Small game hunting activity remains slow

BIG RAPIDS  — Not much small game hunting, including rabbits, seems to be taking place. A quick look at the snowfall plus the outdoor thermometer might explain the situation.

“I’m seeing rabbits,” said Department of Natural Resources wildlife technician Mark Knee of Lake County. “Squirrels are still active.”

“It’s slowed down quite a bit,” said Mecosta County DNR wildlife biologist Peter Kailing. “You still hear about guys taking their beagles out on a nice warm day. If the sun is shining and rabbits will venture from their hole...But it would only be the hard-core hunters out now with this combination of cold and snow.”

Northwestern Michigan DNR wildlife biologist Steve Griffith agrees with that assessment.

“The winter weather, I was going to get out rabbit hunting the other day, never did make it,” he said. “It wasn’t a great day. The sun wasn’t out and it was fairly windy. I have seen some cottontails around. This kind of weather has everybody, animal wise, tucked in, and waiting for warmer weather. From what I’ve heard and seen, it’s been quiet, especially with the warm temperatures we’ve had.”

Katie Keen, the DNR’s northern Michigan wildlife biologist tech, added that it’s hard to gauge success of activity with small game hunting or trapping.

“There’s not much open water right now,” she said.

By April, the DNR will access the deer survival report from the winter. Right now, it wouldn’t appear to be a strong winter season for deer.

“This is a pretty harsh winter so far,” Kailing said. “The deer went into the winter in pretty good shape. We had a good fall, a lot of mass production a lot of late-picked corn. So they had a chance to fatten up.

“In this area, central Michigan, it takes a pretty hard winter to have deer killed by starvation. It can happen. It’s happened in the past. February and March will tell the tale. March is the deal breaker for deer in a hard winter. If it’s warmer and comes early and they can get to the ground, they can recover.

“Deer can lose a third of their body weight and still recover. But if we have a cold March and a long March, and there’s still snow on the ground, that might be the end. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a significant winter kill in this part of the state.”