The light lit up the frog’s eyes and an arrow flashed silently through the dark, skewering the green bullfrog to the bank. A “whoop” that sounded like an Indian war cry split the night’s silence as my boys went splashing through the water to lay claim to the tasty little amphibian. Besides a little squabbling over who got the next shot, we were all having a blast. Armed with longbows and recurves, we scored on frogs from pointblank range to 25 yards. There were plenty of misses, and I was getting a kick out of listening to the sounds my crew made. It was like watching fireworks, except instead of “ooohs” and “ahhs” there were groans of disappointment or shouts of joy. I don’t think my wife and I or our boys could have had more fun.
I have often been asked what my favorite species to hunt is. My response is usually, “Whatever I am hunting at the time.” For example, if I am hunting squirrels, then that is my favorite species at that moment. The same holds true for whatever I am pursuing.
The beauty of being a small game enthusiast is that there is always something in season. Although big game usually gets all the exposure on TV and in magazines, I feel bad for any bowhunter who doesn’t get to enjoy the experience of bowhunting small game. Besides being able to extend your season all year, if you really want a challenge, try shooting a squirrel on a limb with your traditional bow.
I have had some of my best times afield chasing small game. I have also turned some hunts that would have been unsuccessful into a fun-filled trip where I ran out of arrows long before I ran out of targets. In fact, on a Dall sheep hunt years ago in Alaska, my guide and I were really having poor luck finding any sheep. While hiking up a steep ridge, we flushed a covey of ptarmigan. My guide cracked up when I said, “Let’s turn this into an Alaskan ptarmigan hunt!” I had a blast over the last few days of that hunt, chasing those beautiful birds up and down the mountains. My guide was laughing, and he actually thanked me for turning a trip he felt bad about into a fun hunt where we ate a bunch of those delicious birds.
On a Tule elk hunt just last year, my guide was laughing as I yelled for him to stop the truck when I spotted a long-eared jackrabbit. He also chuckled when it took me three shots to get that wascally wabbit.
A few years ago in Arkansas, I was trying to shoot a duck in the air. The ducks weren’t really flying, and my guide left our blind to answer Nature’s Call. When he returned, he commented that he had seen a swamp bunny on the shore. After I asked if we could go look for a bunny, we took off and left our decoys to go chase Arkansas rabbits. A few minutes later I had two that were skinned and ready to be rolled in egg batter and dropped in some hot grease!
It’s hard to name my favorite small game animal. Again, I would have to say it is whatever I am hunting at the time. Some of my favorites have been opossums, raccoons, badgers, prairie dogs, grouse, quail, pheasants, ptarmigan, beavers, muskrats, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, frogs and, of course, rabbits and squirrels. Some of the more bizarre include snakes, mice, packrats, and even skunks.
For small game, I usually just use the same gear I hunt big game with. I think it makes me a better shot, and helps me pick a small spot. Occasionally I will use flu-flu arrows, especially if I am shooting up at birds or squirrels so I don’t lose my arrows, and for safety reasons as well. I will also occasionally use a blunt, Judo point, Muzzy Grasshopper, or fieldpoint when I am after a small animal or bird like frogs or quail, or when my wife cuts me off on broadheads.
The additional challenge of small game, besides actually hitting the little rascals, is sneaking up on them. I have often been humiliated by animals with a brain the size of a marble (insert joke here).
Being successful is usually a matter of whether you can slip up into your effective range or not. I will usually get decked out in full camouflage, often with a headnet or face paint, to help increase my odds of getting close to little critters.
Since most small game animals are also prey animals, they are ultrasensitive to movement and noise. Slow and smooth movements are the key. The great thing about being an avid small game hunter is that it makes you a more successful medium and big game bowhunter. What’s medium game, you ask? To me, medium game includes turkeys, javelina, and hogs. They aren’t really considered big game, but I don’t feel right trying to squeeze them into the small game category either.
Next time you head afield, make sure you have a small game tag in your pocket, and test your skills on some tough, tasty targets.