No Shortage of Hunting Opportunities During "Off-Season"

Upstate Outdoors
January 24, 2017 - 4:05 am

Many Upstate hunters lament the months of January, February, and March as the “off-season” of hunting after deer season has ended on January 1. The winter duck season does assist until January 29, still leaving a long seven week hiatus until turkey season opens on March 20 on private lands across the state.

According to Michael Hook, Small Game Project Coordinator for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, hunters with this mentality are missing out on an abundance of small game hunting opportunities over the next two months.

“In the mountain areas, we have a rare and challenging opportunity for some grouse hunting as well as other opportunities for quail, rabbits, squirrel and a host of other small game throughout the Upstate and Game Zone 2,” said Hook.

Many hunters enjoy taking to the woods during this time of year as a chance to post-scout the previous deer season and do some pre-scouting for the Upcoming turkey season. Our Upstate woods have no shortage of squirrels which are highly under-utilized by area hunters, especially on public Wildlife Management Areas.

Unlike our squirrel populations, Hook said that both rabbit and quail populations across the state had been reduced from the historic levels of the days of our grandfathers hunting experience by a reduction in available habitat. Fortunately, he and his department have been heavily involved in the South Carolina Bobwhite Initiative, a movement aimed at educating and assisting landowners and managers in recovering suitable habitat for these small game animals by altering land use practices.

“One of the most beneficial things that landowners can do this time of year is replace their habit of what we call recreational mowing,” said Hook. “Owners see a ditch bank grown up and they like to go through and mow it down for that clean look. What I suggest is changing over and do some winter discing – hook up the disc harrows to the tractor and turn over old growth which stimulates new tender growth that is more beneficial to all wildlife.”

Another small game opportunity is trapping. Most hunters and landowners are familiar with setting and working traplines to reduce predator populations of coyotes and raccoons, but additional recreational opportunities exist for trapping other furbearers like bobcat, otter, mink, muskrat, skunk and weasel.

In addition to the grouse hunting opportunity mentioned, other small game bird species that are in season during this time also includes crow hunting.

Crow hunting has gained a respectable following from a number of die-hard hunters who equate hunting the large black birds to inland duck hunting. The two most popular tactics are a run-and-gun approach where hunters routinely monitor large areas for passing flocks of crows and call to them to get them stirred up. Creating such a loud, boisterous spectacle has the potential for drawing in crows from a radius of greater than a mile as the birds flock to a fight.

Crow hunting is also accomplished by setting up a “blind” near a food source and calling in and shooting the birds with the aide of decoys – hence it’s comparison to inland duck hunting.

One of Hook’s personal favorites is grouse hunting, which is open only in Game Zone 1, an area that comprises the northern section of Greenville, Pickens, and Oconee Counties. Hook stated the terrain and the availability of birds make it a challenging past time, but like most sporting activities, has it’s rewards.

“You have to reset your expectation level when it comes to this kind of bird hunting,” he said. “Flushing a couple and getting a shot is a good day. The terrain is rugged and these birds are especially wary. Bagging one is a real accomplishment.”

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Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM. This week, the show will be broadcast live from the Upstate SC Boat Show held at the TD Convention Center in Greenville.  Contact Gentry at pgentry6@bellsouth.net.

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Hunters needn’t lament the “offseason” time between deer and turkey seasons. Plenty of opportunities for small game hunting exist in the Upstate to tide sportsmen over. Photo by Phillip Gentry.   

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