A Beginner’s Guide to Rabbit Hunting Without Dogs
- 17 Nov, 2018
Hunting Cottontail Rabbits has long been a tradition here in the South and many a father has introduced his son or daughter to the sport of hunting by teaching them to hunt rabbits. In fact, although hunting small game is often the best choice when introducing children to the sport of hunting, rabbit hunting is perhaps the best choice of all because it enables children to remain active throughout the day rather than forcing them to sit still and quiet in a tree stand or ground blind while waiting for game to approach. In addition, rather than the seemingly endless hours of preseason scouting and then, the additional hours of waiting for a single deer to approach within shooting range, rabbit hunting actually takes advantage of the inexhaustible energy and enthusiasm of youth to locate and flush the target and, it provides multiple targets throughout the day; thus keeping active children both engaged and safely occupied. But, rabbit hunting is not just for children since many adult hunters also enjoy the fast paced action as well as the challenge presented by attempting to hit a high speed, erratically moving, target. Plus, rabbit hunting is a relatively simple pursuit since all a hunter needs to become a successful rabbit hunter is a shotgun, appropriate ammunition and, good rabbit habitat.
So, first let’s address the issue of where to find rabbits. Naturally, in order to find viable populations of rabbits to hunt, you first need to locate good rabbit habitat and, good rabbit habitat consists of small to large stands of thick ground cover adjacent to favored food sources. Thus, the first aspect of rabbit hunting that you need to be aware of is that rabbits depend on the color of their fur to enable them to easily blend in with their environment and therefore, good places to look for rabbits are in the dense patches of cover along fence rows and creeks in agricultural fields as well as anywhere else the cover is thick enough to provide a cottontail with sufficient concealment. Consequently, hunters should look for dense tangles of such plants as briars, thorns, honeysuckle, grasses and, weeds where it is difficult for their predators such as foxes, coyotes and, hawks to penetrate. However, hunters should also be aware that such locations cause rabbits feel far more secure than when they are holding in sparse cover and thus, they may not flush easily. Therefore, the truly successful rabbit hunters are ones that make the effort to wade deep into such cover and take the time to cause the rabbits to flush for a shot.
But, rabbit hunters should also be aware that Cottontails have a relatively small home range which they do not like to leave and thus, once flushed, they often circle back to the location where they were jumped. Consequently, once a rabbit bolts from cover, its initial goal is to place as much distance between it and its predator as quickly as possible and then dart into back into dense cover as soon as possible in order to minimize its exposure. Thus, if pursued, a rabbit will often work its way back to its original location and thus, a pair of rabbit hunters can take advantage of this behavior by using one hunter to pursue the rabbit while the other waits in ambush in the original location.
Last, it should also be noted that rabbits tend to be very comfortable dwelling in close proximity to humans and thus, houses, barns, oil rigs, and other such human constructions where humans frequent often attracts rabbits because the presence of humans tends to discourage the presence of other predators. Therefore, areas where humans are active adjacent to sufficient cover and favored food sources are also prime rabbit hunting locations.
Of course, due to the often explosive nature of a flush and the erratic path a rabbit generally takes after being flushed from hiding, rabbit hunting is best pursued with a shotgun rather than a small caliber rifle. However, while literally any working shotgun ranging from a single-shot to a tactical shotgun will work for hunting rabbits, some shotgun designs are a far better choice than others. For instance, although semi-automatic shotguns with 28 inch or 30 inch barrels are by far the most popular type of shotgun in use by avid bird hunters, they tend to be significantly heavier than their single or double barrel counterparts. Thus, because hunting rabbits often requires a hunter to cover a significant amount of ground during a day, hauling a heavy shotgun along is not necessarily the best choice. Instead, experienced rabbit hunters choose a lightweight shotgun such as a single shot, double barrel or, over/under with an aluminum receiver and a shorter barrel or barrels because this type of shotgun is significantly lighter, and thus, less burdensome to carry. Plus, a short, light, shotgun is far easier to shoulder and aim quickly.
In addition, while most any shotgun ranging from .410 to 10 gauge will work for hunting rabbits, rabbits are not particularly difficult animals to kill and thus, most hunters prefer shotguns with 20 gauge, 16 gauge or, 12 gauge bores. Furthermore, most experienced rabbit hunters also choose 2 ¾ inch, low brass, field loads containing either number 6 or number 4 lead shot instead of 2 ¾ or 3 inch, high brass, field loads because the more the powerful loads simply are not necessary to humanely harvest rabbits. Plus, the lighter loads generate significantly less recoil and thus, they are far easier on a hunter’s shoulder; especially after taking multiple shots throughout the day!
So, if you own a shotgun but are not yet an experienced rabbit hunter, then you owe it to yourself to give it a try since rabbits are a far more abundant game species than large game animals such as deer and, hunting them is both far more casual and far more exciting than a spending a day in a tree stand or ground blind! Plus, if you have a son or daughter that you would like to introduce to the sport of hunting but, you fear that that they may lack the interest or patience to spend an entire day sitting still and not talking, then rabbit hunting is the perfect choice since it requires a hunter to be mobile and to communicate with their fellow hunters.
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