Summer doldrums got you down? It’s time to cheer up and get off the couch. Here are five great off-season hunts that you may have overlooked.
By Kyle Wintersteen, NRA’s American Hunter Magazine
Turkey season is winding down. The wind has begun to carry a whiff of intensifying heat. And soon it’ll be the only time of year when inside seems preferable to outside (unless there’s a few feet of water nearby). People talk about the “cabin fever” and depression that results from a cold, prolonged winter, but Frosty has nothing on the summer sun. That pain you feel in the pit of your stomach? That’s the knowledge that three months—more than 90 days!—of oppressive heat and, worst of all, no hunting lie ahead. Or do they? There’s some great hunting to be had during the summer months that many sportsmen overlook. A few require a little travel and creativity, but with a little effort you can find great hunting from June to August. And before you know it, September’s glorious return will bring with it bacon-wrapped doves and backstraps on the grill.
Why Eating Crow is Underrated
Crow hunting is perhaps America’s most underrated wingshooting pursuit, not just in the summer, but overall. Crows are highly intelligent birds that gather in big flocks (called “murders”) and require skilled calling strategy, decoys and stealth to kill—in other words they embody the same traits that many of us find fascinating about waterfowl. Best of all, in my home state the opening day of crow season is July 1, with no bag limit.
Why don’t more people hunt crows? I think certain myths surround them, namely that they can’t be eaten—the old expression “eating crow” certainly hasn’t helped. But there are in fact many fine recipes out there and once the feathers are off, meat is meat. Even those crow hunters who don’t have a taste for the birds are doing a fine service, as a large gathering of crows can be quite destructive to farmland and eat a lot of game-bird eggs, especially those of waterfowl.
As far as strategy, much debate surrounds the “scout,” the crow that goes in first to investigate the safety of the area. Some advise passing on the scout, which in turn will signal its fellow birds that all’s well. Then the shooting begins. Other say passing on the scout poses too great a risk that he’ll blow your cover. They prefer to shoot the scout quickly, before he can signal danger, which thereby sets the stage for the rest of the birds to come. I say shoot the scout and go home with at least one bird.
The Challenge of Nilgai Antelope
Last summer I had the opportunity to pursue one of the most interesting, challenging and downright fun animals to hunt in the United States: the nilgai antelope. They are native to India, but free-range nilgai now roam the southern United States (primarily Texas) and northern Mexico. Because they are not a domestic species, the state of Texas doesn’t classify them as a game animal—you can hunt them all year long. As with much big-game hunting in Texas, the preferred technique is spot-and-stalk. For this Nilgai present a terrific challenge, as they have excellent eyes and noses, they absorb bullets as well as any elk and they’re surprisingly swift afoot given their unique frames and gait. There are other methods to hunt them, however; I waited over a waterhole for the only bull I’ve shot.
You will find their delicious meat worth the effort though. It’s among the most tender and flavorful I’ve ever tried, and nilgai are so large that I shot mine in late June and had killed a whitetail before I was through with the last steak.
Those Prolific Hogs
Like the nilgai, feral pigs are classified as non-game animals by nearly every state game department, allowing them to be hunted year-round. The existence of the wild hog is a double-edged sword for me, and I believe that to be the case for most hunters—they are an invasive, destructive, unnatural part of the wildlife environment, but also fun to hunt. They are a prolific animal, widely spread across the southern states and pockets can be found as far north as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. In the decades to come, game biologists everywhere will likely pull their hair out crafting plans to protect other game species from foraging pigs. And hunters will be needed more than ever to execute wildlife management plans.
Of course, one of the great things about hog hunting is the numerous tactics and strategies by which they may be hunted. Would you like to try spot-and-stalk, still hunting or sitting in a blind? How about pursuing them with dogs? Or with a rifle, bow, spear or even a knife? There’s a hog hunt for literally any type of hunter, at any time of year.
Ground Hogs and Prairie Dogs
Two other species classified as varmints by most game departments include ground hogs and prairie dogs. At least one of them can be found in most parts of the country and, while access to hunt many species is an ongoing problem, if you knock on a farmer’s door mid-summer with hat in hand, he’ll likely shake your hand if you offer to shoot his woodchucks.
Shots can be long-range and numerous, which go far in improving your marksmanship leading up to fall’s more traditional hunting seasons. Much of the knowledge I have of judging wind drift, mirage, bullet drop and other longer range considerations was acquired while hunting prairie dogs. There’s no doubt that the first time you’ll hunt prairie dogs, you leave a better shot.
And while prairie dogs often carry bubonic plague (another reason to shoot a few), ground hogs can make for good table fare.
Get Your Bird Dog Off the Couch
Today’s numerous upland game bird preserves offer an opportunity to work your gundog all year long. However, there is great disparity between a good one and a bad one. The best offer nice, thick cover and strong, healthy birds, just like a November day afield. The bad ones? Not so much.
Now, perhaps you’re one of those who believe preserves “aren’t real hunting.” I can respect that. But before you express your attitude in the comments section (and feel free to do so), let me offer an alternative to hunting stocked or “put and take” birds. Ask the proprietor of the preserve if you can merely hunt the residual birds on his property (without any being stocked specifically for your hunt) for a reduced fee. Many will say no, but a couple may say yes. After all, you’re offering them money for little to no effort or financial overhead. These residual birds offer a great challenge and, while most were not born in the wild, for all intents and purposes they are wild birds.
Preserve hunting is also of great benefit to your dog. It’s great exercise, it keeps him sharp and he’ll be ready to roll in the October uplands while other dogs are still shedding pounds and sucking wind.
Editor’s Note: Please join the NRA. This election year we must elect pro-2A politicians. Join the NRA here for a reduced rate, and get your full bennies as a member. ~Thanks, Mike P.