1. Small Game: Squirrels, Cottontails and Jackrabbits
Small game hunting is frequently pushed aside as a lesser pursuit, as if it’s somehow inferior and not as rewarding as big game hunting. While the amount of meat you bring home will undisputedly weigh less than that of a big game harvest, that doesn’t mean the experience and the hunt itself is less significant. If you, or someone you know, can operate a game controller but you don’t know how to shoot a .22, then it’s time for an outdoor style intervention!
Small game hunting is fun, relaxed, and it requires relatively minimal gear. All you need is a .22 rifle or pistol, a box of shells which are very affordable and finally, some patience. Check your state regulations, but in many cases small game seasons for squirrels, cottontails and jackrabbits are open throughout the summer (and virtually all year long in some places). Small game hunting really serves a few purposes. First, you’ll hopefully be able to bring home a couple critters for dinner. Second, walking through the woods and fields gives you an opportunity to scout and look for sign ahead of those big game seasons. Third, it’s a great way to work on your shooting skills and accuracy. Squirrels, cottontails and jackrabbits are incredibly quick and their tendencies to dart and weave evasively can make them tough targets - perfect for working on quick shots and precision.
Forget what you’ve heard, coyote hunting is not just a winter sport. Unfortunately, unlike many hunters, coyotes don’t take a break during the spring and summer. Instead they school us all in a very effective lesson about the “birds and the bees” and seem to pump out new pups at a rate that is hard to keep up with. In this same spring/summer time frame, whitetail fawns make up nearly 80% of a coyote’s diet in some areas. So, it would stand to reason that whitetail hunters would have an interest in managing the coyote population for the benefit of the deer population.
The heat may very well be the biggest challenge you find when summer hunting for coyotes. So, set your alarm to get up and hunt the early mornings where the air is still cool. Evening is also effective, just be prepared to sit longer as you wait for the air temperatures to cool down and know that your hunt will typically be most action packed at last light or thereafter. Try using fawn distress calls and lost fawn bleats to coerce leery coyotes. A fawn in distress is like a dinner bell, and if your setup is right, it should be almost irresistible for opportunistic coyotes. A lost fawn bleat can be an ace for pulling the more call shy yotes out of the cover and into shooting range.
3. Feral Hogs
Feral hogs may very well be the ugliest, yet most adaptable creature on the face of the earth. While they don’t get much credit for their surprising intelligence, hogs can live in virtually any terrain and any climate and flourish with relative ease. They are also incredibly prolific reproducers. A wild sow can have up to 15 piglets in a single litter, and she can breed three times a year. That’s up to 45 piglets a year, holy smokes! No wonder it’s so hard to curb the ever-growing population of wild hogs even with year-round hunting and very limited restrictions. This widespread problem creates an opportunity for hunters to fill their freezers, any time of year, but especially now while other game seasons are closed.
There are a lot of ways to hunt hogs with success, but when it’s hot, look for water. Hogs don’t sweat, so rolling in mud and taking advantage of water sources helps them keep cool. Identifying water sources with signs of hog activity increases your chances of success – look for wallows and nearby areas of thick cover and shade. When it’s hot, the bulk of activity is going to happen during the cooler night time hours where they get up from their bedding areas and start hitting food sources. Scouting can help you identify a pattern and better determine the right location and time of day to target the hogs in your area, but be careful. Hogs don’t like pressure and if you get busted they may not come back for days.
4. Birds: Crows & Eurasian Doves
Did you know that a flock of crows is called a “Murder”. True story. I don’t think most people really consider crows to be game birds, but they are actually very intelligent and require strategy to kill. In many states, crow seasons open mid-summer and have very generous bag limits. Similarly, Eurasian doves are like the ugly step sister of the more popular mourning dove, and while they aren’t pursued with the same passion, they offer year-round opportunity and, in most cases, an unrestricted bag limit. Wingshooting keeps you sharp, improves your accuracy and in this case, gives you something to fill that void until other hunting seasons start to open.
If you want to hunt crows, you need to hunt from a place of cover. Brush in your blind with natural foliage. Crows are wary and can spot you from above as well as about any other angle so a blind tucked into a tree line, or area of good cover, will help mask your location. Using calling in conjunction with a few decoys can increase your chances of success. Start with more casual chatter, working into more excited vocalizations and for a real head turner, try a distressed crow call – and wait for them to come within shooting range.
Eurasian doves are a lot like pigeons, you can find them in more suburban areas like city parks, the roof of a fast food restaurant and backyards. However, there are so many of them that they have gone country, too. I live 20+ miles from the nearest town, way down a dirt road, and on every powerline there sit Eurasian doves above wheat, corn, milo, soybean and other agricultural fields. In general, they are larger and a little tougher than mourning doves so think about the shot size you’ll be using to knock them down. I prefer 6 or a 7 ½ shot size to pinch those fast flying imposters with effectiveness.
Use this summer, as well, to introduce kids to hunting. Pursuing Eurasian doves is fast paced, they are relatively simple to shoot for a newbie marksman and they make outstanding table fare. Let the children you are instructing have the full experience by harvesting the birds themselves, then teach them the proper way to pop the breast out and clean them, stuff the breasts with herb cream cheese, a jalapeno if the kid likes spice, then wrap them in bacon that has been seasoned with Hi Mountain Seasonings’ Black Pepper & Brown Sugar Bacon Seasoning and throw them on the grill. Taking kids hunting for Eurasian doves is really the complete package - field to table, and everything in between. They get to experience the pre-hunt preparations, the thrill of the chase, the kill, field care and the ultimate payoff, which is dining on the fruits of their hunt.
Hugs, Handshakes & Happy Hunting