Rabbit hunting is an extremely popular and an ever-growing sport, and with good reason too. Apart from it being a challenging and exciting sport, it is by no means complicated.
How do you start rabbit hunting? Let’s face it, hunting rabbits can be as easy as walking through the woods with your shotgun and some shells. However, you may also prefer to make it a more specialized ritual, which will, of course, include specific gear and equipment.
Furthermore, hunting rabbits almost always end in taking one or two down, since there are many ways to hunt them and a variety of habitats where they can be found.
For most beginner hunters, it simply makes sense to start hunting with small game species. This may include squirrels, birds and rabbits. Not only are they easy to find, but it might mitigate some of the emotional impacts that shooting a large animal may cause.
Rabbit Hunting Season
Conservation laws prescribe a specific time of year during which a particular wildlife species may be hunted. Such laws are necessary in order to protect all wild animals.
Hunting season dates are usually when the population is at a high and always falls outside the peak breeding period as animals are most vulnerable then.
Generally speaking, the rabbit hunting season opens early November and comes to an end towards late February.
However, each State has its own specific hunting calendar, and it is best to obtain the relevant information for the State you hunt in. Such information may be obtained from your local Department of Fish and Wildlife.
In Oregon, for example, there is no specific state-wide season for hunting rabbits, so in many places, they can legally be hunted at any time of year. However, some areas may have specific date restriction and season closures, so check your area.
Although rabbits can be found in abundance during the early season, the ultimate time to hunt is to wait until after the first good snow.
Keep in mind that during the winter:
- There is almost no vegetation so they can be spotted quite easy against the snow – although a cottontail’s tail looks like a giant white cotton ball which will blend into the white snow, its fur stays dark grey and brown all winter long, causing them to stand out from the white snow.
- It is easier to follow their tracks in the snow.
Apart from the time of year, there is one more interesting phenomenon to keep in mind – the lunar calendar. Rabbits tend to be less active during periods when the moon is fuller since this provides more light for predators such as owls, hawks, eagles, falcons and wild dogs to spot them.
Rabbit Hunting License
A License for hunting rabbits is required in all states. You have to be licensed in the specific state and area you hunt in, so familiarize yourself with the regulations. For instance, in some states, you might have to pass a gun safety course or quiz in order to receive a license to hunt rabbits.
In most states, such as Oregon, this may be done online. All hunting laws and regulations can be obtained from your state Department of Wildlife or Department of Fish and Wildlife.
It is furthermore important to update your hunting license before every hunting season.
In short, rabbits may be found in any area that can provide them with adequate food sources and cover since hiding from predators and protection from the elements are crucial for their survival.
Keeping in mind that rabbits are ground dwellers, we can expect to find them in brush piles or thick clumps of grass. Cottontails are most often found in farmsteads, back yards, woodlots and old fields.
We have compiled a list of areas where rabbits most probably will be found:
- Look for places with adequate ground cover
- Denser areas
- Gnarly tangles of briars
- Brush Piles
- Downed treetops
- Twigs and bark of small saplings and bushes
- Around small fields bordered by woods, brush, and briars
- Along drainages and fencerows where vegetation has grown up
- In recently cleaned timber clear-cuts
- In densely covered power line and railroad right-of-ways
- Blackberry patches
- Rolled hay bales
- Abandoned farm machinery
- Irrigation pipes
Near food sources such as:
- Broadleaf weeds
- Garden Crops
Unlike coyotes and most other predators which will avoid areas where people are constantly present, rabbits are often found in brush or dense foliage close to where human presence and activity are.
This is not to say that human presence is number one on their list when choosing habitat since adequate cover, good food sources and a lack of predators are still the determining factors in choosing their habitat.
There are a few elements in nature which influence their daily activity patterns:
General Weather Conditions – if you want to make the most of your rabbit hunting trip, then choose a day with an overcast sky and drizzle or light fog. These weather conditions are ideal for hunting since rabbits will be restless and searching for food almost frantically.
Avoid hunting in more severe conditions such as heavy rains, high winds or quickly declining temperatures as these will make them scurry as fast as they can for the cover and safety of their dens.
Time of day – Dawn and dusk are the most active times of the day for rabbits as they are now out of their dens searching for food. In the absence of adequate light, predators are less likely to find rabbits.
Temperature – rabbits are not much different from humans when it comes to cold and wet weather. Their fur might seem nice and warm to us, but it really doesn’t serve as a great source of insulation in extreme weather conditions. When temperatures drop below freezing, they will look for shelter in dense bushes.
Barometric Pressure – rabbit movement decreases when the barometric pressure suddenly drops as they know it indicates a cold front coming on. However, just before the severe weather, we find them more active as they are searching for food and shelter before the storm hits.
An interesting observation of rabbit behavior becomes apparent when hunting with dogs. Pursued by a dog, a cottontail will shoot off and put as much distance between them as it possibly can. Then at some point, it slows down or even stops and waits. But only until the dogs get near, as they then begin to move again. This behavior is called jump and circle because eventually, they make it back to their original jump site.
The reason for such behaviour, is that cottontails do not like to leave their comfort zones. In fact, they have a small home range and feel safe in the familiarity of their local surroundings.
Most of the time, the jump and circle happen within 100 yards as they do not like covering a large distance away from their dens.
Rabbit Hunting with Dogs
Hunting can become quite isolating and lonely at times, and having a hunting companion such as a dog can make it an unbelievable experience. This should, of course, not be just any dog. There are certain breeds which are more ideal for hunting.
Furthermore, it should be a well-trained dog and you should preferably begin training as a puppy. This might take some patience on your side, but it will be a well-added benefit when hunting rabbits.
Some of the best dogs to use for hunting rabbits are:
One benefit when hunting with a dog, is that you can most likely find rabbits throughout the day instead of merely at dawn and dusk as dogs use scent and smell as opposed to mere visibility.
Hunters with dogs prefer early mornings since rabbits have moved around at night making it easy for dogs to find scent in the morning.
Before considering to hunt rabbits with a dog, you should familiarize yourself with hunting laws and regulations of the State you hunt in. In Oregon, for example, dogs may not be trained or permitted to run at large in game bird nesting habitat from April to July 31 every year.
Rabbit Hunting Weapons
The most appropriate weapons to use are shotguns or rifles, although pistols and bows and arrows are used too. When looking at shotguns you need a good one in the 12 to 20 gauge range. This is adequate to kill a rabbit on the run.
Why not use technology to help find the best hunting times and locations.
HuntWise: The hunting App by Sportmans Tracker is an excellent way to do this.
Follow this link to check out HuntWise.