Hunting 102: Where the Wild Things Are, and Are Not

So, I am back to civilization after spending a week chasing mountain lions in Mendocino National Forest (yes, there are jobs where you get paid to harass wildlife, and that is a future blog post).

After carefully considering my previous question (see Hunting 101) I am sure you are all ready to charge into the wilds, guns blazing, right?? Maybe not so much…

Ask yourself what you want to hunt, what are your end goals (this ties into Hunting 101 a bit). Do you want to fill your freezer? Do you want to dip your toes to see if you like it before you commit to it? Do you want to hunt only nuisance and non-natives because that speaks to you more ethically? What habitat do you find you spend the most time in, or what animals have you wanted to get close to the most? Maybe you want to learn all you can about your quarry before venturing forth (this is my favorite answer, so extra bonus points). Answering this question also helps break up what seems a huge, life-altering activity into smaller, more manageable parts. You don’t have to immerse yourself whole-hog (I had to!). Dabble. I give you permission. In fact, I encourage it, because the more people there are that hunt that don’t reek of the quintessential ‘Bubba Hunter Extraordinaire’ the better!

Breaking it down also helps with the gear. Because, as with all human activities, there is gear involved. Most of you are on a budget and can’t run out and get all the goodies right away. Good thing I know this! Some groups of prey are easier to start with, based on skill level and gear requirements. My favorite is Upland Game Birds (this happens to be where my concentration is too), so my example is this: For first time Upland hunters, you need a gun, a pair of boots, ideally an upland hunting dog, and maybe a vest to carry food, water, ammo, and dead birds in. Contrast that to waterfowl hunting in a blind (what I grew up with) you need a boat probably, gun, waders, decoys, inclement weather gear and clothing, something to sit on, food and coffee, a retrieving dog, something to carry everything with, the skill to call ducks, and the skill to set up decoys. Whew!

Every animal (and human for that matter) has particular habitat needs. These needs fall into one of five categories: Food, Water, Cover, Space, and Arrangement. They differ for every animal species. Part of knowing your prey is to know their needs, and at what times of the year. All of these elements together is called HABITAT. And habitat is the key to everything. But more on that next time.

So, to make this easier, I am going to break it down, CA DFG-style. There is stuff you can hunt, and stuff you can’t. If it is an animal you can legally ‘take’ in CA, I have listed it below.

Game groups in CA are broken into the following groups for regulations and seasons:

Upland Game Birds: Pheasant, Quail (California or Valley quail, mountain quail, Gambel’s or desert quail), Chukar (or Red-Legged Partridge), Sage Grouse, Sooty and Ruffed Grouse, White-tailed Ptarmigan, Wild Turkey, Band-tailed Pigeon, Doves (Mourning, white-winged, spotted, Eurasian collared, and ringed turtle-doves), and Common snipe.

Waterfowl: American Coot and Common Moorhen, Ducks and Mergansers (including Mallard, Pintail, Canvasback, Redheads, Greater and Lesser Scaup, American Widgeon, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged and Cinnamon Teal, Common, Hooded, and Red-breasted Merganser, plus other uncommon ducks). Geese (Includes the categories Dark Geese: including Canada, cackling, aleutian, and white-fronted or “specklebelly’, Large Canada Geese: include western Canada geese “honker” and lesser Canada geese “lessers”, Small Canada Geese: include cackling and Aleutain geese, White Geese include Ross’ and Snow geese, and Black Brant).

Large Mammals: Deer (Black-tailed deer and Mule deer), Black bear, Feral hog (or wild pig), Elk (Tule Elk, Rocky Mountain Elk, and Roosevelt Elk), Pronghorn Antelope, and Nelson Bighorn Sheep.

Resident Small Game (or Small Mammals): Includes Tree Squirrels, Brush, Cottontail, and Pygmy Rabbits, Varying Hare (or Snowshoe Hare), and Black and White-tailed Jackrabbits.

Furbearing Mammals: Badger, Gray Fox, Muskrat, Mink, Beaver, and Racoon.

Non-Game: American Crow, Coyote, English sparrow, starling, weasels, skunks, opossum, moles, and rodents (excluding tree and flying squirrels, and those listed as furbearers, endangered or threatened species).

Next time: Hunting 103: Habitat, Schmabitat

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