By Bob Humphrey
For most folks, hunting season starts in October. But summer unofficially ends after Labor Day and the kids going back to school. That can make September seem a very long month. It need not be. There’s a ton of early season hunting opportunities available this month for those with a little initiative to seek them out.
Every year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sets the framework for migratory bird seasons under which each state develops their seasons and bag limits. States are usually racing to go through the process of public hearings, setting seasons, printing rule books and distributing them to the public before waterfowl seasons begin, usually early to mid October. But several seasons have already begun before those books ever get out.
Rails - The rail season typically begins on September 1 in most states with daily bag limits as high as 25. The most common method is poling a skiff through flooded reeds or wild rice beds and when the flights are in it can offer some great jump shooting.
Snipe - Seasons for this more wetland-oriented cousin of the woodcock typically begin in early to mid-September with generous bag limits. You’ll often find them in wet pastures and the most common method is jump- shooting with or without a dog.
Teal - Teal are among the earliest migrants and because they have already gone through before most regular waterfowl seasons open, many states have early teal seasons. Techniques are the same as during the regular season, but bring lots of ammo for these diminutive ducks are tough targets.
Crow - With young fully-fledged and out of the nest, and crops ripening, crows are at their most numerous and voracious this time of year. Do your farmer friends a favor while working on your wingshooting. Blinds, calls and decoys are all helpful, and don’t underestimate these keen-eyed and keen-witted adversaries.
Doves - They are North America’s No. 1 gamebird, and with good reason. Get up late. Have a hearty brunch then head to the field. Then it’s a short walk or drive to your station, and hot-barreled action on some challenging wingshooting, followed by a group cook-out. The social aspects are often as important and as fun as the shooting.
Small Game and Varmints
Squirrels - If you want to introduce youngsters to hunting the right way, start them out with something small, numerous and fun to hunt. Once among the most popular forms of hunting, squirreling seems to have faded away. Rekindle your youth and fire up a youngster by bagging some bushytails.
Woodchucks, Prairie Dogs - Those same farmers who welcome you to shoot crows will love you for thinning out the groundhog population. Much the same is true for ranchers and prairie dogs. You’ll need good optics for spotting and long-range shooting.
Coyotes - Much like crows, coyote young are now about fully grown, physically, but still very naive. And the earlier you thin them out, the less impact they have on deer.
Whitetails - Outside of South Carolina, where the regular firearms season starts August 15, most early seasons are bow only. Temps are hot and deer move only during the first and last hour - sometimes minutes - of daylight. Scent control and bug control are important.
Western Big Game - It’s a different story out west. September is a big month for big game, especially elk and antelope - because of the rut. It’s mostly bowhunting but you can find some early muzzleloader seasons.