Small game season is open and it’s time we all went to the woods


Courtesy/ James Lacefield

Small game opens, deer season awaits

James Lacefield, Opinion Editor

Hunting season is upon us once more, with New Hampshire’s small game season opening last weekend. Squirrels, rabbits, and grouse are on the menu this time of year, but offer much more than a warm meal on a cool autumn evening. Small game hunting is both a great introduction to the outdoors for new hunters of any age, as well as an excellent way for experienced hunters to brush up on their woods skills prior to the deer season. It can even be an exciting activity in and of itself, allowing for time in the woods to enjoy the solitude of nature and the gifts of the forest.

Small game animals are abundant in the woods of New England, and your quarry may be found on just about any tract of public or private land. There is no need to trek deep into the wilderness to locate a few squirrels, making them some of the easier species to hunt in the Northeast. This fact alone goes to show that small game hunting is a great way to introduce new hunters to the woods, since they do not need to be masters of woodcraft to have a reasonably successful hunt. Pursuits like orienteering and tracking are not necessary to a successful hunt during the small game season.

Hunting quarries like squirrels, rabbits, and birds also does not require the most expensive or unwieldy equipment. There is quite a low barrier to entry when it comes to hunting small game. All one really needs is a hunting license and a functional .22 rimfire or basic shotgun. There is no need for high powered rifles that take a lot of practice to shoot accurately, or expensive clothes and accessories, when you are just heading into the woods for a couple of hours to put a meal on the table.

Just because small game hunting is easy to start certainly doesn’t mean that it isn’t as much fun as hunting larger game animals though. Finding a squirrel in the woods where they have innumerable holes and trees to hide in makes for a fun and interesting challenge. Rabbits are some of the fastest animals in New England, and have a knack for hiding in the thickest brambles and thorn bushes in the woods. Birds like grouse and woodcock, of course, fly, making for a challenging moving target, especially amongst the thick trees and undergrowth of the region’s woods. Hunting small game always presents new and exciting challenges, even to those who have been hunting since childhood. There is always a new patch of woods to explore, a new pattern of weather to contend with, and a new animal to give chase to.

That said, hunting small game is not just an important milestone for first-time hunters, but a great way to keep long-time hunters in the woods. Deer season is short in New England, and most hunters only have a couple of tags which allow them to harvest deer. Moose tags are even rarer, and trips to Wyoming or Alaska to hunt new and different kinds of game are too expensive and impractical for the vast majority of hunters. So, a really skilled (or lucky) hunter may spend just a couple of days hunting each year before they fill their tags and have to stay home if they only target large game animals. Hunting small game, however, offers essentially limitless opportunities for spending time in the woods during hunting season.

Small game season also conveniently opens up before the start of deer season around here, offering a chance to both enjoy hunting for a variety of game while scouting out promising spots for the first day of deer season. It also provides a low-stakes opportunity to get back into shape for hunting season after a long summer of fishing from a lawn chair. Believe me when I say the best substitute for going to the gym is trying to push your way through a thick, thorn-filled meadow in search of a hare or grouse.

So take to the woods this fall, and you just might be surprised how much enjoyment there is to be had in getting the ingredients for a fried grouse dinner or steaming bowl of hasenpfeffer.