By Paul D. Atkins
As we pushed our way through the waist deep snow the big snowshoe hare just sat there and waited. His “white” camouflage blended perfectly with the snow, but not quite good enough to keep me, and my 8-year old son, Eli from pushing forward. With each step I figured he would bolt, but he didn’t so we decided to keep moving towards him. I slowly raised the BowTech bow and settled the pin.
In most states hunting small game usually takes a back seat to hunting big game, especially here in Alaska. With moose, caribou and sheep practically around every corner most people forget that the state also harbors some of the finest small game pursuits in the country.
As hunters we all live for the fall and rightly so. Bears, sheep and goats are constantly on our minds and we absolutely cannot wait until the season opens. Like most people who chase animals either with a bow, rifle or shotgun it becomes a totally obsession that drives us not only throughout the year, but also throughout our lives. Some of that year can feel empty though, but there are solutions.
Here in the arctic, winter can be a long time going. It starts pretty much after the big game seasons are over and extends all the way through late April when the bears have decided enough is enough and exit their dens. During this time usually starting in March, life for a hunter can really start to heat up, literally. Bright sunny days with 14 hours of daylight combined with good snow, frozen ground and a good cabin or tent to hang out in can be as grand as any moose camp, especially if a group is involved.
It’s during this time that the small game animals here in Alaska run abundant, everything from Ptarmigan, to the big snowshoe hare to a list of predators a mile long roam the frozen tundra. The opportunities are endless and being able to get out and chase these critters with your family is priceless.
Ptarmigan and Arctic Hare for example are formidable targets with a bow. Their white fur and plumage are perfect camouflage against what Mother Nature has left us and getting to them can be a very tough challenge. For the most part you will miss more than you will hit, but it provides some of the greatest times a family outing can provide.
Fun all Year!!
As far as small game goes the Alaska department of fish and gam list three species of small game in the regulation manual; Grouse (Spruce, Sooty, Ruffed and Sharp Tail), rabbits (Snowshoe and Arctic hare) and Ptarmigan (Willow, Rock and White-Tail). All can be found in different parts of the state and can be hunted at different times throughout the year depending on the unit you choose to hunt. Some units are closed to certain species while others are open all year. Bag limits are pretty liberal, but most have a possession limit.
Personally I like to hunt the winter months. The snow pack in and around willow thickets are a prime location for the bird hunter while the Alder choked riverbanks provide excellent cover for the big snowshoe hare. Hunting small game in the winter season can be very challenging. All are camouflaged in their winter apparel and can be tough to locate, but with a little practice you will quickly pick-up on an eye here or an eye there or a slight shifting in the snow.
Shot gunning for Ptarmigan is also a very popular sport here in the arctic. Like snowshoe hare they can be found about anywhere and being able to pick out the white bird is tough, but provides some great excitement. I personally use a 12 gauge with number 4 steel shot. Getting in close and flushing the covey is a rush and you usually get your limit pretty quick.
If you plan to bow hunt any of the small game species then there are many options, from traditional archery to compounds and they will all work as long as you don’t mind losing a few arrows. Light poundage bows work best, as it doesn’t take much knock down power to kill a rabbit or a ptarmigan. I set my bow as low as possible and use arrows tipped with rubber blunts, the fly great and proves to be a killing combination.
Chasing Alaska’s small game can be big fun no matter your weapon of choice. All are great eating and don’t require much in terms of expense. Whether you pursue Ptarmigan, Grouse or the big snowshoe hare, they both provide that much needed break after a cold dark winter and will fill the freezer with something besides moose and caribou.