To kick off this article on gear, I’ll refer to one of my own passages from Volume 1 of the Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game. “Gear is like booze. Once you get older, you realize that quality should be regarded more highly than quantity.”
The basic sentiment of that passage holds true for the small game hunter, save your money and focus on getting yourself into a kit of quality gear rather than cutting corners by buying a bunch of sub-par junk that brings you lots of frustration and not much game meat. But I’m happy to say that the hunter can equip himself or herself for a generalist approach to small game for a lot less money that it takes to get rigged up for a generalist approach to big game.
The firearms, ammunition, and archery gear for small game are generally cheaper than those intended for big game, and the demands on clothing, backpacks, and cutlery are less severe. The walks tend to be shorter, the animals are smaller, and prime locations are usually a little bit closer to home.
In certain families, equipping a new small game hunter doesn’t cost a dime. When I was a kid, I hunted small game successfully for years and years without ever touching a new piece of gear. I wore hand-me-down clothes and shot hand-me-down guns. I longed for a brand-spickety new left-handed semi-auto .22, yet I had to settle for an old right-handed bolt-action rifle that my dad purchased from a nearby summer camp when they discontinued their marksmanship program.
At the time, that rifle was something that I was embarrassed about. But now that I’m approaching middle age, with young kids of my own, those days of making-do have become a matter of personal pride to me. That old right-handed .22 remains one of my most treasured firearms. As it turns out, it’s a real tack driver. I intend it to serve as my son’s first squirrel rifle.
All of this is meant to say that you shouldn’t let cost get in the way of your desire to hunt small game. Resident small-game licenses are dirt cheap, you don’t need any special tags, with the exception of turkey and you can get a box of fifty .22 rounds for about five bucks. If you learn to be a deadeye with your .22, that equals ten daily bag limits of squirrels in my home state of Michigan.
Or, to put it another way, ten family-sized preparations of hasenpfeffer, a sublime and vinegary dish intended for hares that works great with fox squirrels and gray squirrels as well.
Selecting Your Gear
When it comes to selecting hunting gear, it’s important to pay attention to the voices of people who’ve been doing things longer or more successfully than yourself. Their impressions of the gear that I discuss and choose not to discuss have certainly colored my own.
But remember, these specific recommendations are just that: recommendations. If something doesn’t make sense to you, or if your experiences with a certain product or idea contradict my own, then you should go with what makes you feel comfortable.