Just about this time every year most outdoor and gun writers do the same thing. They will all do a column or article about putting away all your guns and gear. There will be a lot of talk about cleaning guns, making sure it is done right, putting away gear, cleaning boots, and packing away things that we seemed to get out of storage only a few weeks ago. The writers offer a lot weak (I think) advice about putting it all away until “next hunting season.”
Those of you who are brave enough to read these pages regularly should know by now that I don’t usually follow the crowd. This may be good and it may not, I don’t know. But one thing is for sure, this ain’t the run of the mill outdoor column.
So, while the other guys are saying pack up your boots and guns and camo, I’m saying no, it’s not over till it’s over. Most places have a lot of hunting season left, so let’s talk about some of the things you can get into on the hunting trail.
Squirrels. As long as it is not “blue” cold you can still go after squirrels and have a lot of fun doing it. Many states in the southeast (and Pennsylvania) open squirrel season through February. A break in the weather, some sunny warm days with temperatures getting more hospitable, brings out the bushytails for some hot squirrel action. Finding a concentration of tree rats is just like finding any other game, deer, turkeys, or bears, find the food and you will find the squirrels. It’s the middle of winter, so most of the soft mast (grapes, dogwood berries and the like) is gone, so squirrels are living mostly on acorns, walnuts, and hickory nuts if any are left on the ground. If there is snow, look for squirrel tracks on logs lying on the ground as the little rodents will run every one of these in the area.
Just like skinning cats, there is more than one way to pursue winter squirrels. If you have followed me on these pages, you know I am very partial to hunting squirrels with a dog. If you have never hunted squirrels in this manner I suggest you go today and find someone in your area with squirrel dogs and invite yourself for a hunt. Hunting should be fun, and few things are just as much pure fun as hunting with a good squirrel dog. It is low key, low stress, and a great way to spend a day in the winter woods that is great for kids. I like to use a scoped .22 rifle, and if your buddy carries a shotgun this can be a deadly combination. Plan on a big squirrel dinner soon after the hunt, fried squirrel, biscuits, gravy, and all the fixings. Those who missed any shots during the hunt should be ready to be roasted.
Rabbits. Over much of our listening area the cottontail rabbit is the staple for wintertime small game hunting. Like squirrels, there are several ways to go after bunnies, but the best is probably with a pack of beagle hounds. Jumping rabbits on a winter day and listening to a gang of the little hounds unravel the track is something special and just like the squirrel dog hunt you owe it to yourself if you have never done it. Rabbits call for a shotgun and which one you carry is not too important, a 20 gauge is fine, and I wouldn’t go too tight on the choke for this, a modified or improved cylinder will do, and low brass game loads of #6 or #7 ½ shot is all you need.
Rabbit hunting often involves several hunters, the more the merrier, and you are usually in thick brush. I always encourage rabbit and bird hunters in these conditions to wear blaze orange, it makes it easier to see your buddies in the thick stuff and lets you know when to take a shot on a rabbit or not.
Grouse. Like squirrels and rabbits, most states leave the grouse season open through the end of February. (Be sure to check your states regulations for all of this) Now I must say I have mixed feelings about grouse hunting lately. In many areas the grouse population is at record lows but there are still loyal grouse chasers out there tramping the hills in pursuit of the brown bomber.
These grouse crazed hunters tell me they can still find huntable numbers in some places. They won’t tell you where that is, but they say the grouse are there. Most locations where you can find grouse these days involve timber cuts eight to ten years old. If the cover is easy walk through it’s probably not good grouse habitat.
Well as usual we have run out of time and not covered everything I wanted to. How about coyotes? Even after February is over most states allow coyote hunting year-round. Don’t forget the old off season stand by, crows, you can have a lot of fun calling in these winged varmints and practice your wing shooting. Coyote and crow hunting will bring you right up to scouting time for spring turkey season. Georgia spring gobbler season begins in March, Florida in late February!
It ain’t over till it’s over.
– Larry Case at Larryocase3@gmail.com and GunsandCornbread.com. Hashtag #121. January 2020.