By John Zent, American Hunter
The big game seasons may be done, but that doesn’t mean we have to shut down our 2017-18 hunting. Between now and when spring gobblers officially call in a new hunting year, most states still have opportunities on the books, maybe more than you thought.
My attention turns primarily to small game like rabbits and squirrels, two critters that originally hooked me on outdoor pursuit and eating wild meat. I like the exercise and of course just being in the woods, but I also get all caught up in the method, which varies between the two. With squirrels I sneak along or sit tight in order to earn clean shots with a .22, rifle or pistol. I take the brush-crashing approach to rabbit hunting and normally rely on the shotgun to stop their runs. Mostly I focus on one or the other, but you can easily combine the two.
The end game is the meat. If you have a great day—and success rates are high—it means a truly fresh meal, an entrée that’s never been in a freezer. For the record, I love rabbit and like squirrel. The classic approach is to pan-fry both (gravy and biscuits with squirrel), but the real trick is not to overcook so that the lean, fat-free meat dries out. My favorites involve braising rabbit in a mustard sauce, and slow-cooking squirrels until the flesh tenderizes, then using it in dishes like Brunswick stew or tacos.
A close second appeal nowadays is shooting my small-game guns, which include a couple of .22 rifles, a 20-gauge Remington 1100, and a vintage Savage 24 combo gun, .410 smoothbore over .22 LR. This year I’ve added a Smith & Wesson Model 617, a .22 revolver with a 6-1/2” bull barrel and a 10-shot cylinder. This gem is all machined steel (stainless, in fact), and literally runs like clockwork. With a Crimson Trace Lasergrip as my principle sight, it can hold a 2” group at 25 yards—or as we like to say, minute of squirrel.
Squirrels and rabbits aren’t the only dishes on the late-late-season menu. In some states serious wingshooters get their winter workouts from grouse, light geese or resident Canadas and crows. Coyote callers and hog hunters remain in business where those destructive animals persist. The point is—as Winston Churchill famously said in regard to a graver matter—“never, never, never surrender.”
I write this from squirrel camp as a guest of Visit Mississippi and Crimson Trace. Over the course of 60 years of hunting camps, this is the first one devoted to chasing the tree rats. We’re fully engaged. The talk has circled from .22 LR ballistics to the squirrels’ ability to see color (red vs. green), to nest shooting (not our thing), to the effects of falling barometric pressure on daylight bushytail activity. Serious business, except that its really not. It’s just for fun, fun that’s not always present in hunts elsewhere. Perhaps squirrel and rabbit camps ought to be the next big thing in hunting.