Top 3 small game species to hunt this fall and winter

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Small game hunting in the winter is a great way for hunters young and old to develop their skills and confidence without breaking the bank. You don’t need specialized or expensive equipment to hunt them, just a .22 rifle and/or any shotgun, warm clothes and boots suitable for hiking. The skills learned while hunting small game – including tracking, handling a firearm, dressing in the field and cooking the animals you harvest – date back to the early days of the sport and translate more late directly into big game hunting.

In particular, learning how to handle and clean small game helps new hunters understand the basics of dressing in the field before moving on to big game. Seeing forests blanketed in snow and covered in fresh game trails is like following a treasure map, and instilling in these young minds the habits and patterns of various small game species is a great way to connect young hunters. land, animals and hunting.

Here are three of the most common (and exciting) small game species to hunt this fall and winter.

red squirrels

• Season dates: August 30 to March 31

• Baggage limit: 8 per day

•Indispensable equipment: small caliber hunting rifle, compressed air rifle or shotgun; hiking clothes and boots

• Permit required: small game or annual hunting permit

They’ve been barking at you all fall. You are tiptoeing into bull elk country when suddenly a Douglas fir chirps enthusiastically at your untimely arrival. The resident red squirrel living on the fifth floor of this lodgepole offers veteran and novice hunters a great opportunity to extend their hunting season.

Red or pine squirrels – not to be confused with their larger cousins, fox squirrels, which are also reddish in color – are native to Idaho and have a wide distribution. As most big game hunters will attest, they are active during the day, storing seeds, conifer cones, nuts and fruit before the winter snow buries the forest floor. Due to their diet (we are what we eat), red squirrels have an earthy, almost nutty flavor. Voluntary pun.

If you’re lucky enough to catch a few red squirrels this season, try a number of slow cooker recipes. Squirrels can be lean and tough, and are best broken down in the slow cooker as a hearty addition to soups, stews, or tacos, or sautéed in butter and herbs.

Wood grouse

• Season dates: August 30 – December 31

• Baggage limit: 4 in total per day

•Indispensable equipment: small caliber rifle or shotgun; hiking clothing and boots; alpine hunting vest

• License requirements: small game or annual hunting license

Forest grouse are shrewd and intelligent medium-sized birds that inhabit much of the state’s forests. Commonly found on public lands, they provide a hunting opportunity for almost anyone. There are three species of forest grouse in Idaho, all native to the state: the dusky (blue) grouse, the crested grouse, and the spruce grouse.

Grouse have an uncanny knack for climbing out of a perch in a tree when a hunter gets too close, often causing the hunter to suffer a heart attack; however, these birds sometimes completely ignore humans when you sneak up for a close shot. Depending on your preference, you can either attempt to shoot the red grouse on the wing with a shotgun, or the stationary grouse in the trees with a small caliber rifle.

An important reminder that grouse hunters must leave a wing attached to the carcass during transport. Once picked, de-winged and ready to be processed, hunters can serve the brisket and thighs in a number of ways, including sautéed in butter and thyme in a skillet or dusted with flour and fried.

White-tailed/snowshoe hare

• Season dates: August 30 to March 31

• Baggage limit: 8 per day

•Indispensable equipment: small caliber rifle or shotgun; hiking clothes and boots (warm)

• License requirements: small game or annual hunting license

Few hunting experiences rival winter rabbit and snowshoe hare hunting. The trees are bare and the air is crisp and quiet. Hunting these species is an incredible way to introduce young hunters to this sport. Sure, it’s 25 degrees and the thermos of hot chocolate in the truck sounds great, but following the tracks and habits of overwintering small game species is a fun way to get family and friends outdoors. .

Looking for rabbits and hares can also be an inexpensive way to introduce youngsters to hunting and hunting. This time of year you’ll need to have a keen eye as rabbits and hares are notoriously agile, often found in thick brush, thorny bushes and fallen pine boughs. One option is for hunters to find a high point overlooking a relatively open area and hunt with a small caliber sniper rifle, keeping an eye out for openings near cover. Another is for hunters to attempt to flush out rabbits by traversing areas of dense cover and harvest them on the run with a shotgun. If you use the latter approach, it’s not a bad idea to hunt with a friend or two, which will help you cover more territory and potentially hunt more rabbits. A dog can also count as a friend.

If you or your budding hunter are quick enough to catch one this season, you’ll find that rabbits and hares are some of the easiest to skin in the field. After removing the feet at the ankle joint, make a small incision on the back of each hind leg. Pull the skin from each leg toward his pelvis, then continue to pull the skin toward his head down the midsection, as if pulling his sweater off. When cleaned and quartered, rabbits can make a great addition to stews and roasts or fried.

Whether you’re new to hunting or you’re a longtime veteran, small game hunting can be an exciting way to keep your marksmanship sharp and your freezer full during the colder months. Remember: hunters will need a 2023 hunting license as of January 1. For more information on upland and small game seasons and regulations, see the Fish and Game Upland Game, Turkey & Furbearer Seasons and Rules brochure available online or from authorized licensed dealers. .

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Raymond I. Langston