Small game season gets underway in Michigan on September 15th, 2020. With only a few more days to wait before you can chase squirrels and rabbits, let’s talk some of the specific gear for hunting small game that I have found to be beneficial.
Shotgun, 22, or Archery
When hunting squirrels and rabbits, there are 3 methods of take worth discussing. Using a shotgun is a classic method of hunting. Anything from a 410 down to a 12 gauge can be a great tool to chase small animals. Keep in mind that for squirrels and rabbits you will generally want to stick to shot sizes from 4-6. Anything larger and you risk too much meat loss while using smaller shot can have trouble penetrating the thick skin of small game. The nice thing about a shotgun is that it gives you a small margin of error which can be helpful when targeting a small, fast-moving mammal. Also, you can take shots more confidently at animals above you without worrying as much about an errant bullet traveling a long ways.
The 22 is the other classic hunting round for small game. They are cheap, relatively quiet, and accurate. The extremely low recoil makes them a great choice for beginner hunters and fun to shoot for seasoned pros. Unlike a shotgun, however, the 22 long rifle round is a single bullet that often moves at supersonic speeds. As such, it is critical to make sure that you are shooting down at animals on the ground or that you are sure about your backdrop. A 22 bullet shot at a 45-degree angle is capable of travelling over a mile. As long as you are careful with your shot selection, the 22 is a great round for small game hunting. Using a scoped bolt action 22 is my preferred method as it is great practice for large game rifle hunting later in the season.
Archery may not be as popular for small game hunting as a shotgun or small-caliber rifle, but its use for squirrels and rabbits has been increasing in popularity again. Chasing these crafty creatures is a real test of one’s archery skill and can be an excellent warm up of your bow technique before deer season starts. You can hunt with broadheads or metal practice tips, but both of those arrowheads have some drawbacks. Broadheads cause a lot of meat loss on an animal with not much meat to begin with. Also, they are expensive. Due to the small size of the target and likelihood of some misses, blunt-tipped or spring-loaded heads may be a better choice. Both of these are made to stop in the grass (rather than going deep into the ground) to aid in arrow recovery.
Tools For Cleaning Your Kill
Cleaning small game takes a little more precision than field dressing a deer. While you could use a standard hunting knife, I prefer something with a smaller and thinner blade or a pair of game shears. The flip-up razor type hunting knives with replaceable blade inserts made by Havalon and Outdoor Edge are both great choices for cleaning squirrels and rabbits. I have also found a decent pair of either game shears (or small metal shears) to be invaluable for cleaning small mammals as well. The scissor-style shears make quick work of snipping through fur and bone. Look for a pair where the two halves come apart for easy cleaning. Nitrile or latex gloves are a must with squirrels and rabbits as they have been known to carry some bacteria and viruses that, while not a problem when cooked, can quickly ruin your month if you contract them while cleaning an animal.
Calls are often overlooked when searching for small game. This is unfortunate as a decent squirrel or rabbit call can help bring out some curious animals or stop them in their tracks while you line up your shot. Pick up a cheap and basic squirrel call that does barks, chatter, and a distress noise. You should be able to find one for about $15. The calling options for rabbits are a little more limited, but a good rabbit in distress call can bring curious rabbits out of their holes to see what the potential threat is. Just be aware that distress calls are also commonly used to hunt and call in predators, so use with caution in areas where they are known to be present.
Get Out and Hunt Small Game This Fall
Besides providing delicious meat, small game hunting is a great time. Everyone from beginners to experienced hunters can enjoy getting after rabbits and squirrels. Unlike large game hunting, small game lends itself better to hunting with groups. It is also much easier to find a property to hunt squirrels on than whitetail deer. Get your gear together and head out to your local woods next week to try and put some chicken fried squirrel or rabbit stew on the table this fall.