Small Game Hunting Underway
Inside the Outdoors, November 06 2009

If you are one of those who walk the Earl G. Dalton Fitness Path in Legion Keener Park, and happen to come upon a number of squirrels, think of them as being spared for the time being, for we are in the midst of small game season, and they just may be considered the lucky ones.

Small game species include rabbits, grouse, squirrels, pheasants, woodcock, bobwhite quail, mourning doves, geese, ducks, snowshoe hares, woodchucks and crows. Not all of them can be harvested now, but at least you may come to understand what makes up this category.

Early squirrel season began Oct. 17 and will end temporarily Nov. 28 before it resumes Dec. 14 and goes to the 23rd. Then the animals get a break and celebrate Christmas together before they have to scatter and hide when the season continues Dec 26 and goes to Feb 6, 2010. One may take six daily.

Three other small game, ruffed grouse, bobwhite quail and cottontail rabbits’ early seasons began October 24 and will last until Nov. 28 with grouse season resuming Dec. 14 and running until 23 and stopping in time for Christmas as well. The hunt continues Dec. 26 until Jan. 23, 2010. Two birds are permitted to be harvested. Bobwhite quail early season began Oct. 24 and will terminate Nov. 28. One should note that Wildlife Management Units 4A, 4B, 5A, 5B, 5C and 5D will be closed to quail hunting.

Fourth on the list that I will mention here as far as dates is the cottontail rabbit. As noted above, its early season began Oct. 24, similar to the other small game. Its season also will last until Nov. 28, resume Dec. 14-23, begin again on Dec 26 and end Feb. 6, 2010. Four rabbits may be harvested.

According to a random survey that has been sent out by the Pennsylvania Game Commission to hunting license purchasers, Robert C. Boyd, assistant direct of the bureau of wildlife management, wanted to ascertain whether there was a marked difference in the harvest of small game between 1990 and 2007. This is what he found.

According to the Pennsylvania Hunting and trapping Digest, “Harvests of geese and ducks have increased substantially since 1990, with hunter numbers remaining fairly stable. Hunter numbers for other small game species declined from 39 percent (woodchuck hunters) to 69 percent (rabbit hunters), and harvests declined from 35 percent (woodchuck) to 81percent (snowshoe hare), between 1990 and the 2007-08 season.”

I found this conclusion interesting. “Rabbit, squirrel, mourning dove and woodchuck harvests each exceeded 1,000,000 in 1990; the squirrel harvest led with a total of 2,044,264. By 2007-08, only squirrel and woodchuck harvests exceeded 500,000; woodchuck leading with 840, 523.”

By comparison, from 1990 to 2007, there was an increase of harvests for geese where hunters took 188,266 birds. Also in that time period, ducks kills resulted in 138,860 fowl. On the flip side of the coin, hunters harvest just 685 snowshoe hare in 2007 as opposed to 3,615 in 1990. That makes up the drastic drop of 81 percent.

The National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife Associated Recreation has reported that there has been a decline of 34 percent of small game hunters between 1991 and 2006. So, that could shed light on the fact that harvests are down significantly.

But according to Boyd, there are other factors that play into it. “A recent survey of small game hunters by Responsive Management indicated that lack of animals, lack of time, and personal health or age were the most significant reasons for hunting small game less often.”

Different species rely on varied surroundings. If conditions aren’t favorable, chances are the game may not be present. Boyd pointed out, “The developed land is not huntable and the remaining farmland is managed with increasing intensity. Wetlands have been drained, hedgerows have been eliminated, small grain fields have been replaced with soybean fields, hayfields are mowed earlier, and weedy understories no longer exist.” And that is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

But the assistant director summed it up this way. “Small game hunting can be valuable as a social activity for family and friends. It can hold the attention of a young hunter, and allow for teaching and learning opportunities."

- Paul J. Volkmann
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