Hunting small game is a great way for beginners to get started, and some of the earliest fall hunting seasons — including squirrel, snowshoe hare, cottontail, dove and forest grouse — present excellent opportunities for new hunters to develop their skills and confidence without breaking the bank. The best part? Good hunting for all of these species can be found on public land.

It doesn’t take specialized or expensive gear to hunt them: the barebones essentials are a .22 long rifle and/or any shotgun, and clothes and boots suitable for hiking. It can be done with or without a dog, and with a little bit of luck, good timing, and know-how, you can be successful.

Many of the skills you will learn while hunting small game — including observation skills, handling and shooting a firearm, and field dressing and cooking the animals you harvest — will translate directly to big game hunting.

While hunting with a small-caliber rifle like a .22 (which has almost no recoil), it’s the perfect time to work on shooting mechanics in a real-world setting. Focus on building muscle memory for proper grip, trigger squeeze, and obtaining a sight picture from various shooting positions — all without the recoil of a larger, centerfire rifle.

Cleaning small game helps new hunters understand the basics of field dressing before they move to larger game. Once they get these small game species on the dinner table, there is a good chance they will want to keep hunting them. Most of these small game species are known for their great table fare — particularly cottontail rabbits and forest grouse.

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