LAST UPDATED: May 1st, 2015
February and March, depending largely on where you live I guess, can really be a drag. First of all, there’s really nothing much going on in the world of big-game hunting, unless of course you have buckets of disposable income. Most of us don’t have disposable income, much less buckets of it, so we’re stuck at home. Secondly, for a lot of us late winter means you’re arse deep in snow, making even venturing out to shoot your bow miserable. It’s easy to develop what one friend calls the shack nasties, better known in most circles as cabin fever (something I now know well since moving to North Idaho; a place where ice fishing’s considered viable winter entertainment). But I’m here to tell you there is life after whitetail season. In actuality, there’s plenty to do this time of year, you just have to expand your mind to the possibilities. When it comes to the later days of winter and the off season think in terms of non-game (or small game, as most states garner rabbits and hares game status with seasons, licenses and limits imposed). Right off the top of my head I can think of a bunch of fun things to do in the coming weeks: wild hogs, coyote calling (or other legal varmints), small game and stumps galore.
Hog hunting is a great way to break cabin fever and the cost is realitively cheap
Consider the lowly wild boar. Recent U.S. Fish & Wildlife reports reveal that feral swine are now found in 42 of 50 states (or is it 58, as Obama says?). Bad news for ranchers, farmers and landowners. Good news for bowhunters. Bowhunting wild hogs is great fun – one of my favorite pastimes with bow in hand, in fact. California, Texas and the Deep South (especially Florida) are obvious hotspots (road trip anyone?), but the way things are going they just might turn up in your own backyard soon. A couple excellent and affordable guides I can vouch for include Ted Jaycox and Jim Schaafsma, Arrow Five Outfitters (California, 707-923-9633). Self-guided, day-fee Texas hunts can be discovered by contacting area chambers of commerce.
Varmint hunting is also a relatively cheap way to get out and “hunt” something in addition to its other benefit
Varmint hunting is another highly-exciting challenge I’m surprised more bowhunters don’t take more advantage of. I mean, really, a prime winter coyote, bobcat or fox ranks right up there with a deer as a trophy in my book. Maybe not a trophy buck, but then again, I’ve had prime coyotes and bobcats mounted, but never a doe or lesser buck. And, getting started is easy enough; all you need is a call, appropriate camouflage, your bow and trespass permission or a piece of public ground. Here’s a hidden fringe benefit: kill a couple coyotes (and conduct yourself like a lady or gentleman) and you just may gain permission to hunt other game – like turkeys and deer – on a prime piece of private land. Varmints make it much easier to get your foot in the door because most landowners hold predators in low regard.
Stump shooting is a great way to keep your shooting edge sharp and improve range estimation skills
Late winter’s also a great time to enjoy the simpler pleasures in archery. I call it roving; a Judu-point arrow on the string, a blunt tip shaft shoved in a back pocket for backup, and off I go on an enjoyable jaunt through a cow pasture, woodlot or prairie (or atop snowshoes as I do here in North Idaho). Mostly I target dried cow patties, or grass clumps, or cactus pads — or even regulation stumps. Along the way – if I’m lucky – I might stumble upon a cottontail rabbit (when and where seasons permit) or jackrabbit (western bowhunters) or snowshoe hare (again, where seasons permit for you northern bowhunters) and gain the opportunity to test my shooting on real game. A quartered-out bunny marinated in white wine or soy sauce, chopped garlic or green onions and spices (all according to taste), sautéed in smoking olive oil, is nothing to get snooty about either.
If you’re going to shoot in deep snow you better use the right equipment; especially arrows
Here’s a tip for you snow-bound northern archers. Snow can prove a serious pain in the butt, swallowing arrows like nothing else. To lessen frustration and lost arrows I build snow blunts for such occasions, starting with dish-faced rubber blunts (BearPaw Archery, 3RiversArchery), drilling holes through the sides and super-gluing tough stems of weed-trimmer line. They keep arrows from scooting beneath snow but pack a whollop on small game. I also wrap arrows in the brightest cresting available and fletch with glaring colors like chartreuse or hot pink to make them easier to spot beneath a light skim of snow.
Hardcore bowhunters will find a way to do what they love most…shoot their bow
The real point here is to not get caught up in letting others tell you how to have fun. Make your own fun, even if it doesn’t involved big-game conquest and bragging-sized trophy antlers. Bowhunting, archery in general, is all about having fun after all and sometimes fun comes through the simpler pleasures of our fair sport.