Why small game hunting is so important
So here we are in 2021, and if you are like me, I thought, Whew! Thank goodness that is over with; this new year will have to be better! Now, as the famous saying goes, this new year seems to be telling 2020, "Here, hold my beer!"
Well, take heart, my brothers and sisters, in camo, we will survive. There are still several hunting seasons going on right now, and the Big Show for the spring, spring gobbler season is right around the corner. So, on that note, let me preach about this for a minute or two while you have your Corn flakes and read the paper. (Do folks still eat Corn flakes? I guess they do.)
I know you have heard me talk about the importance of small game hunting in the hunting world. Why may you ask? So glad you did.
Time was when small game hunting was a much more significant part of every hunter's life in this country. The pursuit of squirrels, rabbits, upland birds like quail and grouse, and other small mammals like raccoons used to be as common as weeds in the garden. Today, not so much. There are several reasons for this, but the principal ones are probably the whitetail deer's comeback and the wild turkey.
In the early 1900's deer and turkey numbers were at an all-time low east of the Big Muddy. Habitat destruction from timbering and unregulated hunting like market hunting had deer and turkeys on the brink of disappearing. Hunters as conservationists awoke to all this, and through enhanced wildlife protection laws, the enforcement of them, and new ways of wildlife management by state and federal agencies, and the efforts of groups like the National Wild Turkey Federation, deer and turkeys came back like never before. This is all great, but with an abundance of these species, our hunters started paying less attention to small game.
Back in the day, the opener for squirrel season was an event on the first of buck season scale in many states now. As I mentioned here before, my Dad used to say if the woods were full of hunters on a particular day, it "sounded like a young war" with all the shooting. Now with the abundance of deer and turkeys, those days are gone. In my not so humble opinion, this has caused some shifts in our hunter population's makeup. Here are some of the issues.
Small game hunting is where we "learned to hunt." Again, time was how most new hunters learned the ropes. This is how we learned to walk and sit quietly in the woods, two of the first things any hunter must know. We learned how to sneak up quietly (stalk) on that squirrel in a hickory tree. We learned how to find and recognize what food the game we are after wants and needs and what areas they may be found. Knowing the best time of day is to look for the game we are pursuing, what are the best weather conditions, and what kind of general habitat is the best were all part of our training. I have heard more than a few big game guides say that if a hunter grew up squirrel hunting, they would likely be a good deer, elk, or turkey hunter.
Small game hunting is where we learned gun and hunter safety. While a good place to start gun safety lessons is on the shooting range, in the woods is where the rubber meets the road to make a safe hunter. Under the watchful eye of a good teacher and mentor like Dad, Grandad, or maybe Uncle Bill, we learned the vast responsibilities that come with carrying a firearm and taking game. Always keeping the muzzle of the gun pointed in a safe direction, treating every gun as if it were loaded, never touching the trigger until we are ready to shoot, and positively identifying our target are just the fundamentals of what we had to learn.
Good teachers ingrained these and many other rules into our subconscious. We had to follow these rules to the letter, there are no second chances, and you cannot call a shot back after it has been taken.
Small game like rabbits and squirrels taught us our first lessons in game care in the field and the kitchen. With the multiple opportunities that small game hunting affords us, we can teach new hunters, young and old, about field dressing and preparing our harvest for the table. As I have said many times before this, we learned about bringing the properly prepared game to the kitchen to be a delicious meal. I have eaten many deer and turkey since I was a kid, but none of it will ever equal the fried squirrel dishes that my mom used to prepare.
Small game showed us the importance of being good marksmen in the field. Anyone who has experience with sniping squirrels with a .22 rifle or sneaking up on a bedded cottontail rabbit can tell you that once these skills were perfected in the hunting woods, taking a whitetail buck was no problem. It's straightforward if you think about it. The targets are pretty small, and we had to make the shots count, or we didn't carry home game. With the multiple opportunities that small game hunting allows you, the hunter can get a lot of practice in this area.
Oh yeah, one more thing. Small game hunting is just plain fun! In case you don't remember, hunting is supposed to be fun. Have you not been small game hunting for a while? The game and the opportunities are out there, take a kid or other first-time hunter and get with it.