minimal equipment is required to hunt mountain game, and most hunters don’t need to travel far to find them. Bag limits are generous, and all three species make excellent food at the table. Hunters who have forgotten, or have never experienced, the simple joy of chasing mountain game should consider giving it a try. The following tips will help.
Plus:How Weather Conditions Affect Ice Fishing
Finding gray or fox squirrel habitat is as simple as locating nut-producing trees. Oaks and hickories are more abundant in Iowa and are highly prized by both species, though walnuts, beeches, and various others are also used if available. When nut trees are missing or unproductive, squirrels will easily turn to waste kernels.
In addition to burrowing in tree cavities, squirrels build nests out of sticks. These are easy to spot, while a closer look will reveal cut walnut shells or crop debris where bushytails have been feeding.
Squirrels generally prefer areas where mature trees create a closed canopy to shade undergrowth. This allows them to more easily find nuts and see approaching danger when they are on the ground. These areas also make it easier for hunters to spot squirrels and offer clean lines of fire.
Having identified a good spot, many hunters simply creep up quietly at dawn, sit against a tree and wait for the action. It is helpful to wear appropriate camouflage, including a face mask.
Commercial squirrel calls are supposed to elicit a response from curious or territorial animals. Some veterans also recommend banging two quarters together to mimic the sound of a squirrel cracking nuts.
Restless or late-arriving hunters may prefer stationary hunting. Some veterans recommend slipping noiselessly between cover pockets while stopping frequently to look and listen, just like when hunting deer. Others suggest trudging through the woods in a straight line like a nature lover on a Sunday hike, reasoning that squirrels accustomed to human intrusions are unlikely to flee from a hunter who doesn’t behave like a predator.
Two or more hunters working as a team can use a combined approach by posting to one partner while the other continues to hunt in the area. Ground squirrels often offer the cartel an opportunity when fleeing from the moving hunter, while tree squirrels may show themselves to one hunter when moving to hide from the other.
Some purists insist that using a .22-caliber rifle is the only sporty way to hunt squirrels. While this tests marksmanship, launching a bullet into the treetops presents significant safety concerns, particularly on public land. Most public areas require non-toxic pellets and many hunters choose to use them exclusively.
A .410 loaded with #4 or #6 equivalent lead shot is ideal, but for simplicity, you can use the same 3-inch 12-gauge projectiles with #3 steel shot for almost all game and waterfowl hunting. mountain. The larger shot size provides adequate penetration into hard-skinned squirrels and minimizes the number of pellets that will be removed during cleaning.
Plus:These seven things can ruin your ice fishing success. These are the changes you need to make in 2022
In the heather patch
Those unfamiliar with “rabbitat” would do well to think of cottontails as pint-sized deer and seek out suitable roosting areas. Thickets, shelterbelts, overgrown fence lines, purges, and brush piles fit the bill, though during warmer weather they can also be found in upland grasslands. Habitat doesn’t need to be pristine: rabbits will also happily use dilapidated buildings, discarded cars or farm equipment, piles of wire, etc.
Cottontail rabbits have a varied diet that includes grasses, herbs, grains, and woody browsing. Many gardening and landscaping enthusiasts consider them a serious pest and will gladly offer access to the hunt. Areas where rabbits have nibbled on vegetation are easy to spot, as are their distinctive raisin- or pea-shaped droppings.
Stall hunters may watch rabbits basking by the bed cover or moving to nearby feeding areas, particularly early or late in the day. Trampling through bedding and loitering habitat to flush rabbits out is effective, particularly when hunting with a human or canine companion. Placing one hunter near the escape cover while another does the stomping often works well.
Plus:Hunting coyotes? Follow this playbook for a successful hunt
Rabbits are not particularly thick-skinned, which means a .22 rifle or smaller caliber shotgun is suitable. As with squirrels, larger shot sizes help minimize damage to meat. Headshots should be attempted whenever possible, as most of the meat is on the rear half of the rabbit.
As always, be sure to check the Iowa DNR website or hunting manual for hunting season dates, times, bag limits, and possession limits. It may be the end of January, but there is still plenty of hunting to be done.
This article was provided to the Registry courtesy of The Iowa Sportsman magazine. For publication information and to subscribe, visit iowasportsman.com or call 877-424-4594.