Where I live in Minnesota,
February is a rough month on a sportsman. The midwinter 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 such as 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.
Hunt Woodlot Edges For Squirrels
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. They are 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 more work and walking than squirrels do. Head for the
thick stuff and keep an eye out for identifiable rabbit runs and chewed (rabbit
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, such as a beagle, can really clean up, since the dog does most of
the work and can ultimately lead cottontails back to the hunter.
attack rabbit hunting, it's a ton of fun and some fine eating when the day is
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!
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Babe Winkelman is a nationally-known outdoorsman
who has taught people to fish and hunt for more than 25 years. Watch the
award-winning "Good Fishing" and "Outdoor Secrets"
television shows on Versus, Fox Sports, Texas Channel and many local
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