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Why small game hunting can be a big deal in New York

Poughkeepsie Journal logo Poughkeepsie Journal 12/9/2021 Bill Conners
A banded rooster pheasant © Ben Stoterau A banded rooster pheasant

I don’t often hear a great deal of discussion these days about small game hunting. Typically, when December rolls around, when hunters mention “the end of hunting season,” they are talking about the close of deer season. The excitement generated by  big game — deer and bear season — overshadows most everything else.

A couple of notable exceptions are pheasant and turkey, both of which are popular. Pheasant season stays open until Feb. 28, but truthfully, the birds you may be hunting are on preserves or are escapees from preserves; there is scant evidence of any wild pheasants left here in New York. Even most of the birds on state lands can be traced back to the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Reynolds Game Farm near Ithaca in Tompkins County. The balance comes from commercial hunting preserves or club-sponsored preserves scattered across the state. They could be the occasional wild bird out there, but they would be few and far between.

According to the DEC, while there are more than 60,000 small game hunters in New York, they just don’t get the same attention as the big game.

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In this area of the state, pheasant season runs from Oct. 1 to the end of February. Even hunters taking pheasants on licensed shooting preserves must comply with regulations governing those shooting preserves. Preserves function from Sept. 1 to April 15.

Turkey hunting is also popular. These wily birds have uncanny eyesight and keen senses. Spring turkey season provides hunters the opportunity to bag two bearded turkeys. In the fall, hunters may take one bird of either sex. Unlike in spring, fall turkey hunters cannot rely on calling love-struck toms to within gun range. You’ll have to go looking for them.

Putting big game, turkey and pheasants aside, there are numerous other small game hunting opportunities available into the end of February. If you care to waterfowl hunt, snow geese can be hunted until April 15, and they happen to have one of the most generous daily bag limits of any game animal in New York, 25 birds a day.

"Small game" includes upland and migratory game birds; small game mammals, like squirrels and rabbits; as well as furbearers such as fox, coyote and bobcat. All game species may be hunted only during their respective open seasons.

The DEC has programs to help keep accurate counts of harvest or that raise and release species — like pheasants — to increase hunting opportunities. For instance, turkey hunters are required to report their harvest. Also, the department raises turkeys for release on publicly accessible land. Hunters can contribute to the effort to improve hunting by maintaining a Grouse and Woodcock Hunting Log and providing it to the DEC at the end of the hunting season.

Regardless of what game is being hunted, a hunting license is required. You will also need to know that firearms may be used to hunt each species. You may not use a rifle or handgun to hunt pheasants or migratory game birds and, while a bow or crossbow may be used to hunt small game, a crossbow may not be used in Westchester or Suffolk counties.

My earliest memories of hunting are those of me hunting with an uncle. We would spend the afternoon kicking brush piles to push rabbits out of hiding. We usually did it on the edges of fields that were covered with crops all summer. Unfortunately, most of the farms are gone and those that are not don’t have much rabbit cover left. Farming practices have changed.    

Squirrels are still plentiful, and foxes, bobcats and coyotes still haunt the woodlands. You just have to decide what is it that you want to hunt and where you want to hunt it. If you don’t plan to hunt public land, you’ll need to belong to a club or find a willing landowner.

While I was pouring over season dates, etc., in the Hunting Regulations Guide I was embarrassed to find a map that shows there is an official quail season in Putnam and Orange counties. I called a long-retired biologist from DEC to ask if there really are quail here in the Hudson Valley. He “suggested” that there hasn’t been in 50 years or more. If you stumble on the same map, don’t get excited.

Make sure you educate yourself on the Environmental Conservation Law and the latest regulations before you start your hunt by visiting the DEC website, www.dec.ny.gov.

EHD update

There are indications that some deer were able to survive last year’s infected outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease. There are reports of as many as 15-20 deer by hunters this season that have sloughing of their hooves, an indication of past exposure. With such a relatively small sample it would probably be unwise to read too much into it.

I am more interested in understanding what the broader implications are, such as will EHD antibodies be passed through multiple generations of deer. At this point, I think we are a long way from understanding the impact the disease is going to have on New York’s deer herd over the next several years.

The multiple frosts have all but eliminated calls to DEC reporting dead deer.

Bill Conners of the Federation of Fish and Game Clubs writes on outdoors issues. Email: conners@billconners.net.

This article originally appeared on Poughkeepsie Journal: Why small game hunting can be a big deal in New York

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