Small Game Hunting

By Matt Seek | November 1, 2015
From Xplor: November/December 2015

Hunting doves, quail, squirrels, and rabbits doesn’t require lots of expensive gear, and it’s tons of fun. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Know Before You Go

Hunting is an activity you learn by doing. The best tip we can offer is to find an experienced hunter to show you the ropes. A good teacher will offer pointers you’d never learn from the pages of a magazine.

  • The Conservation Department offers workshops to help you hone your hunting skills. Find one at
  • Pick up a copy of A Summary of Missouri Hunting and Trapping Regulations at Conservation Department offices or sporting goods stores. This booklet contains rules you need to follow when hunting.

Looking for a place to hunt? A conservation area — with good populations of small game — is usually a short drive away. Find one at

A youth-model 20-gauge shotgun is perfect for hunting small game. Shotguns shoot a cloud of pellets (called shot). Pellets come in different sizes. The number stamped on the side of a shotgun shell tells you the size of the pellets.

For more tips on hunting doves, quail, squirrels, rabbits, and many other small game animals, visit

Nothing is more important than safety. Always hunt with an adult, and learn to safely handle a gun. If you’re 11 or older, take a hunter safety course (details at


Doves can fly 40 miles per hour, streaking out of gun range in seconds. But speed alone isn’t what makes dove hunting fun. The sleek birds corkscrew through the sky in ways that would make a stunt pilot sick. Bagging a dove requires skill and lots of shotgun shells.

Gear Up

  • Always gear up wear safety glasses and ear protection.
  • Insect repellent will keep chiggers, mosquitoes, and ticks at bay.
  • Camouflage clothing helps later in the season when doves have been shot at a lot.
  • A 5-gallon bucket is great for packing in gear and makes a good seat.
  • Dove hunting weather can be toasty, so bring a bottle of water.
  • Fast-flying doves are hard to hit, so bring lots of shotgun shells with size 71/2 or 8 shot.

Get Out

Dove season runs September 1 to November 9, but hunting is usually best the first two weeks. Doves are active in the morning and late afternoon. Crop fields, sunflower fields, and weedy pastures are dove magnets. Doves often perch on dead limbs before dropping to the ground to feed. Setting up next to trees usually offers a close shot.

Game On

  • Keep the sun at your back. This will make it easier to see doves and harder for doves to see you.
  • Doves have good eyes and may flare away before they’re close enough to shoot, so don’t raise your gun until they’re in range (30–40 yards away).
  • If you hit a dove, watch it fall all the way to the ground. In a weedy field, downed doves can be impossible to find if you lose sight of where they drop.


Watching a bird dog sniff out a hidden covey of quail is a beautiful thing to behold. And few experiences will make your heart pound harder than having a bobwhite burst out of the weeds beneath your feet like a small, feathered explosion. Just try to remember to shoot!

Gear Up

  • An orange gear up vest and hat helps other hunters see you.
  • Load your gun with number 71/2 or 8 shot.
  • A pouch in the back of your vest is handy for carrying harvested quail.
  • Thick pants will protect your legs from briers and brush.
  • A candy bar (or three) will provide the energy you need to keep walking.
  • You’ll walk a lot while quail hunting, so wear sturdy hiking boots.

Get Out

Quail season runs November 1 to January 15. Your best bet is to hunt small fields that contain tall grasses, lots of weeds, and patches of shrubs. If the fields are next to woody draws, crop fields, or fencerows, that’s even better. Most hunters like to be out and about by midmorning, once the sun has burned off the frost.

Game On

  • When 10 or 15 quail burst upward at once, focus on a single bird to shoot.
  • Shoot only a few quail from each covey. Quail huddle together on chilly nights to stay warm. If a covey contains too few quail, nights can become dangerously cold for the remaining birds.
  • Try to hunt with someone who has a bird dog. A well-trained dog will find hidden quail that most people would miss.


What’s not to like about squirrel hunting? Squirrels can be found in nearly any patch of trees. You don’t need special gear to hunt them. And as a meal, bushytails taste better than nearly any other game animal.

Gear Up

  • Camouflage helps you blend in as you sneak through the trees.
  • Ticks can be thick in the squirrely woods. To keep bloodsuckers at bay, spray your clothes with permethrin.
  • Weather during squirrel season is often hot, so pack plenty of water.
  • Sturdy boots are best, but tennis shoes work fine.
  • A small foam pad, like one used for boating, makes sitting more comfortable.
  • Use shells loaded with number 6s.

Get Out

Squirrel season runs from late May to mid-February. To find squirrels, learn to ID trees. In June, mulberry trees offer a sweet feast for hungry squirrels. In August and September, oaks and hickories drop a buffet of nuts. Hit the woods early in the morning or late in the afternoon when squirrels search for food.

Game On

  • Walk slowly and stop often to listen and scan the treetops. If you find a pile of nut shells, sit nearby and watch for bushytails.
  • To find squirrels, shake the branch of a low-growing tree and bark like a squirrel: cherk, cherk, cherk. Nearby squirrels will usually bark back.
  • Try to shoot when a squirrel peeks from behind a branch and only its head is visible. Head shots limit the number of pellets in the meat.


Gear Up

  • Rabbit hunting can be chilly, so wear a stocking cap to keep your noggin warm.
  • An orange vest and hat helps other hunters see you.
  • A thermos of cocoa will warm you up from the inside out.
  • Shotgun shells loaded with number 6 shot work great for rabbits.
  • Brier-proof pants will protect you from thorns and brush.
  • Insulated boots will keep your toes toasty.

Get Out

Rabbit season runs October 1 to February 15. Rabbits thrive in weedy areas that have plenty of thickets, briers, and brush piles to hide in. Many hunters don’t hit the fields until the first snow, but good hunting can be had in October when rabbit numbers are often higher. Late afternoon, especially if there’s snow on the ground, is a prime time to hunt.

Game On

  • Kicking brush piles, brier brambles, and patches of shrubby cover will often cause a rabbit to dart out. Wait for the rabbit to run into an open, brush-free area before taking a shot.
  • A good way to find where rabbits are hiding is to follow their tracks in newly fallen snow.
  • Hunting with beagles is tons of fun, but be careful! In tall brush, it’s easy to mistake a short-legged dog for a longeared rabbit.



And More...

This Issue's Staff

Brett Dufur
Les Fortenberry
Karen Hudson
Regina Knauer
Angie Daly Morfeld
Noppadol Paothong
Marci Porter
Mark Raithel
Laura Scheuler
Matt Seek
David Stonner
Nichole LeClair Terrill
Stephanie Thurber
Cliff White