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Rabbit Hunting 101
There’s no doubt about it: hunting rabbits is fantastic sport. Hunting rabbits may lack the sudden explosiveness of upland hunting or the mesmerism of a duck hunt at dawn, but it has an immeasurable allure all its own.
If you carefully pick the coverts you visit, you can be fairly certain you’ll bag at least a few rabbits, making each day a success. Thus, rabbit hunting is a great way to introduce youngsters and novices to rabbit hunting. Chances of gathering enough rabbits for several tasty meals are excellent as well. And whether you rabbit hunt with or without dogs, you’ll find rabbits offer an exciting challenge.
Rabbit hunting isn’t a complicated sport. It can be as simple as a quiet walk with the ol’ single-shot and a pocketful of shells. Or it can be a precise outdoor ritual with packs of beagles, planning to decide who will rabbit hunt where and the specialized hunting equipment many rabbit hunters take along. There are many ways to hunt rabbits and lots of habitat types where rabbits are found. Perhaps that’s why rabbit hunting is so popular.
How to Find Them
Some places, naturally, are better than others for rabbit hunting, and it’s not hard to locate the hotspots. Cottontails usually are found in areas with good cover adjacent to their favorite foods—grasses, clover, broadleaf weeds, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa, garden crops and the buds, twigs and bark of small saplings and bushes.
Look for cottontails around small fields bordered by woods, brush and briars; along drainages and fencerows where vegetation has grown up, in recently cleaned timber clearcuts, in brushpiles on freshly cleared land sites, in densely covered powerline and railroad right-of-ways and other places providing hideouts and nearby forage. Favorite cover includes blackberry patches, briars, honeysuckle, thick grass and weeds and even rolled hay bales, abandoned farm machinery, irrigation pipes and culverts.
One good way to scout for cottontails is driving rural roads at dawn or dusk, using a county road map to mark where you see rabbits. It’s a simple matter to locate rabbits later, because they’ll be in cover nearest to where you saw them. Most of these places are on private land, but many landowners allow hunting if asked politely.
Good marksmen with excellent stalking skills can bag plenty of rabbits with a .22 rifle, a pistol or even a bow and arrow. But most rabbit hunters find a light, quick-handling shotgun most effective in overgrown, close-quarters rabbit habitat where snap shooting is common. A 20-gauge shotgun with an improved-cylinder choke is one of the best choices, but almost any shotgun, regardless of gauge, action or choke, is adequate to hunt rabbits. As far as shot sizes, 6s and 7-1/2s are both good choices for cottontails.
Briars and thorns can make hamburger meat out of unprotected skin, so it’s wise to wear thick clothing when rabbit hunting. It’s amazing how much a pair of vinyl-faced canvas pants can bolster a hunter’s courage and success. A durable canvas hunting jacket with a game bag for carrying rabbits makes plowing through chest-high stuff easier, too, and a heavy pair of hunting gloves will help protect the hands. Because brush is often so thick that hunting partners are tough to see, it’s wise to wear highly-visible, blaze-orange safety vest and hats for added safety.