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I'm looking for alternative ways of hunting small game(rabbits, pidgeon etc.) besides a rifle/pistol, and the requirements I have found to be the most important are:

  • Effective - Gaining more calories than spending.
  • Lightweight - Has to be as small and light as possible.
  • Not ammo dependant - Either using no ammunition or retrievable ammo.
  • Fast - This rules out snares since the hunt have to be made either on the go, or actively to avoid being locked down.

So with these requirements locked down, the only thing I can think of is some sort of bow or crossbow, but these are pretty cumbersome(the latter more than the former) and I might be in a blind spot here.

What tools besides a crossbow or a bow would fill these requirements?

  • An olympic recurve bow (unlike their solid hunting equivalent) can be taken apart completely (limbs from riser) and stored in a pack/bag. There are also small and light compound bows that will do for small game and can be had for <$100 used, like the genesis, usually sold as a "training bow" or "youth bow" they weigh nothing, are small, and can go up to 50lb draw weight with very adjustable draw length. – crasic Aug 12 '13 at 18:01
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    @crasic Would these kind of bows be more accurate than a slingshot? – Marcus Wigert Aug 12 '13 at 18:28
  • Not having shot a slingshot, I would wager yes. A compound is easy to get accurate enough to shoot still game at 50yd or so with a few practice sessions . You can attach a sight to both bows. With a release and the let-off of a compound you can draw and hold the bow with very little strain or your muscles, increasing accuracy (a 50lb compound will have a "holding" weight of maybe 10lb at full draw). A recurve is harder to get precise. A hunting sight for your compound typically has 3-5 separate pins that you individually sight in at various distances, then you estimate distance and aim between – crasic Aug 12 '13 at 19:02
  • Marcus, did you every buy or build a slingshot and give it a try? (Not necessarily for hunting.) I'm curious about your experience. – Mr.Wizard Apr 22 '14 at 16:59
  • @Mr.Wizard : I bought a rather simple one and tried out with my own cast lead balls, works like a charm up to 15m for me. – Marcus Wigert Apr 25 '14 at 12:31
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It requires a fair amount of skill to be highly accurate with (more than I ever developed anyway) but the elastic-band slingshot meets these requirements.

  • Flat-band (as opposed to tubular) slingshots in particular can achieve a high velocity making them effective in both external and terminal ballistics.

  • There are few tools lighter than a standard wooden Y slingshot.

  • Lead shot is best but even pebbles would be effective on small game, especially at close range. (Lead has the advantage of carrying more energy farther.)

  • A slingshot can be easily carried or worn due to the compact size and light weight, and requires little preparation before a shot.

While the content is clearly designed for entertainment you should check out The Slingshot Channel by Jörg Sprave. Many entries are hilariously ridiculous but if you look deeper (specifically the older videos) you'll see how powerful these tools can be as well as many varied and original designs.

  • This might be a valid choice, do you have any first-hand experience with slingshots? – Marcus Wigert Aug 12 '13 at 8:44
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    @Marcus Not with hunting, no. I did play with a standard store-bought tubular band model a lot as a kid so I'm at least familiar with the basics. If you try one the flat bands have less internal losses so they're faster. Also, steel shot bounces so be careful; soft lead is better in that regard. – Mr.Wizard Aug 12 '13 at 8:52
  • Would solid led balls be suitable for re-firing after they have struck a target? Or would they be too deformed? – Marcus Wigert Aug 12 '13 at 10:46
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    @Marcus Yes, please do be responsible about not maiming a bunch of critters when lacking either the accuracy or power for a clean kill. – Mr.Wizard Aug 12 '13 at 11:01
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    Most of our landscaping crews are from El Salvador. Many of them carry slingshots with them at work. They regularly plink rabbits from our gardens using whatever pebbles they can grab quickly. The slingshots they use are small, lightweight, and really effective. – That Idiot Jan 18 '17 at 13:56
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A slingshot, as has already been mentioned, is a very efficient method of accelerating shot, or pebbles if you must, to hunt small game.

A Sling is something that hasn't been mentioned. It takes an awful lot of practice to get good enough to hunt reliably with one, but it can be done. It is more forgiving that a slingshot in terms of what ammo you use, so pebbles will work just as well as shot for this. It is lighter and smaller than a slingshot.

A bolas requires no ammo at all, and is nothing more than rope in terms of carrying capacity. your range is reduced, but takes less practice than a sling to get accurate with. Most techniques of using these will tangle, rather than kill, your prey, so you will still need to kill it by hand (you have a knife, I assume).

Roping can work on slightly bigger prey, and some birds, using a rope or net to tangle your prey. A small-celled net can work on very small game. Again, your range is reduced even further here, but requires much less practice.

Thrown implements, ranging from a rock to a spear can also work, with varying range and skill requirements. A spear can have a decent range, and can be accurate enough to hunt with well, and should be re-usable with minimal maintenance. If the shaft breaks though, you will be without a hunting tool.

Of course, the legality of all these methods is dependent on where you are hunting, these recommendations are from a purely practical viewpoint. I would still go with a bow out of choice, myself.

  • I do believe that the bow and tha slingshot are the two runners up, all of the aformentioned methods are cerntainly ways of doing it, but I think that one of the key factors is the relative ease of use. With the exception being a small weighted net, all of these methods would require a large amount of training to do it right. – Marcus Wigert Aug 14 '13 at 6:22
  • I tried to learn to use a sling as a kid (you know, like David!) and let me tell you it's incredibly difficult. I'm giving a +1 for hand-thrown net as it triggered a memory of seeing (video) of that used very effectively for birds. – Mr.Wizard Aug 14 '13 at 14:37
  • Yes, I did mention that the sling is difficult, but it's an option. Personally, the spear is probably the next easiest to learn (after the bow, slingshot and net, as you've already listed) and may be the only other one actually worth the trouble. – Ryno Aug 14 '13 at 16:03
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Depending on what you are hunting I would recommend the .625 caliber cold steel blowgun with the mini broadheads, I have seen people take rabbits an larger with these, although the range is limited to about 15-20 yards its still an fun any easy way of taking small game and you may be able to reuse the darts as they are also very affordable, about $8.00 per 100 I think.

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I know that this question has several good responses, but I would like to put forth my two bits worth.

I would like to include the use of a boomerang as a non-gun hunting instrument or tool and has been historically used for hunting, as well as a sport, and entertainment, especially in the land down under. They can be used on both small and large game alike.

Boomerangs have been historically used for hunting, as well as a sport, and entertainment. They are commonly thought of as an Australian icon, and come in various shapes and sizes.

Traditionally, most boomerangs used by aboriginal groups in Australia were 'non-returning'. These weapons, sometimes called "throwsticks" or "kylies", were used for hunting a variety of prey, from kangaroos to parrots; at a range of about one hundred metres, a 2-kg non-returning boomerang could inflict mortal injury to a large animal.1 A throwstick thrown nearly horizontally may fly in a nearly straight path and could fell a kangaroo on impact to the legs or knees, while the long-necked emu could be killed by a blow to the neck.[citation needed] Hooked non-returning boomerangs, known as "beaked kylies", used in northern Central Australia, have been claimed to kill multiple birds when thrown into a dense flock. It should be noted that throwsticks are used as multi-purpose tools by today's aboriginal peoples, and besides throwing could be wielded as clubs, used for digging, used to start friction fires, and are sonorous when two are struck together. Boomerang (Wikipedia)

This is what the Australian Museum has to say about the boomerang:

Those who witnessed Aboriginal cultures in the early colonial times left us different accounts. For example, the marine explorer Phillip Parker King observed in 1818 that a boomerang ‘is used by the natives with success in killing the kangaroo.’ Aborigines throw the boomerang ‘making it revolve on itself, and with such a velocity that one cannot see it ... only the whizzing of it is heard’ reported Francis Barrallier in 1802. An average hunting boomerang of about 500 grams looks like a thin soaring edge in flight, ‘but where it strikes, it breaks through with excessive impetus.’ It is an effective missile within a range of 200 metres. This is nearly three times the range of a hand-thrown spear. In experienced hands the boomerang can be a deadly weapon. - Hunting Boomerang: a Weapon of Choice

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Boomerangs come in different sizes and shapes

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Pistol crossbow they're light weight, accurate, up to 90 pound pull, quick reload, and reusable cheep ammo. Get a good one, not a toy ($30+).

I have taken out squirrels, crows, coons, hares, rats, ducks, and frogs on my property.

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My personal favorite is the big bore blowgun by Cold Steel ($33.00 on amazon) I have been able to take frogs, rabbits, and even wild hogs with it. It is also accurate up to 45m but I would recommend 25 to 30 meters for any thing larger than a fat squirrel. If you are a DIYselfer you could also make your own that is parallel to the Cold Steel Blowgun with either 5' of 1/2 inch pvc or 5' of1/2 inch copper pipe. Another pro of the big bore blowgun though is that it can be a very good walking stick.

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A lot of good options have been mentioned so far and they are worth considering. Another option is the atlatl. Accuracy is going to suffer at ranges beyond 25 yards or so, but there is a lot of power that can be delivered.

The biggest items on the plus side:

  • simple
  • rugged
  • can take down large game
  • darts/spears can be used without the atlatl

The biggest minuses:

  • takes a lot of practice to become proficient
  • accuracy decreases quickly with range
  • I don't see how an atlatl is applicable to hunting "rabbits [and] pidgeon" as the OP requests. What support do you have for this position? – Mr.Wizard Aug 22 '13 at 6:21
  • I agree with Mr.Wizard, this device would be more suited to roedeer or similar game, maybe large birds like wood grouse could be hunted using this "dart thrower". – Marcus Wigert Aug 22 '13 at 6:43
  • @Mr.Wizard for bigger rabbits (kangaroos) and bigger pidgeones (ostriches) atlatl would be perfect – Danubian Sailor Aug 28 '13 at 20:58
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Another option would be a throwing stick.
In general a throwing stick is a stout stick about the length of your forearm. It's one of the most basic forms of hunting weapons. They're easily found in wooded areas and easy to use.

For your requirements:
Effective - People have been hunting with them for thousands of years. The Aboriginal Australians have even developed them into sticks that return to the thrower.
Lightweight - A stick on the ground weighs nothing until you pick it up. If you choose to carry one, you can select the weight that is best for you.
Not ammo dependent - It's a stick. You can re-use it as long as you don't lose it.
Fast - Keep it handy on your belt or reachable in your pack, then when you see your prey, throw it.

Like any other weapon, they require a bit of skill and practice to use them effectively.

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