By Erik Barber
If you’ve wished for a year-round hunting season, we’ve got good news: Hunting opportunities abound, even during January and February. You just need to know where to find them.
Winter is a great time to shift your focus from big game to small game. Hunting seasons for rabbits and squirrels often stay open through January or February, which extends your stay in the woods long after deer season. Small-game animals make excellent table fare, and their small vital zones require accuracy and patience as you wait for ethical shots. Just swap your broadheads for small-game heads, some of which use small springs to prevent your arrow from burying itself beneath grass and leaves. Focus on late-season food sources like acorns, walnuts or hickory nuts for squirrels, and briar patches for rabbits.
Tracking is an effective tactic that requires fun practice to learn. If you’re a deer hunter who aspires to track a buck into its bedroom, start by tracking squirrels and rabbits in the snow. You’ll hone your ability to identify fresh tracks and other clues that help you determine when you’re getting close. Because small-game opportunities are plentiful, you’ll get many chances to perfect your craft. Through trial and error, you’ll eventually learn the best ways to sneak into bow range of animals.
The offseason is like training camp for deer hunters. As you test your skills at this time, you’re ensuring you’re prepared for the season ahead. After learning to track small game, try sneaking up on deer. With deer season likely closed in your area, winter is a great time to learn stalking skills. The tests are hard but the stakes are low.
If the rut is your favorite time to hunt, plan a trip for Arizona’s Coues deer! The archery season includes all of January, which coincides with peak rutting action for the “gray ghost.” Arizona is a DIY bowhunter’s paradise. It offers plenty of public land, and tags are available over the counter for about $400. With a little digging, you’ll find plenty of information for escaping winter for warmer weather and rut-crazed bucks.
Wild hogs are a nuisance across most of the South, which creates year-round hunting opportunities and liberal bag limits. Hogs are a great option for budget-friendly hunts. Texas, which has the largest feral-hog population in the United States, offers nonresident five-day special hunting licenses for $48. If you regularly hunt deer, you have all the gear needed to hunt hogs. Nearly any hunting bow setup will suffice, but hogs are tough critters. Their thick hide and tough bones require precise shots and lots of kinetic energy to penetrate their vitals.
There’s no better time to plan next season than now. Snow cover reveals heavily used deer trails and bedding areas. Mark these locations with digital mapping software, and note rubs and scrapes to predict future hotspots. Also plan accessible entry and exit routes that help you sneak in undetected when hunting. If you can offer work or service in exchange for hunting access, now is a great time to make connections. Snow removal, fence repairs, firewood/tree removal, and yard maintenance are all helpful work to barter for access rights.
Hunting season is what you make of it, and you can enjoy it year-round. Whether planning your next adventure, honing your skills, or finding new places to hunt, you can always do more to get more enjoyment out of your hunts.