Where I live in Ontario, Canada, the small game hunting season for everything except varying hare is over in February. That season continues to June 15. Sadly, however, from February to about the end of March, bowhunting is impractical.
|Don't use field points on small game — points like this Zwickey Judo point (left) and Ace Hex blunt are better suited for the job.
Snow depth is a major obstacle. It's nearly impossible to stalk within bow range while wearing snowshoes. Moreover, if you miss, say goodbye to a perfectly good arrow as it will be buried deep in a drift till spring thaw.
Frozen fingers are another issue as anyone who has held an arrow to the bowstring in frigid temperatures can attest. And big bulky clothes often interfere with good shooting form too.
That's why I'm saving my small game bowhunting days until the spring thaw. Then, travel through the thickets and cedar swamps is easier and the hares, which are still clad in white coats, often stand out.
If you have never tried bowhunting rabbits, hares, grouse and squirrel, you are missing out. Small game bowhunting teaches you a lot, but the most important lesson is not to take those little critters for granted.
Arrowing a buck with a longbow is a piece of cake compared to the challenge that comes with consistently scoring on small game. It took me 10 arrows before I hit my first squirrel last season — and I am a relatively decent shot who practices a whole lot.
You rarely get a shot at a stationary squirrel or grouse and, if you do, you'll likely have to thread it through a screen of twigs and brush. If all my near misses were hits, I might have had enough for a Brunswick stew or two. But, alas, all I can do most times is concede defeat, then take what I learned and look forward to the next outing.
To hunt these animals you need a good small game head — these little animals are tougher than you think. Some archers make their own heads with old .38 brass cases, but I like commercially made blunts or Zwickey Judo points. Both are deadly and ensure that you won't lose arrows when you miss.
Hunt for any length of time and you'll learn to take the first doable shot. If you have a clear shot at a ruffed grouse puttering along at 20 yards, you might as well line it up and send an arrow out. If you try to stalk closer, the odds are good that it will move, take flight or place cover between you. The same goes for squirrels, hares and rabbits.
And while I would never advocate a running shot on a deer, I do this with small game all the time. I managed to graze an eastern gray squirrel as it ran along a log at 30-something yards last year. That squirrel and I parted ways no worse for wear but I still dream about the what-ifs. Simply put, small game makes you a better and faster shot.
The benefit of shooting at these highly mobile, very small, and often suspicious creatures is that, once you hit a squirrel or a grouse at 20 yards, deer seem a whole lot easier.
But the greater benefit is time afield, a whole lot of fun and fantastic opportunities to hone your field archery skills.