December and January are prime months to get in the field and enjoy small game hunting and waterfowling, and there are some incredible fishing opportunities available for anglers who want to haul in some monster fish. With Christmas vacations coming up and the New Year’s holiday, take the time to enjoy some of the hunts and angling opportunities with a friend. We have found several of each for you and highlight them here.
Small Game Trips
While most of the state’s hunters are chasing whitetail deer or turkey, there are some really neat small game hunts available on public lands that bear consideration. Squirrel hunting used to be a mainstay and Brunswick stew a regular winter table fare in a hunter’s house. Interest in squirrel hunting waned over the years but anecdotal reports show that interest coming back. VDGIF has increased squirrel-hunting opportunities by extending the season to include September and adding a spring season.
While squirrels can be hunted with success in just about any area of the state that has a small hardwood lot on it, many hunters lack access to private land. For this reason we decided to highlight two wildlife management areas that offer not only great gray squirrel hunting but also a shot at taking a few fox squirrels too.
Merrimac Farm WMA is located in Prince William County next to Quantico Marine Corps Base. Although it is only 301 acres and located near heavily populated northern Virginia, few people really take advantage of this pristine little jewel and the squirrel hunting it possesses. There are plenty of hardwood bottoms along Cedar Run on its southern boundary, and old fields too. In fact, almost a third of the property consists of old, overgrown fields. The woodlands adjoining the old fields are likely where hunters will get shots at fox squirrels. The property used to be a licensed bird hunting preserve so it was very well managed for hunting even before VDGIF was able to secure the property. Permits to hunt Merrimac Farms will be issued through the quota hunt system.
Little North Mountain WMA is located near the Maury River in western Virginia in Augusta and Rockbridge counties. Adjoining Goshen WMA, this public land, combined with Little North Mountain, stretches to over 33,000 acres of varied habitat with some incredible hunting opportunities.
However, the Little North Mountain WMA is where VDGIF Small Game Biologist Marc Puckett suggests squirrel hunters try for some outstanding action. There are numerous access roads cutting through the WMA. With so much land open to hunting, hunters should find little problem having a little slice of mountain heaven to themselves for a morning or afternoon of bushy-tail shooting.
As noted with Merrimac, hunters looking to bag a fox squirrel need to focus on open areas. There are adjacent farms or private lands on the edges of the WMA that make better habitat for fox squirrels, and that is where Puckett suggests hunters look.
The gray squirrels, however, can be found in any hardwood lot. Hunters can access Little North Mountain WMA by heading ten miles west of Staunton via state routes 254 and 42.
Rabbit hunting is another small game pursuit coming back into popularity and Puckett was able to point us to several good opportunities to highlight. Fulfillment Farms in Albemarle County and New Kent.
For the New Kent Forestry Center hunt, one hunter will be selected and up to five guests for one day of hunting. Hunt dates this season for rabbit are January 19th to 21st and the 26th to 28th. Dogs are allowed at both places for hunting and the habitat is managed well for rabbits and quail.
Interestingly enough, both of these managed hunts also offer quail hunting opportunities too. Puckett commented that the New Kent Forestry Center tends to have three or four good coveys on the property to work a dog. The New Kent Forestry Center will allow successfully drawn quail hunters to bring their dog and two guests on one day choosing from January 12th to14th. The quail hunt at Fulfillment Farms is the same dates as the rabbit hunt.
Waterfowl hunting is likely the mainstay of a hunter’s mind come January and Virginia is blessed with ample waterfowl populations. Often it is not the lack of waterfowl in the area but rather the lack of access that makes waterfowlers scramble for hunting opportunities. Gary Costanzo, waterfowl biologist with VDGIF, spent a few minutes discussing the opportunities with us for this story.
“Princess Anne WMA in Back Bay offers hunters a really good opportunity to enjoy good shooting and take in great scenery. The quota hunts are done by randomly drawn numbers for the 55 floating blind stakes. The lower your number the better chance you get to choose your favorite blind stake to hunt. We rarely have enough hunters to fill all 55 blinds for the half day hunts.”
Considering that Princess Anne WMA is so close to Virginia Beach and the hunting is quite good, this quota hunt a really sweet deal for hunters in the region.
Blind selections start at 5 A.M. If you are late then you go to a standby drawing for a blind. All hunters must bring their boat and floating blind and a floating blind license. Because all of the 55 locations are rarely used, standby hunters are permitted. Be there at 5 a.m. for a shot at a half-day hunt. All hunting stops at 1 p.m. and hunters must have packed up and reported in by 2 p.m. Preseason scouting is recommended to determine if your boat will work and to become familiar with the area.
Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays are the general hunt days. Some holidays are included. Applications for a hunt number were due September 30th. Keep it in mind for next year or go standby to give it a try.
Costanzo pointed out that there is a good mix of ducks and geese in the WMA. Most ducks are puddle ducks but there are some divers. Canada geese, snow geese and even a tundra swan may be taken by those with a tag.
“The aquatic vegetation is coming back on Back Bay and that is drawing more widgeon and gadwalls. It is good for all ducks in general as well. We see plenty of mallards and other species too,” he reported.
Hunters may also want to visit the Find Game site for more hunting opportunities. www.findgame.org
Game & Fish Magazine features detailed, local coverage about the best hunting and fishing opportunities broken down by state or region to give you the best local coverage available. www.gameandfishmag.com
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