Don’t put that shotgun away just yet. There is still time to take advantage of the small-game opportunities in New York state. I recently spent a few days roaming the fields and woodlots of Saratoga and Warren counties, chasing rabbits, grouse and coyotes. They are still out there, and even without the aid of my regular pack of canines to help me find them, I was able to collect a few.
From my experiences and those reported to me by other upland game hunters, this seems to be a good year for bunnies and birds. The rabbits, both cottontail and varying hare (snowshoe) have been abundant on all my trips afield, which hasn’t been the case the past several years. I am especially pleased at the number of grouse I have seen, almost shot at and/or saw their tracks.
This year, I am again keeping a Cooperator Ruffed Grouse Hunting Log for the state Department of Environmental Conservation to help them in determining the status of our grouse population in the state. According to the U.S. Geological Survey of Breeding Birds and New York Breeding Bird Atlas, our grouse populations have declined more than 75 percent since the 1960s. I think anyone who has pursued this great little game bird probably already knows this.
But this year seems to be different. To date, I have seen 16 grouse, heard another seven and shot at, well that is not important; but I did manage to down two of them.
On my most recent hunt in northern Saratoga County, hunting partner Dave Rooney and I spent an afternoon trying to catch up with a few cottontail and/or grouse. Unfortunately, we never really did get to see anything we could shoot at, due to the crusty snow cover. I am sure that the game heard us coming long before we got near them.
We did, however, see plenty of fresh tracks in the two inches of snow that had fallen the night before. In one area of thick evergreens and heavy brush, we saw at least a dozen different sets of grouse tracks. I know that if we had the help of a good pointer’s nose, we probably would have gotten several shots. And had he brought the beagles, the rabbits would have been in trouble, also.
But I wouldn’t let the lack of
canine help deter you from hunting. Stomping on a few brush piles or poking around in the heavy brush, blow downs or following a stream bank should get you a few quick shots at fur or feathers. And that beats sitting around on Saturday watching someone else hunting on the Outdoor Channel. Save that for the evening.
I found that the best time to chase rabbits and/or grouse is later in the morning and afternoon, when the sunlight has had a chance to warm up the air and get the rabbits out of their holes. We usually don’t start hunting until around 11 a.m., and hunt until sundown. That last hour before the sun goes down can be very productive for both rabbits and grouse. And as was the case this past weekend, for coyotes, also.
Here is something different you might want to try if you are without dogs or decide to hunt alone. Rather than stomping on the brush piles and having to shoot at a rabbit on the run, try using your .22-caliber rifle and binoculars. This is a great sneak-and-peek method that requires a little more patience and lot less movement on your part.
The best time to do this is right after a freshly fallen snow. You can hunt the same areas you usually do, but you should try to do it at a distance. Find a hill overlooking cover that you know holds rabbits and/or grouse, and stay high if possible. Move slowly along the high ground and glass the area below, looking for little dark spots in the snow. Both rabbits and grouse will nestle down in the snow. Take your time, and look carefully; they are there, and you just have to find them.
The ideal shot that you want is about 50 yards or so, and it helps if you use a scoped rifle and a shooting stick. These will increase your chances for success substantially. I move only 25 to 50 yards at a time, looking as I move, and then stop to glass the area. You will be surprised at what looks like the base of a tree turns into a huddled rabbit/grouse when you look at it through binoculars.
I recently spoke with several local coyote hunters, and they say there is still plenty of hunting opportunities before the season closes on March 25. Although the mating season is just about over, you still can be successful using a distress call both just before dawn and at dusk on into the night.
And speaking of calls, I spoke with the son (Gerald) of the late Johnny Stewart, who produced one of the first electronic predator calls in the early 1960s, at the Shot Show last week. He explained how the Hunter’s Specialties’ new Johnny Stewart PM-4 wireless Preymaster will increase your chance of success using this compact call.
This base unit, which operates on four AA batteries, can be operated wireless at a range of 100 yards, and depending upon the conditions, up to 250 yards, with the held-held remote transmitter. What this means is that the coyote’s attention when coming to the call will be on the remote speaker, rather than on you.
Suggested retail price is $199.95 (www.Hunterspec.com).