Those cute little critters that scamper across lawns, through forests and seem to disappear into the abyss can also make a mighty fine meal. You can’t just set the stew pot in the yard and hope a rabbit jumps in, though, but need to seek your prey like you would any other animal. Since they are one of the most elusive species of wild game, knowing some tips and tactics from the experts can ensure your next hunt is successful.
1. What We Know About Wild Rabbits
Knowing something about the prey you’re hunting can make the difference between success and failure so here are a few facts that might help. Rabbits can range in size from 8 inches to 20 inches or more in length and weigh from less than a pound to over 5 pounds depending on age, habitat and time of year.
Rabbits are one of the few mammals that can see 360° with the exception of right over the bridge of the nose. Between their 4 inch long ears, exceptional visual acuity and sensitive sense of smell, predators and hunters both have their work cut out for them in order to find and kill one of these willy creatures.
Where Do Wild Rabbits Live?
Rabbits are social animals that live in warrens. Their entry and exit holes can be anywhere, but beneath the earth are an intricate series of tunnels that intertwine. Since they must be able to burrow in order to survive, they live in areas where tunnels can be built. That means that it would be unlikely that they would be found where tree roots are excessively dense or in rocky terrain.
However, they do take advantage of thickets especially those that are thorny since it’s harder to see them as well as follow their trail. It is more likely that when hunting in meadows, forests, grasslands, wetlands, forests and deserts would increase the odds of finding you’re prey. It’s important to remember, however, that they are masters of camouflage.
How Do Rabbits Evade Predators and Hunters?
Rabbits sleep during the day and late at night with their eyes open so they will wake up when movement is too near. The best time to find them out and about is at dawn and dusk. To evade predators they can jump vertically between 2-4 feet and hop horizontally up to 9 feet. When a predator nears they thump one hind leg in order to warn the others that danger is near. They will then head to the nearest burrow.
During a chase, rabbits will hop off in a zig-zag motion as well as jump and leap. When they take off if you click your tongue or whistle they often stop to figure out where the sound is coming from. It’s a great time to bag your prey. They can achieve impressive speeds, have good stamina and are extremely agile. Once captured they use their hind legs and sharp teeth to ward off attackers. What that means to hunters is that you must be quiet, patient and develop more acute attentiveness as well as skill with your weapon in order to be successful. Now that you know something about your prey let’s move on.
2. You May Be Hunting Rabbits But What's Hunting You?
In the scheme of things, rabbits have more predators than many other animals in the wild. Of course, the type of animals in the area where you’re hunting depends greatly on where you live. Coyotes, bobcats, snakes, large birds of prey, wolves, badgers, mountain lions and foxes are just a few of predators that love to dine on rabbit. You can bet if there are rabbits in the area where you’re hunting there will be other wild animals that could end up hunting you. It’s important to remain vigilante and to watch for signs that you may not be alone.
Wear Appropriate Clothing
The habitat in which rabbits live more often than not will contain dense thickets with lots of thorns. Some hunting gear currently on the market is specifically designed with brier-bushes in mind. For example, the front of such brush-busting pants have a thorn-proof material running down the front. A brush-busting coat, gloves and hunting cap with ear flaps are also considered essential. Following is a video that will demonstrate the brush-busting pants described above.
When in a hunting party it’s also important to wear gear that will make you stand out from the brush your in. Hunter orange body-wear will often suffice. However, if you’re hunting before sunup or at dusk make sure your vest glows in the dark. If it doesn’t you can always get reflective tape to add to your outerwear from your local hardware store or bicycle shop. After all, you don’t want your buddy accidentally hunting you.
3. The Right Gun For Every Occasion
The type of gun used for hunting rabbits and protecting yourself from larger predators is regulated by individual states in the US based on the game category and the area hunted. For example, rabbits are considered small game, mountain lions and wolves are predators and bobcats and foxes are fur bearers. Additionally, tags are required in most states.
Many states ban the use of rifles because of safety concerns but have no problem with the use of air rifles that will kill both rabbits and mountain lions. According to Keith Sutton from Bass Pro, “When stomping for cottontails in thick cover, use a shotgun with an improved cylinder choke and No. 6 or 7-1/2 shotshells. Since cottontails jump in thick cover they usually are close and moving fast. A wide, yet sufficiently heavy, shot pattern is needed to put a rabbit down without excessive damage to the meat.”
4. I See You, Do You See Me?
It’s not a successful hunt if you don’t bag a rabbit and you can’t do that if you can’t find it. With their 360° vision, rabbits often see hunters before they are seen. Additionally, their ability to blend in with their surroundings makes them almost impossible to identify when they lay flat on the ground and freeze. This is where the importance of scouting comes in.
When you see a rabbit during a scouting trip remember where it is and which direction it went as it escaped. Rabbits often use the same escape routes time and again so knowing in advance which way it’ll be headed can ensure greater success during the actual hunt. Additionally, since they’re difficult to see when in heavy brush or a brier patch, look for their eyes. They’re the only body parts they can’t conceal and are a dead give away as to their location.
Tips For Finding the Secret Hunting Spots
Rabbits don’t like to get wet so can often be found in areas that are high and dry. They burrow so they also need soft ground. As a result, they can often be found at the edge of meadows along the treeline. Many groups also like to be near water but not at the water’s edge and will burrow at the top of ditches and muddy mounds.
Rabbits know that predators avoid briers and brambles so that’s often where they go because it affords the most protection. And, of course, they will not be too far from the buffet line such as freshly planted crops, gardens or glens so those are great places to seek them out. Many times their burrows will not be close to a food source. Remembering that they’re willing to cross roads and fields to get to the food source will make sure you’re headed in the right direction
What You're Looking For And When
So, what should you look for in order to make sure you’re in the right place? You need to look for a green field that butts up against a thick treeline. There may be blackberry bushes, briers or brambles all of which will have thorns. The damaged areas will, more than likely, contain the burrows. The more damage there is the more rabbits will be in the area. Don’t forget that woods and forests provide a sanctuary to rabbits and, since there’s usually less hunting pressure in those areas, there is more of a likelihood that you’ll find them there. Following is a video demonstrating what to look for.
Believe it or not when the weather is cold and damp the rabbits will be out in force. While awake they like to have access to open areas in order to take advantage of the sunshine but also want protection from the cold and wind. A poor hunt, on the other hand, will likely be the result of dry ground and low humidity. Additionally, strong wind will also send them into hiding. After a couple of days of frost is probably the best time to hunt because they’re easier to track and see. And, of course, don’t forget to look for their droppings. It’s a sure sign you’re in the right area.
5. Here Are Some More Interesting Facts about Rabbit Hunting
Every hunter has a story to tell and when it comes to tips and tactics it seems there’s an extensive list of things that work. Here are a few of the more interesting facts that might help you on your next hunt.
- If you don't have a hunting dog, ferrets can be used to flush rabbits out of their warrens.
- Using a lamp at night will stun rabbits so you can get a clear shot.
- Wild rabbits are infested with fleas. To get rid of them simply leave them outside until the body gets cold before taking them into the house. Fleas are drawn to warm bodies. You just want to make sure it's not yours.
- If possible, rabbits should be shot just above the eyes. It's where the brain is located and is more humane.
- Air rifles are best for close shots whereas .22's are best at long range.
- If you have to shoot the body, aim in the middle of the chest between the front legs. It's where the heart and lungs are located
Here are a few things to look for to determine if a hole is active or not
- Checking for leaves, twigs and foliage around the outside of the entrance
- Loose soil in the hole means it's in use
- If the path in the hole is flat and level it's more than likely a "bolt" hole or an emergency entrance and exit
- Check the size of the hole. If the hole is big it may belong to a badger, if it's square it was probably made with a shovel and if the dirt at the entrance has been compacted it's active
6. Taking Rabbit From the Field to the Pan
Hunting wild rabbit is one of the most growing sports around. Your ability with tracking and weapon accuracy, budget and personal preferences on which weapon you’d like to use can affect the outcome. With a little practice and experience, however, it will be well-worth the effort. Once the prey has been bagged, taken home and cleaned the only thing left to do is to decide how best to cook it. To help you out following is a youtube.com video that will take you from the field to the kitchen. The only thing left to do is share your experience with others and enjoy your feast.