Five of the Top Game to Hunt in the Northeast

The northeastern states have hunting similar to what you would find in the southeastern region of Appalachia – deer, bear, etc. But it is also a fantastic place to hunt other game, like bobcat and the numerous waterfowl that migrate along the Atlantic Flyaway.

Hunting in the northeast region tends to be slightly different strategically than hunting in other regions. Old growth forests, reclamation timber, and orchards can be a little tricky. A lot of the timber project territories lack concentrated foodstuffs and the orchards can often lack bedding areas or undergrowth. The trick is to know your game species and their habits where you will be hunting.

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Bobcat

The bobcat is a medium-sized brown cat with black spots. Its coat will be more of a grey in winter. The ears are large with short tufts at the top and a short tail (hence the name) A bobcat is around two feet tall at the shoulders and can weigh up to forty pounds. They have excellent hearing and eyesight.

Bobcats are found all over the United States and even Canada and Mexico. There are only a few places in the Midwest where they are not typically found. In some areas their numbers are quite high – New Hampshire has a large bobcat population in the several hundred. They are known as the Ghosts of the Forest because these nocturnal hunters are so rarely seen by most people. So far, I’ve only encountered three in the woods.

They eat a wide variety of small animals including groundhogs, squirrels, moles, raccoons, skunks, rabbits, and even larger prey like deer. They can live in a variety of habitats including desert, mountains, farmland and even swamps. They will den in either a rocky crevice or a hollow tree. They don’t spend a lot of time up in a tree, though they can climb well. Bobcats can also swim but would prefer not to.

Bobcats live primarily solitary lives and come together only for the mating season which is in February or March. Then around early May, the female will give birth to up to seven kittens. The kittens will stay with the mother for the first year. Bobcats can have a territory range anywhere from one mile to more than 35, this varies tremendously on the location. They mark their territory with scent markings, scat, urine, and scrapes. Scrapes are piles of debris and dirt that are marked with the cats’ scent.

Rabbits are their preferred prey, so look for rabbits when you are out hunting a bobcat. If you can see a place where a bobcat has made a kill, he will be close by. The first thing you should look for is the tracks. It’s useless to try to hunt a bobcat who happens to be miles away on the other side of his territory. The tracks will tell you a lot about the cat you are hunting too. It will show you want the type of cover structure he prefers, the bedding type he likes, where he feels safe enough to cross roads and creeks, and even his hunting methods. Bobcats tend to follow the same paths – even the same paths that the previous territory owner used. These bobcat trails will be used for many generations.

 

Bobcats respond well to calls – even one that has just eaten. Some hunters swear by motion decoys too since the cats hone in on motion and are extremely curious. It’s advisable to stand up when you are calling with your back against a tree so you can scan a wider area with your eyes. Position yourself with rocks or brush to break up your outline, but don’t be IN any undergrowth – the bush moving around will give away your position. You want to pick a spot with good visibility but also close to really dense cover – bobcats don’t like going out into the open. Avoid using coyote calls, and if you see a coyote you probably won’t see a bobcat.

 

Bobcats are oblivious to human scent – it’s just your movement or noise that will scare them off.  So no matter what happens, just hold still. If you shoot and miss hold very still and try making a call with your mouth – more often than not the bobcat will be curious and hold completely still long enough for you to get a follow-up shot.

 

Bobcats will stalk up to your range, they are known for creeping up and then standing completely still to determine the location of the call before moving in. It is easy to spook a bobcat – the key is to be completely still and patient. When you are sounding the call – make it sound as believable as possible. Don’t play a distressed rabbits call too loud or for too long. A 20-30 second interval with a few minutes in between is plenty adequate. And a rabbit squeal usually can’t be heard more than 70-80 yards away. After half an hour if you don’t hear or see anything, find your trail markings and move on another few hundred yards down the way and try again.

 

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Rabbits

The eastern cottontail is the most common rabbit in the United States and they are found all over from southern Canada all the way down to South America. The eastern cottontail has brown-grey fur with lighter fur on its nose and underside. The tail, of course, is white as cotton. In the northeast, there is also the New England cottontail, which looks very similar, but it has a black patch between its ears and is usually a little smaller.

Cottontails prefer the habitat that is just between the woods and the open land.  They can be in brushy undergrowth, fields, thickets and even swamps. They especially like briar brambles and honeysuckles. Rabbits eat a large variety of plants including grasses, clover, fruit, vegetables, twigs, and bark. They prefer the bark of dogwood, maple, birch, and oak. They are mostly nocturnal and like the early morning hours.

Cottontails can leap an amazing 10+ feet and run up to 15 miles an hour.  They are highly territorial and live mostly solitary lives. When being chased by a predator, the cottontail jumps in a zigzag pattern to break up its scent trail.

Cottontails will mate between February and September. The female will build a nest in a sunken place in the ground and line with fur from her chest and other soft materials. The babies are born after just one-month gestation and will have up to four litters a year. They are able to conceive just a couple of hours after giving birth.

Rabbits can be hunted with or without dogs. They can be taken with a bow, a .22 rifle, a pistol or a shotgun. Some people can hunt them with or without dogs. The rabbit will circle around their small home territory when flushed and run typically around a hundred yards or so and will eventually make their way back. Rabbits can’t stand to be outwaited. So when you find a good location, walk through it slowly. For every dozen or so steps and then stop and pause for 20-30 seconds. Rabbits will think they are spotted and try to make a run for it. Shooting rabbits is a very fast-paced hunt – there is no time to lead them and follow through. That means you need to have your gun at the ready with your trigger finger on the trigger guard.

 

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Beaver

The beaver is the largest rodent in North America. They can be up to four feet long and weigh over sixty pounds. He uses his tail to balance when gnawing on trees and to slap on the water as a warning when he spots a predator. They have a special membrane over their eyes that allow them to open their eyes in the water. Its dark brown fur is covered in Castoreum, which is an oily substance that helps the water to bead off of it.

Beavers are found throughout all of North America except for Florida, the desert and the far north of Alaska. They live near rivers, ponds, lakes, streams, and marshes. Beavers build dams, which are their homes made out of sticks on mud islands or on shores. They are dome shaped and can be over ten feet tall. The floor is just a little over the water level and is covered in wood chips to help soak up the moisture. It is complete with a front door, under the water, and vents to let in the fresh air.  Not all beavers build dams, some will burrow into the river banks.

Beavers eat tree bark and Cambium – which is the soft tissue that grows under the bark of a tree. They prefer bark of maple, birch, willow, aspen, cottonwood, poplar, beech, and alder. They eat roots and buds of water plants too.

Beavers live in tight nit colonies – or family groups. They are highly territorial and will protect their dams from other beavers. Mating season is from January to March in the cold regions and in the south, it is in late November or December.  Beavers mate for life, and when one spouse dies they will find another. After about three months the female will give birth. Kits can swim within 24 hours of birth and are weaned after two weeks. Both parents take care of the young. Beavers will live to be around twenty years old.

Dams will have a positive and negative impact on the land. On the positive, it creates new wetland environments, which can slow erosion, foster new plant growth, and even purify the water. However, on the negative, they slow the flow of streams and cause silt to build up. This causes flooding in the low lying areas which are a big problem for agricultural areas.

Beavers are trapped because you can’t shoot into the water due to the ricochet effect. In the late fall and early spring, beaver are trapped in open water. During the winter, when fur quality is best, the traps are set through the ice. When setting a trap, make sure that the trigger is at the bottom to reduce fur damage. This also ensures that the beaver is killed quickly and humanely. There is a wide variety of traps available – please talk to local fur trappers to determine what works best in your area as some traps are better for certain geographies than others.

 

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American Mink

The mink looks like a weasel, but is semi-aquatic, and is about two feet long. It has short stubby legs and a long neck. One-third of its body length is its tail. The American Mink has brown to black fur with a white chin and throat. Its fur is waterproof thanks to its oily guard hairs. There are 15 subspecies in North America, and the differences are primarily noted in slight fur variations.

Mink are found in most of the eastern half of the United States and the northern states up through Canada and Alaska. They prefer forested areas near streams or bodies of water, in which they spend a lot of their time. Mink can dive up to 16 feet deep! However, they are not dependent upon a body of water and will spend a large amount of time foraging in wooded areas.

They also will dig a den into river banks or use an abandoned beaver or muskrat den. They also den in rock crevices or brush piles. Mink never use the same den for long. They eat muskrats, beetles, fish, birds, mice, frogs, chipmunks and will even sneak into chicken pens where the chickens are fairly easy (contained) prey. The American Mink will mate between January and April. There are three to six kits born in a litter. The kits will stay with the mother until fall, otherwise, they are solitary.

Mink spray a foul-smelling fluid like a skunk, only they can’t aim. Interestingly, they also purr like a cat when happy. They are highly territorial and the males will fight other males that invade their territory – even to the death. Mink are highly tenacious and are able to kill animals much larger than themselves. They are predated upon by bobcat, coyotes, 03+owls, foxes etc.

Mink spend a lot of time traveling along the water’s edge, which is a great place to look for sign in the mud. Their prints are similar to otters but much smaller. They leave scat on prominent objects in their territory. Mink are hunted with traps such as the Coilspring, Jump Trap and Longspring.  These are used in either Blind Sets or Pocket Sets.

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Fox

The grey fox and the red fox are the two common species in North America. They are crepuscular and prefer to hunt at night. Fox are highly territorial and will mark the boundaries of their territory with urine. They breed in February and March and the male is responsible for bringing food back to the den. Greys and reds don’t like the same type of territory. Reds will prefer open areas and farmland. Greys will be in wooded areas and orchards. Fox will steal newborn lambs and goats and will eat chickens out of a hen house. They are notorious for killing just for fun.

Grey fox are found as far north as Canada and down to the central and southwestern states all the way down to Venezuela. Unlike the red fox, the grey fox tends to avoid agricultural areas. They den in hollow trees, burrows, and brush piles. They will line their den with grass and leaves.  Its back is a grey speckled color, with rusty red on its tail base, flanks, and legs. Its muzzle is black and it has a black stripe that goes from its eye down towards its neck. It’s the only member of the dog family that can climb trees and will do so to evade predators. The face of the grey fox is more round and feline looking.

Red fox looks very similar to the grey and is often misidentified. They are found in most of the United States except some areas in the southwest. It can be varying shades of grey and black on its back and a rust red on its tail, flank, and upper legs. Red fox looks like they are wearing black boots. This is a key feature in helping you get the identity correct. They also have black tipped ears and a white tipped tail. Their face is more narrow and dog-like than the grey.

Fox has an excellent sense of smell so make sure you hunt them with the wind to your face. Fox are hunted with calls and decoys. Decoy movement is key to success when calling if you are hunting in a group. The combo of decoy movement with calls reassures the fox that there is something small and furry that it can eat.

After you start off with the call of a rabbit in distress (or bird distress, especially chicken) it’s a good idea to switch to a fox in distress. Go through a few of these and change it out every few minutes. Once you spot a fox, take note of his behavior. If he is coming in strongly, mute the caller and watch the decoy go to work. If he is hesitant, or starts barking, play the canine puppy in distress sound. Some people hunt fox with dogs and some don’t.

 

Unique Game to Hunt in the Northeast

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Waterfowl

With the Atlantic Flyway right smack dab in the middle of the Northeast, it’s an excellent place for hunting migratory waterfowl. Also, it’s a great place to hunt some of the great cold water coastal birds.

So get ready to hunt some Brant, Scaup, Eiders, Canvasbacks and Black Ducks this season!

Check out my article on Duck Hunting here.

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