Take the Small Game Challenge

by Chris McCotter

So we have a little time before deer season, what’s a hunter to do? Certainly not sit around and vacuum the house. If you are not working hard on food plots, cutting shooting lanes or setting up scout cameras, you might take this small game challenge. 

The goal is to take one of every small game species in Virginia; crow, groundhog, grouse, quail, rabbit and squirrel, in one season. 

Sound easy? Not exactly. Six species of game as varied as you can imagine. Think you can accomplish this challenge? Here’s what you have to do!


This season is an excellent way to get back into shooting shape in time for the waterfowl seasons. It began August 17 and will run through March 15 but only on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday for some reason. Guess the crows need every other day off? The season is September 2 through March 10 on National Forest Lands and Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries lands (Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday only).

Crows are a federally regulated migratory species; however, no HIP number is required and hunters may use unplugged shotguns to hunt them. Electronic calls may be used on private and public lands and are recommended if you plan on hunting seriously. 

You’ll also want a half dozen crow decoys and a mouth call in case your batteries die. Ride around in the morning and see where crows are getting grit, then locate nearby farmland. Most farmers are all too happy to have a Crow Patrol come knocking.

Don’t use too little firepower with crows. 12 ga. shotguns with at least #7 shot are best. You will get multiple shots if your set-up and calling is good, so leave the doubles and single shot guns in the safe.


Is your trigger finger itchy for deer season already? Rifle hunters can enjoy staying sharp with groundhog season. Long shots are common and even though you are shooting smaller caliber rounds, it’s all about the drop, load and windage here. 

Grab the .17, .22 or .223 and take a ride in the country during a warm afternoon or right after a rain shower. If you see hogs, consult with the landowner and see if you can take care of business.

There is no closed season for groundhogs on private lands.

Groundhog hunting on National Forest lands and Department lands is permitted from September 2 through March 10 and during the spring turkey season.


This is probably the most difficult of the small game to bag in our challenge. Grouse numbers are way down across Virginia and except for some small pockets, you are going to really have to get lucky. 

You’ll find enough grouse for a limit (three per day) in the mountains of Virginia. Reports of enough grouse to hunt are hard to come by as hunters are very tight-lipped, but there are birds near Lake Moomaw in the Gathright Wildlife Management Area and the Mount Rogers Wildlife Management Area. There are reports, too of birds in the George Washington National Forest lands in the mountains surrounding Luray and Lexington. Let’s just say, grouse are out there, but you’re going to have to really hunt for ‘em.

This season begins October 26 and runs through February 8, west of Interstate 95. There is no grouse hunting east of 95.


Wild quail are just slightly less difficult to hunt in Virginia than ruffed grouse. Bobwhite quail have made a slight comeback and you can find them from the coastal plain to the Piedmont but you probably won’t find three coveys a day. Ask local farmers in your neck of the woods what they are seeing and hearing and if they indicate quail are around, ask if you can try your luck. Wildlife Management Areas around the eastern part of the state also offer public land for quail hunting.

This season begins November 9 and runs through January 31 with a six bird per day limit. 


Rabbit numbers are way up this year with plenty of rain creating a bonanza of grasses they like to eat. Rabbit hunting is really not like any other type of hunting as your quarry runs along the ground at high speed and you can use dogs. 

Wait until deer season is over or hit a rabbit field any time after November 2 for a tasty addition to your winter game bag. Season runs through February 28 with a six rabbit per day limit.

Squirrel (Gray, Red, and Fox)

Just because you see squirrels all over the subdivision doesn’t mean you can go out and hunt them. You have to find some nut-bearing trees in an area you are permitted to hunt; a Wildlife Management Area or private forest will do just fine. Hickory nuts are what squirrels eat early. Then they will go to acorns and beechnuts. Listen for them “cutting” nuts on quite afternoons and pursue with either shotgun or small caliber rifle.

Remember you can hunt the larger fox squirrel in counties west of the Blue Ridge and in the counties of Albemarle, Bedford, Culpeper, Fauquier, Franklin, Greene, Loudoun, Madison, Orange, Patrick, Prince William, and, Rappahannock during any established squirrel season.

You can take six squirrels per day (gray and red) September 7 through February 28 and fox squirrels September 7 through January 31.

Well, that’s six, small game species. I wish you best of luck and safe hunting. 

Until next time, remember to cherish, protect and conserve the outdoors while sharing it with others.

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