John's Journal...


Learning Where to Find Rabbits

Editor’s Note: Rabbit hunting comes in several variations, but all of them are fun. Here's how to score, using the various tried-and-true methods.

The beagles were about a quarter of a mile away, packed and announcing to the world a rabbit was on the run. I thought I saw a movement through the canes. But before my Remington 1100 was mounted snugly against my shoulder, the rabbit broke from cover. I fired quickly-kicking up a mound of dirt about four inches behind the speeding cottontail. I had missed because I had Click to enlargenot properly mounted the gun, or swung with the rabbit as it ran. I planned to rectify my mistake. So with my cheek on the stock, I swung the barrel of the shotgun with the rabbit and squeezed off what I knew to be a fatal shot. However, I failed to spot the thigh-sized water oak that the rabbit ran behind just as I shot.

Now, there was no doubt in this cottontail's mind that someone in the swamp was attempting to take him home to dinner. Therefore, the rabbit turned on its after-burners and was really moving as it passed by me. The rabbit was almost to the edge of a ditch when I fired the third time. I miscalculated just how fast the swamper was moving when I shot. The rabbit was in the ditch a split second before the pellets arrived. It’s not hard to believe when hunters consider rabbits can run 18 to 20 miles per hour and cover 15 feet at a jump when their minds are really on it.

After the smoke cleared and the echo of thunderous shooting had subsided, I heard the one sound that an unsuccessful rabbit hunter never wants to hear. "Did you get the rabbit, John?" my hunting companion asked. I always can come up with many varied reasons why I don't take plenty of rabbits-including poor scenting conditions, inexperienced dogs, a scarcity of rabbits on the place, improper patterning of the shells by the gun, the wrong amount of powder or shot in the shells, poor hunting companions, inclement weather, too many briars and thickets on the hunting land and/or too few briars and thickets. Perhaps one reason I enjoy rabbit hunting so much is because I have plenty of excuses if I am not as successful as I think I should be. Therefore, a poor performance can never be attributed to my own incompetence. However, when a limit of longearsClick to enlarge hangs from my belt, I make profound statements to let all of my hunting partners know that I am truly knowledgeable about rabbiting. And, if you have hunted cottontails or swampers with a group of friends, then surely you have heard expert comments like, "The dogs worked well today," or "There certainly are a bunch of rabbits on this place," or the ever-popular, "I just couldn't seem to miss.

But, there is help available for the hunter who has good days and bad days rabbit hunting. There are specific things we can do and should do to improve our chances of finding and taking more rabbits. So we have compiled a "Hunter's Guide to Better Rabbiting" (H.G.T.B.R.) Ask any state's wildlife biologist and he will say, "Generally speaking, there are rabbits in all counties or most counties in our state." But, notice that statement makes no reference to how abundant the rabbits may be. In terms of rabbits, all areas are not created equal. Not every region in each state has lots of rabbits all over. And since rabbits are cyclic, places that have been rabbit-abundant one year may have few rabbits the next year.

But sportsmen like Bill Smith soon learn where rabbits are. "Farmers are the key to your best rabbit hunting," Smith says. "Since they work their lanClick to enlarged daily and see rabbits regularly, they know where the rabbits stay and are often anxious to have hunters eliminate these furry critters that eat their crops. Over the years, I have developed a good relationship with several farmers who annually allow me to come on their lands and hunt rabbits. For locating swamp rabbits, I depend on information from deer hunters," David McLarty informs me. "Most of my deer-hunting buddies deer hunt every day of the season in the river bottoms where I hunt rabbits. On the way to their stands or while stalk-hunting, they often spot and jump canecutters. After deer season they are eager and anxious to hunt rabbits. They will take me and my dogs to some of the best swamp rabbit hunting you can imagine." Andy Thompson also relies on deer hunters to help produce more rabbits for him, even though he doesn't have beagles. "You must understand the way a deer hunter thinks. I know, because I am one also. We hunt deer hard for the first week or two of the season. Although some of us bag deer, others are unsuccessful. And, after two weeks of very little, if any, shooting, we are all ready to shoot at something. Generally, rabbits are what we choose. By lining up 5 to 10 abreast, we put on rabbit drives across fields and thickets on the land we hunt. On a good rabbit drive, we will all get to do some shooting and bag quite a few. At other times, we may have a member of our hunting party who has found a clear cut where he's been hunting deer unsuccessfully for two weeks but has seen quite a few rabbits in the briars and bushes of the clear cut. If we promise not to steal his hunting place, he will often accompany several of our party on a rabbit drive through the clear-cut. I really enjoy rabbit hunting in clear cuts because a hunter must have quick eyes to see the fleeing rabbits and quick reflexes to get a shot off."

There are general places to search for rabbits, too, that will pay dividends most everywhere. Remember that rabbits eat a widClick to enlargee variety of vegetation and wander aimlessly looking for that food. Keep an eye out for the rabbit's favorite winter food of sumac and tree bark. The rabbit also uses trails to go from its feeding places to its bedding spots. Therefore, the hunter who discovers these trails has another good chance of taking rabbits. Also look near rabbits' preferred hiding places in hedgerows, swamps, sassafras thickets, briar thickets, old orchards, weedy patches, line fences, open fields near wooded areas, cedar swamps, clumps of evergreens and piles of brush. And, since rabbits do not have waterproof fur, they must get out of a downpour by moving underground or seeking shelter in hollow tree roots or beneath overhanging banks when the weather is severe. Then they emerge from these places as soon as the weather clears, which is the best time for hunting rabbits. Understand, too, that rabbits like comfort during the windy season. Therefore, they will usually be found on the lee side of a hill, while remaining in open spots where they can absorb all the warmth possible on sunny days in the winter.


Check back each day this week for more.

Day 1: Learning Where to Find Rabbits
Day 2: Choosing Good Rabbit Dogs
Day 3: Deciding On a Rabbit Gun
Day 4: Selecting Clothes for Rabbit Hunting
Day 5: Cooking Rabbits



Entry 340, Day 1