What to hunt in February?
What to hunt in February?
By Babe Winkelman
Where I live in Minnesota, February is a rough month on a sportsman. The mid-winter ice fishing can be a bit slow. And although we’ve had it pretty darned good in 2012 weather wise, February in the north country is typically cold and nasty. Yet thoughts of taking to the woods with a trusty rifle, shotgun or bow are always in the back of one’s mind. But what is there to hunt?
If you crack open a hunting regulations book for our state, and many others in the northern tier, you’ll find that there are many critters out there that the departments of natural resources will allow you to pursue. In our case in Minnesota, they are squirrels, rabbits and furbearing predators like coyotes and fox. Game on!
The truth is, these are some of the most enjoyable animals to pursue, And in the case of squirrels and rabbits, they’re also extremely tasty. So, if you’ve wiped those trusty longarms down with oil for another year, you owe it to yourself to take them back out and hit the woods for some late-season hunting. If you’ve never tried it, it’s some of the simplest, most fundamental hunting you’ll ever experience.
Squirrels and rabbits (and predator dogs for that matter) live in some of the same places. Although for rabbits, a brushy understory is essential; while squirrels don’t mind wooded environments with minimal ground-hugging brush.
Squirrels are the critters that nearly every hunter owes for his/her baptism into the shooting sports. They are wonderful prey, and taste as good about anything that was ever put in a fry pan or crockpot. Honestly, there is no finer introductory animal out there. They are wary; they teach hunters the fundamentals of woodsmanship and the importance of sign-reading; and they command pinpoint marksmanship from conscientious gunners for quick and humane kills.
When taking to the squirrel woods, begin your search around the edges of woodlots (particularly if the woods border agricultural fields – corn especially). Squirrels are opportunistic feeders who will devour leftover corn and other grains that the farmer’s implements left behind during the harvest. They enjoy feeding on these treasures in field-edge trees because they’re close to the food source and they provide ample, open views necessary for avoiding predation.
While scouring the woods, pay close attention for squirrel sign. When there’s snow on the ground, this is easy. Find heavy traffic areas of tracks and you’ll find bushytails, guaranteed. If there is no snow, look for scuffed leaves, dig marks on the ground, treetop squirrel nests and holes in hollow trees that are gnawed around the edges. Sure signs of the animals you’re after.
When you find a promising location, find a comfortable place to sit down that affords you a good view, cover, and a place to rest your rifle for shots in many directions. Have a seat and let the squirrels come to you. But if the action is slow, pick up and still-hunt your way to another location. When you do manage to snipe a bushytail, mark the downed animal and sit tight before picking him up. He’s likely to have some buddies hanging around nearby, and after the dust settles they’ll come out to chatter and see what all the commotion is about. It’s not uncommon to shoot an entire limit from one butt print on the ground.
Rabbits require some more work and walking than squirrels do. Head for the thick stuff and keep an eye out for identifiable rabbit runs and chewed (rabbit height) branches. Some hunters will chase rabbits with a .22, but a 20-gauge shotgun is tough to beat, since so many of your shots will be on the run. When hunting with two guys, work the cover a safe but visible distance apart. If one guy flushes a bunny, have one hunter move in the direction of the fleeing rabbit while the other guy stays where the rabbit left. Bunnies will routinely circle back to the location from which they departed, and if there’s a gunner waiting there it can fill the game bag a whole lot faster. Hunters who have an eager rabbit dog like a beagle can really clean up, since the dog does most of the work and can ultimately lead cottontails back to the hunter. However you attack rabbit hunting, it’s a ton of fun and some fine eating when the day is done.
So get your fix of hunting in the late season by heading out for some small game excitement. It’ll make the winter go by faster and will make you feel like a kid again.