A half-hour after sunset Saturday (6:15 pm), the curtain drops on the 2022-23 small game season.

With the pheasant and quail stockings on state-owned wildlife management areas concluding last December 31, hunting pressure in the fields and woodland edges dropped dramatically.

This put the spotlight on cottontail rabbits and gray squirrels, and it’s the bushytail and bunny that are the final draws to the woodlots, field, swamp edges, brambles, briars, and brush piles.

Despite the unseasonably warm winter, counts of both are at their lowest of the calendar year. Besides hunting, predation in the forms of foxes, coyotes, feral cats, owls, hawks, and falcons take their shares, especially on the cottontails. Rabbit is like pizza: almost everything in the upland habitats eats it. As such, figure their numbers on the really scarce side by the end of February. Bushytails fare somewhat better survival-wise, but populations won’t be what they were during the glorious months of October and November when acorns and other mast were abundant.

TSM Tom P.
TSM Tom P.

This is not to imply it’s not worth the effort. To be sure, we’ve bagged close to limits the last week of the season, but it took all-day efforts and, in the case of the cottontails, nasty, flesh-lacing patches of cover.

A beagle(s), or any bunny-chasing pooch goes a long way in getting rousted rabbits to circle back within range of a scattergun. More dogs, more bunnies pushed. Otherwise, it’s a matter of busting the brush to get the flush...then a snapshot.

It’s easier for the bushytail gig: find a patch of white oaks with residual acorns on the forest floor, sit against a tree, get comfortable, and wait for them to show. Opting to sneak through the woods, especially if the forest floor is wet to muffle sound, is a challenging way to get within range.

TSM, Tom P.
TSM, Tom P.

The first couple of hours after sunrise and then again an hour to two before sunset are the magic times.

I’m tasting this Saturday’s squirrel or cottontail cacciatore dinner already!

The daily limit on the bunnies is four; it’s a fiver for bushytails.

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