Rules of the Game: Small Game Hunting - Texas Fish & Game - May 2012 Rules of the Game: Small Game Hunting - May 2012 The Laws and Regulations Governing Small Game Hunting in Texas, What They Mean and Why They Exist By Bob Hood
AMONG THE BIGGEST EXPERIENCES that have led many Texans to taking up hunting are the smallest critters that roam our woods and forests. After all, using small caliber rifles and handguns as well as small gauge shotguns is where many hunters got their beginnings while going after small animals like squirrels and rabbits and several species of other small furry species.
Of all the small animals legal to hunt in Texas, it is the squirrel, a game animal, that is most sought-after, followed possibly by the cottontail rabbit, which is classified as a non-game animal.
According to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials, the squirrel ranks as the No.3 most popular game animal among hunters in East Texas and No. 4 among all hunters statewide.
There are three major types of squirrels in the Lone Star State: fox, gray, and rock. Of these, it is the fox squirrel and gray squirrel that are sought after by most hunters. The rock squirrel rarely is hunted, while two other species classified as non-game animals along with rabbits, the tiny flying squirrel and the ground squirrel, are not hunted.
The largest squirrel sought by hunters is the fox squirrel, of which there are three varieties ranging in adult weight from about 1.3 pounds to 1.7 pounds. It is found in all regions except far South Texas, far West Texas and the mid-Panhandle.
There are no closed seasons or bag limits for fox squirrels in counties with an open season for them, which is basically wherever they can be found. Its a different story for 51 East Texas counties, however. Both gray and fox squirrels occupy the Pineywoods where those 51 counties have two open seasons, The most recent East Texas seasons were Oct. 1, 2011 through Feb. 5, 2012 and May 1-31, 2012, with a daily bag limit of 10 squirrels.
Many East Texas hunters regard the opening of their squirrel seasons with the same excitement as the opening of deer seasons. Many "hunting clubs" in East Texas celebrate the squirrel season much as do deer hunters on hunting leases across the state, using dogs to locate the squirrels in trees and holding squirrel cookouts at their camps.
The reason for the East Texas squirrel seasons in the 51 counties when compared to a no closed season for fox squirrels found throughout most other areas of the state are thought by many people to be more of a tradition than anything. However, the regulations do help keep harvest numbers in check with wildlife management goals in those areas where the hunting pressure is larger than elsewhere.
Squirrels may be hunted with any legal firearm, which excludes pellet guns and other air guns while non-game animals may be hunted with pellet guns and other air guns, as well as any legal firearm.
Squirrels are classified as game animals, while rabbits---the second-most hunted small game---are not. Photo Stephen Coburn, Bigstock
I got my start at hunting small game animals on my grandparents dairy in Comanche County where I hunted both cottontails and jackrabbits. As a youngster, I considered both species "rabbits" but learned later that the jackrabbit is not a rabbit after all. The jackrabbit is a hare.
Whats the difference? Its mainly how the two are born. True rabbits such as the cottontail are born naked and with their eyes closed in places dug out by their mothers and lined with grass, hair from the mothers breast and other soft materials.
Jackrabbits, on the other hand, are born fully furred and with their eyes open. Thus, their nests are simply depressions without soft materials because they can be up and on their way very quickly after being born.
A third animal found in portions of Texas is the swamp rabbit. It has characteristics of both the cottontail and the jackrabbit. It is born fully furred like the jackrabbit but with its eyes closed like those of the cottontail.
Cottontail rabbits at adulthood weigh around two to three pounds. Adult swamp rabbits normally weigh around three to six pounds while jackrabbits hit the scales at between four and eight pounds.
A jackrabbit suns itself on a Stephens County ranch. Photo Bob Hood
Although rabbits and squirrels are fun to hunt and tasty on a dinner plate when prepared in various manners including fried, sautéed, baked and grilled, they can be nuisances to homes, gardens, bird feeders and crops.
Squirrels often chew their ways into attics and garages, often destroy cloth lawn chairs and cushions in an attempt to gather material for their nests, while rabbits can play havoc on gardens or flower beds.
Nevertheless, they are fun to hunt and theres more that can be enjoyed after harvesting them than the excitement of the hunt and the meat they provide for the dinner table. A few years ago while making a 32-day, 232-mile canoe trip down the Clear Fork of the Brazos River in West Texas with a friend, I shot squirrels along with way with my .410 for dinner and used the hearts and livers from the squirrels for bait to catch catfish on drop lines near our camp at night. The squirrel bait never failed to produce a catfish or two from the river.
More people hunt squirrels and rabbits with .22 rimfire rifles or .410 and 20-gauge shotguns than any other types of weapons but its fun to hunt them with any legal weapon. All you need besides a place to hunt them is a hunting license and some ammunition.
Basic Texas Hunting Rules to Keep in Mind
IT IS UNLAWFUL to hunt any animal on a public road or right-of-way to a public road.
It is unlawful to discharge a firearm on or across a public road.
A valid hunting license is required to hunt any animal in Texas.
Every hunter including residents and non-residents born after Sept. 2, 1971, must successfully complete a Hunter Education Training Course. Proof of certification or deferral must be carried on the person at all times while hunting. The minimum age for this requirement is nine years. The cost of the course is $15. A one-time, one-year deferral for the course by persons age 17 or older may be purchased for $10.
Hunter orange clothing is not required while hunting on private lands but is recommended while hunting on public lands.