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Small game hunters have little to grouse about

November 17, 1996

By BILL ANDERSON

Staff Correspondent

Deer hunting in its various forms will dominate the hunting season for much of the next month. Lost in the shuffle may be the news that hunters from throughout the Tri-State area are reporting excellent grouse and rabbit hunting.

Many hunters were worried that the heavy snows last winter would decimate the grouse populations, but early reports indicate the hunting has been a little better than last fall.

Many grouse hunters keep logs on the flushes per hour of hunting, and my good friend Larry Wilson, who lives near Elkins, W.Va., said he has averaged nearly five birds per hour while hunting his favorite grouse covers. That's above the average for last fall's early portion of the season.

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As always, the first priority is to find the foods the birds are hitting, and Wilson pointed out that his area was blessed with an excellent soft mast crop. Soft mast would include berries and wild apples. Hard mast includes such items as acorns, beech and hickory nuts.

Wilson has been hitting the thorn apple covers for woodcock, and has been surprised at the numbers of grouse that have been sharing what is traditionally woodcock territory.

Although grouse hunting is legal after the first three days of the firearms season, Wilson isn't about to put his setters in the woods while deer hunters are out and about.

"It isn't worth the risk," he said. "Our grouse season is open until the end of February, so there will be plenty of time left after deer season is over."

Rabbit hunters have also been excited by their early-season success.

Wet summer weather produced a bumper crop of the various weeds and briars that rabbits love. The result has been a great situation for rabbit hunters - tons of cover and plenty of rabbits to keep beagles busy.

Jim Lima, of Cavetown, told me recently that he has been surprised by the early portion of Maryland's rabbit season. "We've had great hunts so far," he said. "This has been one of the best early seasons of the past four or five years."

Lima said, however, that he and his beagles will be out of the woods until the deer seasons are over.

"Some of my best rabbit covers also have plenty of deer in them," he said. "It would be very dangerous, and basically foolish, to try to hunt rabbits until after the deer seasons are over."

The Maryland rabbit season lasts until January, and West Virginia's season lasts until the end of February, which allows plenty of hunting after the deer hunters have left the woods.

Lima said his best success has come while hunting fringe areas near agricultural crops. The heavy cover created by the wet spring and summer has created lots of overgrown fence rows and rock breaks.

"I think the extra cover has really helped protect the rabbits from predators, and this means more rabbits for us to hunt," he said.

Fatality leads to fine

A Barboursville, W.Va., man has pleaded guilty to negligent shooting in connection with the death of a 33-year-old hunter in Pocahontas County, the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources has reported.

The victim, Gene Hively of Weirton, W.Va., and 53-year-old Michael Smith were hunting in full camouflage when Smith mistook Hively for game and fired, hitting Hively in the face with a shotgun blast from 91 feet.

Smith pleaded guilty to negligent shooting in Pocahontas County Magistrate's Court the night of the incident was fined $5,000.

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