Bowhunting Small Game

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More Fun with Your Stick and String

As I slipped through the tall grass undetected, the animal I was stalking fed on grass completely unaware of my presence.

The tall grass gave way to a large, open field. If I could make it to the edge of the field, I knew I would have about a 30-yard shot. As I moved closer, I used my rangefinder to measure the distance between the buck I was chasing and myself. When I reached the edge of the grass, I drew back my bow, aimed, and let the arrow fly. To my dismay, the buck jumped the string and ran into the brush on the other side of the field. After waiting patiently for about 15 minutes, he reappeared on the far side of the field.

As he fed and continued toward me, I slowly drew my bow again and shot. This time the buck took a couple jumps and fell over. I walked up to him and threw him in my pack. You can’t fit a large whitetail buck into a small backpack but you can fit a buck rabbit into a backpack! You didn’t think I was stalking whitetails, did you?

Before you think I’ve fallen off my rocker and bumped my head, keep reading to discover why diehard bowhunters should hunt small game with a stick and string.

Why Small Game?

I have hunted all over North America for a variety of big game animals. Chasing whitetails, elk, moose and caribou is fun, but there is something about bowhunting small game that can be more fun than chasing big game animals.

For starters, big game hunting is often a waiting game. Hunters often sit for hours hoping to get a shot at the monster buck or bull. If everything goes right, hunters are gripping and grinning, but often things don’t go right. Bowhunting small game, however, is often action-packed from the moment hunters leave the truck. There are lots of rabbits and squirrels in the woods and it doesn’t take long to bump into a few of them. If something goes wrong and you spook one or send an arrow sailing over its head, it doesn’t really matter. Wait 10 minutes and you’ll probably get another opportunity.

Sooner or later, you are bound to connect with a critter, and when you do, you’ll be hooked on hunting small game with a bow.

©John Eriksson-Images On the Wildside

In addition to being fun, bowhunting small game comes with many benefits. It helps you hone your archery skills.  

When hunting big game, we are often forced to make several decisions within seconds at the moment of truth. We must judge the distance between the animal and us. We have to decide if the animal is presenting a good shot opportunity and if they are moving slowly enough to make a clean kill without wounding them. The time it takes us to make the right or wrong decision can make or break a hunt. When hunting small game, you’re faced with the same decisions. 

Small game animals are at the bottom of the food chain. Although they aren’t as smart as a whitetail or elk, they are always on high alert because they know if they aren’t, they will be dinner. Since they are always looking for trouble, small game is a worthy adversary for polishing your stalking skills. The first time I tried stalking a snowshoe hare in Alaska, I realized how smart the silly balls of fur could be. Knowing when to make your move and when to sit tight is what makes some bowhunters great stalkers. The more animals you stalk, the better you will be. Learning how to be soft-footed and being patient is an acquired skill. I would rather make my mistakes on a hare or a groundhog than on a record-class mule deer. Practicing on a groundhog might help you close the distance on a mule deer.

Rabbits don’t have horns and squirrels don’t bugle like bull elk, so you probably won’t get the jitters when holding your 25-yard pin on a rabbit, but after making a stalk on a rabbit or calling in a squirrel, I’m sure your heart rate might increase a bit. 

Inexpensive Option

Unlike many sports, small game hunting doesn’t have to be expensive. In most cases, you won’t lose or break arrows. Small game broadheads are fairly inexpensive compared to the cost of regular broadheads. In addition, small game hunting is a great way to get kids involved in hunting. It is fast-paced so kids can walk around and most likely will experience success right away, which is important.

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There is another added benefit of hunting small game. Almost anyone will give you permission to hunt his or her property for small game. Farmers in particular might appreciate you eliminating the groundhogs that are digging holes in their fields and when someone gives you permission to small game hunt, if you are respectable and trustworthy, they might let you hunt deer.

If I have convinced you to pick up your bow and seek revenge against the “Wiley Wabbit” in your garden, realize that not all small game heads are the same. I would suggest that bowhunters purchase a small game head designed to penetrate into the animal but not pass completely through. This way the animal can’t crawl away. Many small animals are never far from a hole or thick brush. Often, if they get hit with a regular blunt tip or small game head that bounces off, they will crawl in a hole and die. With a penetrating head, the arrow is still attached which makes getting into a hole or brush difficult. I have tried blunt tips and penetrating tips and have experienced good success with both. 

We all want to be a better shot in the field and, when the pressure is on, we all want to have what it takes to bring home dinner. Bowhunting small game can help increase your confidence in the field, make you a better shot and a better stalker. It’s cheap enough that you can do it even if you are on a Ramen Noodle budget. A little rabbit or squirrel meat might help those noodles taste like a gourmet meal!

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[Editor's note: This article was first published on June 19, 2009.]