By JON MAGEE
For The Inter-Mountain
When the leaves start to change, hunters’ thoughts turn to the forests and the upcoming hunting seasons to pursue their favorite quarry.
We are fortunate to have long seasons for most small game species here in West Virginia that allow a hunter to persue some kind of game from early October through winter.
The season for squirrel is open until Jan. 31 and the end of February for rabbit, grouse, fox, bobcat and raccoon. When you ask most hunters, what their fondest hunting memory is, aside from a trophy big game animal, the typical answer is a small game hunt. Whether alone, with family and friends or even a dog, most hunters have a memorable small game experience.
Most can recall seasons past when early autumn meant walking the ridges hunting stands of hickory and oak searching for bushy tails. Squirrel is the first small game season to open (Oct. 11) and is the first chance for many hunters to get out with a firearm since last spring. Many enjoy hunting squirrel. There are usually plenty of them around, and that allows hunters a chance to sharpen their shooting and hunting skills, and do some scouting for other game. Plus, it is a great way to introduce kids to hunting.
The nice thing about hunting small game is you can usually hunt close to home. Many people have to travel to hunt larger game, but most know a patch of woods with squirrels or an old grown up field that has rabbits. All you need is a .22 rifle or shotgun and you can take any of the small game species we have. My favorite thing about small game has to be the fact that you can take several different animals on the same hunt.
With the heavy mast crop this year, you are likely to run into game just about anywhere. Squirrels of course like to feed in the hickory and oak stands where it is common for turkey to feed as well, particularly if there is some beech and cherry nearby. Fox squirrels sometimes like the nut trees commonly found around old fields where you are likely to find rabbits in greenbrier and maybe a grouse or two hanging around the thickets.
One of my most memorable hunts came on a squirrel hunt when I was much younger. I was hunting squirrel with a .22 rifle and had been having a great day. It was a cool, sunny afternoon, a picturesque autumn day. The leaves had fallen and I decided to hunt some squirrels while scouting for the upcoming buck season. Squirrel seemed to be everywhere that day, cutting nuts and jumping through the treetops. I was having a ball shooting the gray and fox bushy tails when they paused to inspect a nut or look for danger.
I had killed my limit and, as evening approached, I was watching a large flat interspersed with oak, beech and cherry trees looking for a nice buck to hunt when the season opened in a couple weeks. I was enjoying the warm sun on my face relaxing against a large tree satisfied with a good day of hunting when I heard what sounded like an army marching up the hill onto the flat I was watching. I didn’t know what it was; a bear, a small herd of deer, or another hunter. A flock of turkeys never entered my mind.
At the time I was not much of a turkey hunter (some say I’m still not) I had never killed a turkey or even seen that many in the wild. Nevertheless, there they were. A flock of about 20 birds, hens and young birds came onto that flat and spread out calling softly to each other as they scratched among the leaves for food. I was in awe. I thought it was the coolest thing watching as they spread out and I had no idea what to do. I knew it was turkey season, but had never hunted turkey before. I did not know how to call or if I should call so I just sat and watched for a few minutes and they kept getting closer. I knew of the stories about how good their vision is and was apprehensive to move.
Finally I got over that and slowly inched my little .22 rifle to my shoulder and managed to get a bird in the scope at about 75 yards.
When the young turkey raised his head to look around I gently pulled the trigger and much to my surprise the turkey dropped right there. I had just killed my first turkey. Little did I know it would turn into an obsession in springs to come. What a way to close an already successful day of hunting.
That is one of my favorite things about hunting squirrel and other small game, you never know what might happen and for a kid, as I was that day, it could be a memory that lasts a lifetime.