With deer season wrapped up and spring still months away, plenty of hunters hang up their jackets and stow away their firearms during this time of year. However, winter is one of the best opportunities to hunt species at their most vulnerable. Due to rock-bottom temperatures and inclement weather, many species are more active in winter months to scout scarce food sources, making them easier to catch. Plus, the winter season provides a quieter environment and easier sighting than other seasons.
If you’re not afraid of some low temperatures and snowy grounds, winter can be the perfect time to scratch your post-holiday hunting itch. That’s why we’ve provided a guide of the most popular winter game you can bag this season. Just remember to check your state’s regulations on when and what you can hunt this season.
Rabbit hunting, in many states, goes all the way through February, making it a great hunting outing for the whole family. You can handle rabbits with a variety of small firearms, but a 20-gauge shotgun or .22 long rifle are among the most popular. Because rabbits aren’t dangerous, they make a great hunting introduction for kids. Plus, this is a great opportunity to bring your loyal family dog along and begin training them as your hunting sidekick.
Rabbits are fast though, and not always easy to catch. You’ll have the most success at dusk or dawn, since rabbits have learned after decades of city and farming expansion that this is when predators are least likely to strike. With the lack of foliage in the dead of winter, rabbits will often hide in thick cover or brush to stay concealed. Staying near these areas will increase your likelihood of bringing a few home.
As one of the most invasive species in the United States, wild hogs are found in 39 states and cause up to $2.5 billion in damage annually. The federal government spends millions annually trying to fight the wild hog issue to avoid health risks and damage to native species. Because of this, many states allow wild hog hunting year round; however, they’re easier to target from December through February because they’re in heavier pursuit of food.
While the majority of states have some wild hog presence, Southeastern states like Texas, Florida, and Louisiana have the biggest populations and can benefit the most from hunters like you taking action.
There are a few misconceptions about what weapon hunters should use to take down one of these 180-pound beasts. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a high-caliber weapon for hog hunting. Often times, using magnum caliber ends up destroying more meat than is ideal, leaving you with less to take home. Any deer rifle should be sufficient to cut through their shoulder armor.
To track a hog, look for uprooted land and vegetation, as hogs will use their snouts and hooves to clear areas to either cool off in the dirt or find roots underground to eat. If tracking isn’t your strong suit, a predatory call will also work like a charm for these natural predators. Finally, once you’ve scoped one out, take advantage of its poor eyesight. Hogs can see movement but have terrible peripheral vision, giving you ample opportunity to strike before they spot you.
Similar to rabbit hunting, squirrel hunting provides a great opportunity for kids and furry companions to learn the ropes. While squirrels are in full abundance during summer months, they’re more scarce in the winter, which makes for a fun and challenging hunt.
Small firearms are perfect for hunting squirrels, with .22-caliber rifles and air rifles being among the most popular and kid-friendly options. Air rifles are ideal, as they’ll make less noise when they fire.
Finding squirrels during the colder months will be especially tricky, but luckily, there are a few simple tricks. Because most trees have lost food sources by this point, squirrels are more likely to forage on the ground and will be more visible than normal. It’s also smart to identify any trees in your hunting area that hold acorns longer, like pin oaks, as squirrels will most likely be found in these if not on the ground.
Much like boars, coyotes are particularly vulnerable to hunters in the winter due to a scarce food source. Some states have even legalized coyote hunting year round, making it a great opportunity during the winter months. While coyotes cover most of North America, states like Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, and Nevada are known for their high coyote populations.
When it comes to weapons, use rifles with small-caliber bullets that have a lot of powder behind them. You’ll want to make sure your chosen firearm is prepared for at least 200 yards of long-range shooting. While most hunters will opt for a rifle here, if you’re planning on hunting in dense terrain, a shotgun may be the better choice. Otherwise, refrain from using anything particularly large, as it’ll leave significant damage in the hide, which can be sold at a good value or used in the future.
Coyotes are notoriously suspicious and easily spooked, so be sure to keep your movements quiet and visibility camouflaged. They’re most active in the mornings and respond well to both predatory calls that mimic the sounds of their prey and potential mates. Use elevation to your advantage to spot them before they see or hear you, and plan your hunting trips for days right after a big storm when they’ll be most active and desperate for food.
For hunters who love catching quail or pheasant, the winter months provide great opportunities to do so, with February being one of the best times. Upland game birds can be found throughout the Midwest and Western states without difficulty. For best results, bring your 20-, 16-, or 12-gauge shotgun along.
Like most hunting, these birds are most active in the morning and evenings when they’re trying to find food. It’s best to take action when it’s especially windy out, as it’ll make it harder for the birds to identify your location. If you aren’t sure where to begin, stay near bodies of water.
When it comes to upland game, this is the best opportunity to bring man’s best friend along for the ride. It’s easy to lose track of where birds fall and you’ll have the best chance of actually going home with everything you’ve hit when you have a dog to retrieve them.
While it may get less attention than deer season or turkey season, winter gives hunters a chance to hunt new species with unique challenges that they may have not otherwise tried. So get your heavy jacket on, pull your firearm out of storage, and get out there before other hunters beat you to it.
Get all your winter hunting needs taken care of at SWFA Outdoors.