Now that deer season is over, hunters have a chance to chase small game. February is becoming known as small game month because there are so many different seasons still open.
Squirrel, rabbit and quail seasons run to the end of February. Licensed hunting preserves allow hunters to shoot quail up to mid-March. This is also a great time to get youth or beginning hunters involved in hunting. There are plenty of public lands around our area to hunt small game. Wildlife Management Areas and the National Forest are top destinations for bagging small game.
Head out to the quail trail
A few decades ago, quail were abundant across Alabama and the Southeast. Habitat changes and pesticides have taken their toll on the quail population. Today, efforts are in place to bring back the Bobwhite, and numbers are on the increase. Quail hunting once again is regaining popularity among upland and small-game hunters.
Quail hunting preserves have provided places and opportunities for bird hunters. There are several hunting preserves in our area that offer quail hunting. Circle W Hunting Preserve, near Heflin, Mountain View Plantation in Delta and Sellwood Farm near Childersburg, each offer quail hunting and skeet shooting.
“We can provide hunters with half-days or full days of bird hunting,” said Richard Sprayberry, owner of Mountain View Plantation. “Quail hunters can bring their dogs and hunt on their own or we can provide guided hunts.”
Mountain View Plantation also offers ring-necked pheasant hunts, something a little different for Southern hunters. These birds are larger than quail but they are still fast. Regular field load shot shells are sufficient for quail, but heavier loads perform better for pheasants.
The hunting preserves offer bird hunts for single shooters or groups. Each preserve also can provide for corporate groups and meeting facilities. Some offer yearly memberships for quail hunting, skeet shooting or single day hunts.
If asked to tell the truth, most deer hunters around our state would say they got their start by hunting squirrels. Setting their pride aside, deer hunters learned how to stalk, spot, and shoot by hunting squirrels. These tree dwelling critters can make for exciting hunts. Youngsters just getting starting out in hunting will enjoy matching wits and skills with Mr. Bushy-tail.
Squirrel hunting can be approached by different methods, each providing its own challenge. One of the more common practices is the sit-and-wait tactic. Locate a group of oak trees with a few pines mixed in, have a seat at the base of a large tree and watch for the squirrels to move.
Even though the trees are bare, spotting a squirrel takes a little practice and a sharp eye. Look for a bump on a limb that seems out of place. Squirrels like to hide in a fork of braches or flatten on against the trunk. Usually after a short while the bushy-tail will move and give away his position.
This time of year a .22 caliber rifle topped off with a 4X- to 6X-power scope will allow hunters to make an accurate shot. Often times the crack of the .22 will not alarm other squirrels in the area. Young hunters also can use the .22 or even a small bore shotgun like a .410 or 20 gauge. Shotgun shooters may opt for No. 4- or No. 6-size shot for reaching higher tree tops.
Hunters looking for some fast action and a change of pace can pursue rabbits. Throw in a few beagles with a small group of hunters in a briar patch and the hunt begins. The dogs usually will chase the rabbit in a large circle, and the bunny will come back around in range of the hunters. It doesn’t always happen that way, but the excitement of the chase is still there.
Some folks may think a pack of beagles is required for a top-notch rabbit hunt. Not always. Three of four hunters can spread out in a line about 10 to 20 yards a part in a short cut-over area. The rabbit hunters can walk along and kick in brush piles and briar patches to jump up the rabbit. The shooter should always be aware of the other hunter’s position and remain together.
Creek banks are another spot for bunny chasers to hunt. Thick sections of vines and bramble will have rabbits holding tight in the cover. A couple of foot kicks into the thicket will usually get the rabbit moving. Hedgerows and field edges will generally produce some rabbits as well.
Although coyotes may not be considered small game, hunting for them is becoming more popular. In some areas, the coyote population is out of bounds. These song dogs do not have any natural predators, and they can decimate small-game populations. Research has shown coyotes can have an impact on the deer population as well.
“February is a good time to call in coyotes,” three-time national coyote hunting champ Al Morris said. “This is their breeding time, and the larger males are on the move.”
Morris said mouth callers or electronic callers can bring coyotes into range. Injured rabbit or bird calls usually perform best on coyotes, but there are other calls that will work. Some hunters use decoys like a small rabbit to get the coyote’s attention when calling.
Coyotes are fairly smart and will usually approach from the downwind side. A couple of hunters concealed and positioned in front of the caller should get a shot at an approaching coyote. Small caliber center-fire rifles are most common for taking coyotes, but your deer rifle will work just fine.
Almost any type of cover can hold a population of coyotes. Cutover areas, old pastures, field edges, anywhere there is food, coyotes are there. Open areas offer a better field of view to see approaching coyotes and allow the hunter to take a shot. Be alert, as some times these crazy dogs can come in quickly.
February may be the shortest month of the year, but it can be jammed pack with plenty of small-game hunting opportunities.
Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at ChrJohn7@aol.com.