February is generally considered an odd month for hunting. Deer season is basically over, except for the southeast sector of the state, but even there it's only open until the middle of the month. Most of the buck chasers have long retreated to the house anyway.

Waterfowling is over, too, so the duck and goose boys are gone. Saltwater fishing is slow, and it's too cold anyway. Fresh water hasn't warmed up yet, so the bass aren't hitting either.

So, what's left to do? Well, plenty.

It's funny, but a lot of hunters actually seem to forget that February still features several open hunting seasons that offer lots of opportunity for taking some quality game.

With a little bit of creativity, anyone can make up a one-day trip matching up two or three outdoor activities. Just think of the possibilities.


A February mixer

In case you need a review or a reminder, pull out that old dog-eared copy of the annual Mississippi Outdoor Digest you started frothing over last September when you renewed your hunting license. It's probably either under the seat of your truck, behind the toilet on the floor or maybe out in the garage on the workbench. Flip it open to the 2009-10 hunting seasons.

Well, let's see what is still open in February? Top on the page of small-game seasons and bag limits is squirrel hunting, and all three state zones are open until the end of the month. Next up on the list is rabbit hunting, also open through the end of February statewide. Quail is also open until March 6, so if you have access to a few coveys, there certainly is quality hunting to be had with a good pointer along.

Below those three familiar species are a few that are not very common but still offer hunting and shooting opportunities. Opossum, raccoon and bobcat seasons are open for food, sport and pelt through the end of the month. Some hunters are interested in calling in bobcats, which can be extremely challenging.

Final on the list for the Jeremiah Johnson types out there is the open trapping season. Trapping has just about faded from the hunting landscape in Mississippi, but it is open.

If you read on in the Digest, you will find a section that states, "Landowners, agricultural leaseholders or their designated agents may take nuisance animals year-round on lands owned or leased by them. Beaver, coyotes, nutria, fox, skunk, and wild hogs are classified as nuisance species, and can be taken year-round by licensed hunters subject to special regulations."

Of particular interest among this list of open species legal to hunt are coyotes fox, and wild hogs. Hunters categorize these animals as varmints. In certain sectors of the country, varmint hunting is a big deal, even more so than deer hunting, if you can believe that. In fact, varmint hunting has been picking up interest in Mississippi for several years, so maybe that is a new form of hunting you might want to look into. It certainly requires skill and some special equipment, plus you have to be a darn good shot to be successful.

There is one more species to note. Oddly listed under the hunting seasons for migratory game bird seasons is the crow. It's also open in February, and offers some of the most exciting calling, decoying, and shooting fun out there. If you have never tried a dedicated crow hunt, then add it to your multi-task list.

After this little recap, it ought to be obvious that February is indeed a neat month for a lot of hunting and shooting opportunities. So let's take a closer look with some suggestions on how to do a bit of multi-task hunting.


Small gaming

"At one time down here in Forrest County south of Hattiesburg in the area of the big Desoto National Forest, squirrel hunting was king," said Cecil Burt of Brooklyn. "Now I'm talking maybe 40 or 50 years ago before every hunter lost their minds over deer. When I was a kid, we got started on squirrel hunting with an old open-sighted .22 rifle. Pop used to say that shotgun shells were just too expensive for a kid to use.

"In fact, once deer hunting caught on big time, Dad wouldn't even let us go to the woods until the seasons were all over. It was February before we could roam the woods again without our orange vests in search of tree rats, as we used to call them."

At one time, small-game hunting had more participants than any other form of hunting, but that has all changed. However, the one thing that hasn't changed is how much fun a good squirrel or rabbit hunt is.

A great squirrel hunt is easy to pull off. Get a couple buddies together who have some youth hunters, and head over to a state wildlife management area, or one of the six national forests we have in the Magnolia State. Carry some lightweight shotguns like 20 gauge or a super light load in a 12 gauge. Slip on a rubber recoil pad if necessary, and shoot them like single shots with only one shell in the chamber at a time. Sneak along quietly searching for movement in the trees.

Maybe make it a team competition to see who takes the most squirrels in an hour or two. Join up back at the vehicles for a rest and score tally. Who got the most, or the biggest, or who missed the greatest number of shots? Be sure to pack an ice chest with some kid favorite drinks, snacks or homemade sandwiches. Throw in some folding chairs, and circle up for lunch and a bit of fellowship. If allowed, scratch up a little campfire to add to the event. Get ready for phase two.

After everyone has rested, get ready to rally again. This time head out down the old logging roads or forest trails in search of sprinting cottontails. Kick up some old timber piles or shag through the edge of a briar patch. These are good places to bust out a bunny.

Again safety is paramount, so adult hunters have to be supervising every aspect of these walking hunts. Hitting a running rabbit is not an easy task, but that's hardly the point. The youth hunters will just enjoy learning to snap point and shoot at swiftly dodging targets. With a couple of hours of trekking in the woods, everybody will be happy to head home with plenty of fun memories to tell Mom.

Switch up options? How about combining the rabbit hunt with an ATV trail ride, or give each kid a disposable pocket camera with the job of catching the best hunting afield photo of the day. Then you have an excuse to bring the team back together again to share the results and swap photos for creating individual albums.


Varmint hunting

Commonly called by various "street" names like "yote poodles," "bobbies," "reds and grays," "rooter pigs" and "black missiles," Mississippi is home to a good variety of varmints. I have even known some who have conducted organized handgun shoots for armadillo. Now, that's pretty creative.

"I got started crow hunting many, many years ago when the guy who owns Smith Pecans down Highway 18 south of Raymond tracked me down to tell me that the crows were cleaning him out of house, home and his business livelihood," said Lon McLaurin of Brandon. "I built a cloth blind tall enough to stand behind, got some plastic crow decoys, a mouth call and plenty of high brass shells. I don't care what they say, crow hunting is the best wingshooting sport there is, bar none."

The biggest deal about crow hunting is making enough calls good enough to bring the black missiles in close for some fast-paced shooting. A bunch of decoys on tree branches, on top of some bushes and on the ground will add a confidence factor to help fool crows, but that is easier said than done. Crows are smart birds, and will scatter at the least movement or bad set up. But the shooting is primo.

Of all the four-legged varmint varieties, coyotes probably get the most attention from hunters currently, but wild hogs are gaining ground fast. The sport of coyote hunting has a sort of cult following all its own. On one end of the spectrum, all kinds of special varmint guns, gear and equipment are available for the sport, or they can be pursued with a couple coyote calls and a light-caliber deer rifle.

"Coyotes can be seen and called just about anywhere around woodland areas, farms or basically any wildlife habitat," said Jim Bailey of Brandon. "The strategy is to set up in a well-concealed ground blind wearing lots of camouflage, then using the calls of injured animals like a dying rabbit, or calls that make a squealing sound. The trick is to attract a coyote to the call, then bring it in close enough for a shot, which at times can be long range or very close. I started hunting coyotes several years ago, and it is a whole lot more fun than deer hunting."

Hog hunting is growing in popularity too, and their populations seem to be expanding all across the state. I have friends down in Greene County on the Chickasawhay River who have been hunting them for years. Hogs can be found all up in the Delta. Alton Norris of Norris Outfitters near Onward is now offering hog hunts.

Just a couple of years ago, the area manager up on Pearl River WMA north of Jackson told me that hunters up there were as interested in hogs as deer. Quite a few hunters, in fact, scored on random hogs while hunting deer.

This WMA would be an ideal set up for a multi-task day of hunting. Hit the area early, taking advantage of some squirrel hunting, maybe picking up the odd rabbit along the way, but always keeping an eye out for a wild hog.

If you get tired of that, Ross Barnett Reservoir is just a few miles away. Drop over there to cast off the rip-rap to see if any bass are hitting yet.


Organized plinking

February can be a great month just to get outdoors into the fresh air. A great way to enjoy the day is to plan an afternoon of informal shooting even after a little hunting or winter fishing. The whole family can join in. Take along a variety of targets easy to set up and clean up. Everything from water-filled milk jugs to clay pigeons to green bean cans can be used.

Take a variety of guns including air guns or even a bow with a suitable target. Rimfire rifles are great fun, easy to learn to shoot and relatively inexpensive to feed. A few hours of plinking with the young shooters in the family can teach a lot about safe firearm handling and proper shooting techniques. Hearing that tin can ding can sure bring on the smiles.

Given all the various options for hunting, fishing and shooting still remaining during the month of February in Mississippi, the goal of outdoor multi-tasking is made pretty simple. So there really is no need to stay bound up in the house this month. Map out a multi-tasking day afield, and then get out there to enjoy the great outdoors.