Generally speaking, small game hunting season doesn’t seem to generate the interest it once did. Maybe it’s because the once abundant pheasant hunting we enjoyed has nearly disappeared, except for stocked birds, most of them being released by DEC in limited acreage public land areas. Or perhaps it’s because of the steady downturn of ruffed grouse densities and the habitat that once supported them in huntable numbers.
With several small game seasons due to open soon, probably the Oct. 1 opening of the fall turkey season will attract the most interest. While grouse and cottontail rabbit also open on that same date, the odds of those attracting a large following has gone down with each passing season. Oh, there’ll be a few avid upland hunters who’ll pursue them, but nothing like the bygone days of abundance in those two game species plus pheasants.
Another factor might be decreased access to private habitat that may or may not hold a relative abundance of small game like grouse and rabbit. Much of our state forest lands open to public hunting have seen small game densities drop due to poor and deteriorating habitat in recent decades. What little low-growth habitat that emerges is normally consumed by deer as browse. Basically, deer and, in the case of springtime hunting, wild turkeys have become the overwhelming draws for area hunters. These two species are also the favorites of the DEC since neither requires extensive physical management or major habitat improvement.