By Tony J. Peterson
I don't much like February aside from shed hunting and small game hunting. March is worse. If there is a throwaway month for most bowhunters, it's March. Big game seasons are a distant memory, and the promise of spring turkeys, while close, still seems to take forever to actually get here.
However, not all is lost this time of year. There are some critters worthy of busting out the bows for. As mentioned, small game can be had, and provided you've got a bow and a few judo or small-game points for your arrows, you're set. Larger critters are available as well, though most pale in popularity compared to deer, antelope and elk. That doesn't mean they aren't fun or challenging to hunt. If cabin fever has got you down and you're sick of punching paper and foam in the basement or at the local range, consider getting out and hunting a few unconventional trophies.
Following are six options for the bowhunter willing to re-think his or her idea of a good bowhunting time.
If you like turkeys or grouse, you might want to consider trying to arrow a raccoon or two. They can be called in, especially right now with raccoon love in the air. They can also be semi-patterned on food sources and along creeks, but that is a long odds proposition.
Whatever method you opt for, use a sharp broadhead and pay attention to shot angle. Raccoons are built like little bears, and are tougher than Wade Boggs' liver. Shot placement is key. If you do manage to skewer a few bandits you might be able to sell the hides, which is a bonus on top of the knowledge that you've probably saved a few turkey nests for the upcoming spring.
I've got a soft spot in my heart for rabbits and hares. It's probably because I grew up hunting them, and now look forward to chasing them each winter. Nearly all rabbit hunting is done with either a scoped .22 rifle or a shotgun. That doesn't mean archery hunters are out of luck though. Cottontails can provide an excellent challenge for the willing bowhunter provided you're prepared to sneak along molasses-slow while picking apart likely cover. Ditto for snowshoe hares and jackrabbits.
If still-hunting isn't your thing, small drives are also possible, but they often require a knowledge of the ground and some previous experience with flushed rabbits. In areas with decent populations this is an absolute blast and a heck of a way to kick cabin fever to the curb.
A few years ago I found a fenceline and an old homestead on public land that was littered with squirrel sign. The bushytails would start out the morning in a stand of riverbottom hardwoods but would quickly work their way to the homestead to seek out cobs of corn in the nearby field. Both grey and fox squirrels were using the bushytail highway, and I went in and built a natural snow blind. Early one February morning a good friend and I snuck in and from the blind arrowed 10. It was some of the most fun I've ever had bowhunting.
You can work on your stalking skills, your draw timing and overall hunting program by taking to the hardwoods and seeking out bushytails. If you choose to shoot into the trees, be very cognizant of what's beyond, for obvious safety reasons. Arrows out of a compound can fly a long ways when shot at an upward angle. Low-to-the-ground shots are a much better idea. And don't forget, squirrels are other-worldly tough, so aim for the shoulder or the head.
This is an obvious off-season animal but deserves some love nonetheless. There are a lot of reasons I like hog hunting, but one of the most compelling is that February and March are some of the best months to chase porkers. If you've never done so, consider a late-winter trip down south to hunt feral hogs.
Expect to pay, because that is the norm, but it's almost always worth it. Hog meat is delicious, and few critters are simply more fun to hunt, whether you opt for a feeder sit or a little spotting and stalking. There are even opportunities to hunt them throughout the dark of night, which is an experience everyone should have at least once.
Winter bowfishing is a challenge largely due to the conditions. There are some killer opportunities out there if you know where to seek them out. Obviously, the farther south you go, the easier it is to find fish looking to catch a barbed point. Northern bowfishermen aren't out of luck though.
Backwater lakes located immediately off of main river channels, or anywhere there is a warm-water discharge should feature open water, and often times loads of rough fish. Again, check your local regulations before setting out in search of fish to skewer and, of course, wear your life vest. Taking a tumble into the drink this time of year, at least up north, is a recipe for serious shrinkage and even death, one of which is largely irreversible.
Despite the fact that we desire to kill animals, most of them get a fair amount of love and respect from hunters. Not so much with the coyote, which is widely despised. Coyotes are fawn-eating fools and will not turn down the chance to dine on mature deer either. They are also really good at avoiding humans, which makes bowhunting them awfully tough. It's not impossible though.
Electronic calls can make for an exciting predator hunt via archery, or setting a blind on a deer carcass (check your local regulations first) can be another option. Arrowing a coyote while actually coyote hunting is cause for celebration, and ranks right up there in difficulty with killing 150-inch bucks.