By BWB Pro-Staff Matt Breton

The hunting world is all in on big game hunting.  Whitetail, elk, moose and bear are what the large majority of hunters are talking about and generally focused on.  Many hours are spent on food plots and in tree stands waiting for the next record-book sized corn-fed giant to walk by.  People spend thousands of dollars to get one shot at a bull elk and tens of thousands to get a shot at a Dall ram.  Yet the focus on these charismatic species has, perhaps, allowed a little of the fun and joy out of the hunting experience.

I love chasing bucks and bulls around as much as anyone, but I also get immense satisfaction with the simplified pursuit of small game.  For the price of a license, a pump shotgun and a box or two of shells, there are many additional hours spent afield in pursuit of meat for the pot and time in the woods.  Chasing squirrels, grouse or snowshoe hare, among many similar critters, can be done alone or with buddies, with or without dogs, for an hour or a weekend.  The atmosphere can be as relaxed or as intense as you’d like, with the outcome rarely hinging on the level of stress brought into the woods.  Bag limits are typically liberal and many seasons run together so that with a simple shift of location, something entirely different can be chased.  Small game hunting is more active than sitting in a stand waiting for deer, but is often relaxed compared to many western big game hunts or buck-tracking days.     

The nature of small game makes it an excellent way to introduce a child or novice to hunting.  Many of us hunted squirrels around camp or were allowed to shoot a rabbit with a .22 while trailing Dad through the woods.  It seem that now a kid is plunked into a blind and asked to sit still for hours, much against the natural tendency of a child.  Instead, hunting squirrels, bunnies or birds may result in a couple of low pressure shots and a lot of lessons learned about woodsmanship that aren’t available on stand.  If the new hunter happens to bring one to hand then a number of lessons on appreciating the life of the animal, skinning, cleaning and eating can follow.  I haven’t met a person yet who isn’t impacted the first time they hold a ruffed grouse and stroke his feathers.   Those of us who grew up hunting and fishing often forget that the novice hunter may not have ever witnessed the death of an animal.  Working our way up through fish and small game may make the entire experience a little easier.  A miss can become instructive as well, allowing for reflection on what happened and what went wrong without the bitter, long-lasting disappointment of missing a big game animal.  These hunts are usually easier for the mentor as well, as there isn’t any pressure to produce; often the mentor won’t even carry a weapon afield. 

There can be adventure wrapped up in chasing small game.  On a nice October weekend, an afternoon hunt followed by dinner and then breakfast by the camp fire can be very enjoyable.  You don’t have to go far either; a tent near the truck will work without having to make an uncomfortable forced march.  Kids often don’t care about anything other than time spent with friends and family, so the pursuit, to them, is secondary.  These types of hunts also allow a new hunter to get further afield and learn to be in the woods alone using a map and compass.  Many small game adventures can include dogs as, which can really enliven a hunt.  Hearing ‘hound music’ on a cool February afternoon chasing snowshoe hare can be quite an experience and when the chops and bawls start getting closer, hearts will begin pounding at a faster pace.  Most houndsmen love to introduce new people to their sport and are often looking for ways to get their dogs to work, so simply asking to tag along may be enough.  The memories I have of lunch over a fire while listening to my uncle's beagles run rank among my favorites.     

Experienced hunters can gain a lot from getting in the woods other than during big game hunting too.  It can be done as a scouting trip or maybe a way to work on your stalking skills, relearning to walk in the woods after the last nine months have been spent in the office.  Tracking hare in the snow can be fun and I feel like it has helped my deer tracking as the techniques are very similar. 

Everyone should plan on getting into the woods a little more often to chase small game this fall and winter.  If you have a young or novice hunter, get them out there to work on all those skills and experiences that we take for granted.  Relax with it and have fun.  Rekindle your love of simple hunting, so that when snow hits the ground in November, you’ll be fired up to track down your buck.

Stay after ‘em!