When it comes to staying sharp and proficient at big game hunting, most hunters spend their time practicing at the range. However, one way to stay sharp, sighted in and put some extra meat in the freezer is hunting small game. Small game can be anything from a squirrel to a grouse. Some of these animals require a hunting license while other nongame species like jackrabbits do not.
One of the most underrated small game species to hunt is the squirrel. Squirrels provide hunting from September through November each year, and believe me when I say these little complex animals can disappear just as fast as they appear. Squirrels not only provide some good meat for a stew, they also require the hunter to be a precise shooter due to their small size and nimbleness.
Another small game animal that can be challenging to hunt, especially with a bow, is grouse. “Hunting grouse is a great way to stay dialed in with my bow while I’m elk hunting,” says Larry Reeves, an avid New Mexico bow hunter. “Grouse also provide a great meal after a long day of hunting.”
Small game hunting is a great way to try out hunting for the first time. My wife Jennifer’s very first hunting experience was a dove hunt with friends near Las Cruces during college. “During this first outing I simply enjoyed learning and observing what it took to try to shoot a dove out of the sky,” she says. “It’s not as easy as one may think. Dove are fast!”
She continues: “As I became more comfortable and confident, I purchased my proper licenses and stamps, and borrowed a 20 gauge shotgun to try my hand at harvesting some dove. This grew into my enjoyment of hunting other upland birds such as quail and grouse and small game such as squirrel. I also enjoyed going afield with my nephews hunting rabbit. The great thing about rabbit hunting is that they are abundant and a hunting license is not required.”
Today, as the hunter education coordinator with the Department, she says small game hunting provides a perfect way to get new, novice and young hunters afield. “Hunting small game allows multiple opportunities to harvest as opposed to the one-and-done associated with hunting big game,” she notes.
One of the best things about hunting small game animals in New Mexico as opposed to other states is the number of hunters you will encounter in the field. Small game hunting, especially squirrel hunting, isn’t as popular in New Mexico as it is in some of the eastern states like Pennsylvania.
So, if you have some down time and would like to hone your big game hunting skills and put a little meat in the freezer, try your hand at small game.
For season dates and bag limits on upland game species, and information on rabbits and other nongame species, review the Hunting Rules and Information booklet. Hard copies of the booklet are available at Game and Fish offices and numerous licensed dealers throughout the state or it can be downloaded from the Department website here: http://www.wildlife.state.nm.us/download/publications/rib/2019/small-game/2019_2020-New-Mexico-Small-Game-Rules-and-Info.pdf