Sora rail hunting is one of the most underutilized forms of bird hunting, but at one time in the U.S., it was the bird of choice. Early hunters in the 1800s, such as Frank Forester, were responsible for the growing popularity of sora rail hunting after hunting excursions were shared in books and magazine articles.
Sora rail hunting has picked up as of late though, and many hunters are beginning to realize that these birds are not only fun to hunt, but taste good as well. Sora rails also add additional opportunities for times when ducks or geese aren’t flying and switching over to rail hunting is a viable alternative.
In this guide, we’ll review some of the top tips for hunting sora rails and how to be successful in the field.
Sora Rail Hunting Methods
To hunt sora rails, you don’t need decoys or a call. The most effective way to hunt them is to flush them by either walking through the marsh and push poling with a boat.
Sora rails like to keep tight to aquatic vegetation and won’t flush until the last second when you’re right on them. You’ll often have to wait for them to fly further away to take the shot just to get some distance.
Sora rails love shallow water and donning the hip waders for a trek through the marsh is one of the best methods to get close to them and flush them for a shot. Sora rails prefer to run rather than fly, so it can be difficult to get them to take to the air.
An easier method for hunting sora rails is to use a kayak, canoe, or pirogue to push pole your way through flooded vegetation. Standing up in the boat gives you a better vantage point to see darting sora rails and keep you headed in the right direction.
Best Techniques for Shooting Sora Rails
Sora rails come out of the rush with a halting flight which can make you believe that they will never be able to reach their destination. Their long trailing legs give the impression that they are merely fluttering along.
If they flush close, you often have to wait for them to get some distance before taking the shot; otherwise you’ll ruin the meat. But sora rails can be deceiving, when at the last minute they tire of flying and dump back into the rush.
Many missed shots have gone over the heads of sora rails taking this last second dive back in the brush when it appears it’s the last thing they have on their minds.
For new hunters, it’s important to realize that taking the shot just as soon as a sora rail flushes is the bests hot you’re going to get. You can lead them with certainty and avoid the last minute dive back to safety.
Facts About Sora Rails
- Sora rails are good to eat. They taste more gamey than ducks, but more palatable than coots.
- The Sora Rail (Porzana Carolina) is in the Rallidae family.
- Sora rails weigh 2.6 ounces on average and ar smaller than most Mourning Doves.
- Rails prefer freshwater marshes and marshy ponds. Rarely are they found in saltwater.
- Sora rails have a distinct dark colored yellow bill.
- The sora rail is rarely seen unless flushed as it prefers to forage in thick aquatic vegetation.
- Sora rails fly for very short expanses before they dive back into vegetation.
- The sora rail makes a descending whinny call: whee-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee.
Here’s a great clip to help you identify sora rails and the calls they make
About Hunting Sora Rails
Sora rail hunting is a sport that is rarely taken advantage of by hunters throughout the U.S. Let’s face it, hunting rails isn’t as ‘glamorous’ as duck hunting and few hunters pay attention to a bird that’s smaller than a dove and hides in the weeds.
Rail hunting season also doesn’t always coincide perfectly with waterfowl season so many hunters lose track of it easily while they’re pursuing other game. Since the limits on rails are high (up to 25 birds in some areas), this can mean quite a lot of shooting to limit out.
Obviously if you’re just rail hunting this isn’t a problem, but every hunter knows that lots of shooting in an area can spook other birds as well. If you’re duck hunting and then switch to rail hunting the rest of the morning, it can add a lot of added pressure when you could allow ducks to rest.
But other than these few small gripes, rail hunting can be a fun way to spend some time in the marsh, especially if it’s the time of year when they are abundant. It’s not unheard of for rails to be in groups of 10 or more and sometimes thousands can inhabit a very small area. This can make for some very fast paced shooting.
Since sora rails are small, finding downed birds in thick brush can be challenging. Having a good retriever with you can save a lot of birds that would have otherwise been lost.
One of the best tips for hunting sora rails is to practice your identification skills. As with any bird on the wing, it’s important to know what you’re shooting at before you take the shot. There are many other types of rails and long legged wading birds that can appear similar in flight.
Being able to identify sora rails before you take the shot is crucial to preventing costly mistakes in the field. The ability to identify (or unwillingness to learn) rails, clappers, and other small wading birds is without a doubt one of the factors that hinders new hunters from participating in the sport.
Sora rail hunting was once the most popular bird hunting sport in the U.S. and was featured in many magazines and articles. However, rail hunting lost its popularity in the early 1900s, and it’s just starting to make a comeback. Most hunters see someone else hunting sora rails or hear the shots and want to know what all the fuss is about.
When waterfowl hunting is slow, hunting sora rails can make the morning productive. Sora rails prefer shallow freshwater marshes and can be found foraging in thick vegetation. They rarely fly unless spooked.
The best methods to hunt sora rails are to flush them by walking through the marsh or use a kayak, canoe, or pirogue with a push pole. Standing in a boat will allow you to see further ahead and catch glimpses of rails darting in and out of thick vegetation.
When flushed, sora rails tend to flutter in flight for short distances. They often lose interest quick and can drop back into vegetation at any time. For this reason, it’s best to take the shot as soon as they flush to prevent shooting over them as they dive for cover.
Try these techniques on your next rail hunt and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with how fun it can be to hunt these small birds.
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