It is definitely not time to put away your shotgun or .22 rimfire rifle.
Hunters these days tend to wrap things up after deer season is over. It’s like they never look at the hunting season schedule to see that small-game hunting is still open until the end of February.
For many, these final days of the season are some of the best in the field and woods.
Hunting times remembered
A lot of hunters got their start chasing squirrels or rabbits. When I was a kid, my dad got me a Crossman air rifle. I remember it having a complicated peep sight, but once I got it dialed in, it was murder on small game over that fence in the back yard.
The down side to that first rifle was how the gas cartridge dwindled down after about 10 shots. It was like the rechargeable battery on the cordless leaf blower. Better get your work done real fast before it goes dead.
That thing wouldn’t blow out a wooden match in the last couple of minutes; for the last few shots out of the Crossman you could actually see the pellet flying through the air.
Then you could see it bounce off a hearty old corn field cottontail.
Later, I could take out the old Stevens .410 bolt-action shotgun after tree runners. I have said this before, but I would like to meet the designer of a bolt-action shotgun and wrap the barrel around his neck.
Follow-up shots were virtually impossible with that thing.
The other problem with that tiny smoothbore was the non-existent choke. Who knew what it was?
I know one thing for sure: I could not hit a dove at all with that Stevens, and any squirrel that fell to its load of shot out of a paper-hull shell had to be as close as I could sneak up on one.
As I look back now, though, trekking through the woods with my best friend Scotty was probably how I best learned woods craft and sportsmanship.
I fear both of those skills are lost on most young hunters today — they’re only hunting focus is on a wallhanger white-tailed buck.
Go rimfire and shotshell
Mark Cockrell out of Brandon is a bang up small-game hunter. This guy really knows how to double up on a hunt.
He adeptly realizes that after deer hunting is over and all the orange is gone from the woods that the small-game season means it is open until Feb. 28 for both squirrels and rabbits.
He also knows the daily bag limit for both is eight a day. So, his small game hunts take full advantage of both.
“Hey, I figure if the small-game season allows you to hunt both squirrels and rabbits during the same dates, then why not do them both at the same time?” Cockrell said. “So I rig out my little Ruger 10-.22 take-down rimfire rifle and a Remington 870 pump shotgun in 12-gauge for the same hunt.
“This time of year is near perfect for the kind of hunting I like. The woods are quiet’ the deer know I am not after them so they don’t spook like they would during the open deer seasons. The leaves are off the trees, so spotting running or tree-limb-resting reds or greys makes for easy pickings.
“Another big plus for me is that, with the ground near frozen now, the walking is quiet and the snakes are in a hole somewhere, I hope. I can slip through the woods in a sort of still-hunting fashion.
“Early mornings are great because the squirrels will be down on the ground running around feeding. This makes for easier shots with either the .22 rifle I carry with a sling or the shotgun, depending on my mood or the ground cover. If a squirrel takes to the tree, then I usually sit down nearby and wait them out. Sooner or later, if I am motionless, they will show themselves. With a scoped .22, this is real sport trying for head shots way up in the tops of big oak trees.”
Rabbits aren’t far from his mind, either.
“Of course, I always keep an eye out for forest rabbits, too, but after I hunt squirrels in the woods for a while, I will come out of the trees to walk the edges or some ATV trails around the wood lots,” Cockrell said. “If I can catch a bunny feeding down the trail at 50 or so yards, then I will try to pop him with the rimfire.
“If I move too fast and they take to the dizzy-dodge running, then I shoulder the 870 with a modified choke in the barrel.”
I have been in camp before when Mark walks in with his small-game mixed bag. I love to sit around the campfire and hear in full color the entire hunt details.
It makes me wander back in time to a kid shooting a pellet rifle and a lousy bolt-action .410.