You’re a charter member of the Big Deer Army, some 12 million of us strong across the United States. More people hunt whitetails by far than any other game species.

But the best deer hunting is still months away. Feel the need to get outdoors, where the air is clean and the environment quiet? Here are 3 cheap and easy hunts you can do right now near home. The bonus is that if you are lucky enough to bag a few critters they are great eating for you and your family.


These little animals are the quintessential small game to hunt, found in abundance across the U.S. The eastern gray squirrel is king, found from New York to the Great Plains and down to Alabama. The western gray squirrel is native to the Pacific Coast. The range of the eastern gray overlaps that of its larger, rust-colored cousin, the fox squirrel, though the heart of this critter’s range is slightly more toward the Midwest.

You get the picture: Some type of squirrel is found from coast to coast, and best of all the critters are abundant on most public forests that are open to free hunting for all of us. You’ll need either a .22 rifle or a 12- or 20-gauge shotgun. Buy an inexpensive small-game hunting license, check a map of a public area near home, pull on a camo shirt and hit the woods for a day of fun.

Squirrels are active pretty much all day, so anytime you can slip away to the woods is fine. Start with a slow stalk, looking up into the treetops for the flash of movement and bushy tails. Look for sign—cuttings of acorns, beech or hickory nuts on stumps where squirrels fed. Stop and sit awhile at the bases of trees. Keep your eyes peeled into the treetops, and listen for squirrels scampering on the forest floor.

There’s a darn good chance you’ll bag a couple of squirrels, or maybe three. Back home, clean and rinse them, cut off the lions and legs and fry those in hot oil in a cast-iron skillet, like hunters have done for decades. You and your family will enjoy an old-school feast for a king!


Across the country, opening day of dove season in early September officially kicks off another hunting season. In fields and shelterbelts from Texas to Virginia, millions of hunters gather for this annual rite. Small, gray, fast-flying mourning doves are plentiful and challenging to hunt. All you need is a shotgun, a few boxes of inexpensive No. 8 shells and a camo shirt and cap. In addition to a small-game license make sure you buy a migratory bird stamp, which costs only a few bucks.

Dove numbers are high in most areas in September. Finding a place to hunt can be tricky, but with a little planning and scouting you can make it happen. On a day off, drive your personal rig around country roads and check fields of millet, milo and cut corn. Look for field edges where grain fields meet pastures and tree rows. The doves’ day revolves around two things – feed and water. Find either or both, along with a good number of birds flying around in the morning or late afternoon, and you’re all set for a good shoot.

Be sure to ask and secure permission from the farmer before hunting any private land. Some state wildlife agencies plant public grain fields for dove hunting. Check your state’s hunting website for any such opportunities.

Once afield, consider that late in the afternoon, once it cools down a bit, is the best time for big numbers of doves to fly, with the last hour before sunset typically providing the best shooting. Get out there, burn a few boxes of shells and have a ball kicking off the season with a bang.

After the hunt, dove breasts on the grill are magnificent eating! Simply pluck the tiny, dark breast from a bird, remove feathers and skin and rinse. Marinate the breasts for a few hours in Italian dressing. Remove, wrap each in bacon (secure it with toothpicks) and grill over medium heat for about 5 minutes and until the bacon crisps. Wonderful!

Early-Season Teal

Here’s another opportunity for you bird hunters at heart. Some states, from Wisconsin and Iowa and farther down the Central Flyway over to the East Coast, offer an early teal season. Typically a mid-September, seven-day hunt, small, agile blue-winged and green-winged teal provide shotgunners another great challenge after they’ve warmed their barrels on doves.

Check a state map for public lands with prominent lakes, rivers and potholes. From there, look for the shallow ends of lakes and secluded coves. Streams, creeks and rivers where you can walk in and hunt pools, sloughs and backwaters can hold lots of little teal ducks in late summer.

Like dove hunting, going after teal is a simple affair. You’ll need a quick-handling shotgun, some light non-toxic loads–No. 4 or 6 shot–a few duck decoys and a lightweight suit of camouflage clothing.

Teal will readily mingle with all the duck species so you don’t have to specialize your decoy spread. Just buy any half-dozen decoys at Wal-Mart, toss them out in a waterhole, hide in nearby cover and get ready. The first half-hour of a September morning generally provides the best shooting. If you manage to scratch down one or two fast-flying, twisting teal you’ve had a great hunt!

Many people consider ducks, and especially small, tender teal, a delicacy, and as such there are literally thousands of basic and gourmet duck recipes at your fingertips on the Web. Google “teal recipes,” pick one you like and eat like a king.

Whether you go out and whet your hunter’s appetite for squirrels, doves or ducks, have fun and remember—deer season is only a couple months away!