February 5, 2020
By RANDY ZELLERS/AGFC ASSISTANT CHIEF OF COMMUNICATIONS
LITTLE ROCK – Duck season is over, and turkey season is still months away, but hunters looking for one more way to stay in the woods still can find plenty of excitement in small game hunting. Both rabbit and squirrel seasons remain open until 30 minutes after sunset, Feb. 29.
Squirrels and rabbits are still abundant throughout most of Arkansas, and February hunting can prove some of the most predictable for the hunter who goes it alone or with a friend. Nearly all of the leaves and vines have dropped to the ground, making it easier for the hunter to find his target.
Hunters after squirrels should keep an eye on both the ground and the treetops, as most bushytails will be busy seeking the acorns and hickory nuts they stashed during fall. Contrary to popular opinion, squirrels don’t necessarily remember the exact locations they buried their foodstuffs. Instead, they tend to stick to a few areas where they bury or hide their treasure. During winter, they use their keen sense of smell to find acorns and nuts that they and other squirrels have hidden. This frantic scratching and searching gives hunters the ability to hear and see the motion long before the squirrels see them.
Instead of focusing on a few hickory or acorn trees and sitting, late-season hunters are better off staying on the move, quietly slipping through the woods until they cross paths with a squirrel. An accurate .22 rimfire rifle will anchor the animal from long distances as long as the shooter is up to the task.
Finding rabbits at the tail-end of the season is a bit different. Rabbits will stay put in whatever brushy cover they can find along the edges of fields and ditches. Ditch banks are traditionally a place for rabbit seeking, and here there is a chance for swamp rabbits as well as cottontails. Swampers tend to be a good bit larger than the more numerous cottontails.
With most of the tall grasses dead and trampled down, fewer patches of dense cover will be left for the rabbit to hide. Hunters should walk from brush pile to brush pile, giving each a good kick to flush out any cottontails or swamp rabbits lurking underneath. The shot will come quickly, so hunters should get ready before each brushpile and watch in all directions for the little brown dart that may streak to the next available cover at any given moment. A 12- or 20-gauge shotgun with 6 shot and an improved cylinder choke offers plenty of power to punch through light brush, but still has a wide enough pattern to give the hunter a little leeway when his or her shot is slightly off.
Nearly all Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wildlife management areas are open for rabbit and squirrel hunting, and so are some of the national wildlife refuges in the state. Visit www.agfc.com/wheretohunt to locate a WMA near you and begin your search for the last game of this hunting season.