There are a lot of new things for hunters to learn, there’s no doubt about it. And sometimes the difference between big game species and small game species is very confusing. In this guest post by Josh Montgomery, some of those differences are explained.
Whether you’re a seasoned hunter or just now heading out on your first hunting trip, you probably have a target animal in mind. However, something that may be less clear is whether the animals you hunt are big game or small game.
Informally, the difference between big game and small game varies from person to person. But legally, the line between big game and small game is much brighter. And it’s important to understand the difference before you find an animal in your line of sight. That’s not the time to be wondering if you have the correct game tag or if your hunting round is powerful enough.
So, let’s talk about what constitutes big game hunting and what’s considered small game hunting, and what that means for you as a hunter.
What is small game hunting?
Each state has different classification standards for big game and small game animals. But there are some common themes among all the state statutes.
Generally speaking, animals such as upland birds (pheasants, quail, grouse, turkeys), waterfowl (geese, ducks), upland game (rabbits, squirrels), and furbearers (raccoons, coyotes) are considered small game.
Most states consider all legally “huntable” animals that weigh less than 40 pounds to be small game. But the weight limits vary by state. If you’re unsure, check your local hunting regulations.
What is big game hunting?
State hunting organizations classify deer, elk, moose, caribou, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, wild boar, and other more exotic animals (such as musk ox, mountain goat, buffalo, bears, mountain lions, and even alligators) as big game.
But just like small game, the animals that are considered big game vary from state to state, and the classification is sometimes a bit surprising. For example, Arizona classifies turkeys as big game.
So even though the difference between big and small game is usually apparent, consult your local hunting regulations if you need to be sure.
What This Means for Hunters
Different Hunting Licenses
First and foremost, you need to ensure that you get the correct hunting license. Most states have big game and small game hunting licenses. Many states also have separate licenses for hunting birds and waterfowl.
Obviously, you need the correct hunting license to stay within regulations. So make sure you know which category your target animal falls under before you purchase your tag (or tags) for the season.
Keep in mind that big game tags are usually more expensive than small game tags. However, the price difference isn’t usually that significant unless you’re on a very tight budget.
Different Hunting Calibers
In addition to getting the right tags, you need to choose ammunition that’s suitable for the type of animal you’re hunting.
If you use a round that’s too small, it will most likely not kill the animal with a single shot, which is inhumane and ineffective. If you choose a round that’s too large, it could destroy so much of the animal that it’s no good for eating.
Most big game animals can be hunted with a big game rifle round like .270, .308, or .30-06. On the other hand, it’s more common to hunt small game animals with smaller rounds like .22LR, .22 magnum, .17 HMR, or various shotgun shell choices.
Different Hunting Locations
Although big game and small game can certainly co-exist in the same habitat, most hunters won’t hunt big game and small game in the same location.
While deer can exist in suburban backyards, animals like moose, elk, and others usually live in more remote areas. As such, a big game hunting trip can be a multi-day affair. Additionally, since you use larger rounds to hunt big game, you’ll need to be rather far from civilization in order to hunt safely, unless you choose archery.
And one last thing about hunting locations – it’s usually not feasible to hunt big game and small game simultaneously. If you take a shot at a small game animal while you’re out looking for big game, you’ll most likely spook the larger animals in the area. So even if you happen to do all your hunting in the same area, it’s not ideal to do both your big game and small game hunting at the same time.
Different Hunting Yield
A big game animal will usually yield a significant amount of usable meat. Some large animals provide enough meat for half a year or more. In contrast, small game animals are usually only enough for a meal or two.
So if you’re hunting for meat, big game hunting is more efficient. You can get a hearty supply of game meat in a single hunting trip. Whereas small game hunting will require several hunting trips to fill your freezer, and it may be tricky to get enough meat for even half a year in a single hunting season, depending on where you live and the length of your hunting season.
Which type of hunting is for you?
If you’ve already chosen which animal you want to hunt, hopefully this helped clear up which hunting license you need and what type of hunting round will work best.
If you’re still deciding what you’d like to hunt, consider what you want to get from your hunting trips. Are you looking for a lot of meat? Do you have the time for multiple hunting trips? What kind of firearm would you prefer to shoot?
All these things factor into whether you opt for big game hunting or small game hunting. In either case, hunting is challenging and rewarding. And it’s well worth the time and effort to make an informed decision, so that you get the most enjoyment from your time in the field.
About the Author:
Mr. Montgomery can be seen enjoying his downtime at the range and experimenting with finding new ways to deliver information on the Internet via his blog here, and inform people on their rights, as well as spread awareness and debunk discursive takes on firearm ownership in the USA and overseas as well.