It had been too long since I took to a snow-covered forest in pursuit of cottontail rabbits. So when Jim Low, the recently retired writer from the Missouri Conservationist, asked if I wanted to go kick some brush for bunnies, I excitedly agreed.
“There’s no need to go too early,” Jim said. “Let’s meet up around 10 in the morning and hunt for a few hours.”
This was music to my ears. After countless forays into the predawn darkness of the white-tailed deer woods over the last few months, the idea of sleeping in, and having breakfast and coffee before venturing out on a hunt sounded perfect. Turns out it was.
Small game hunting, specifically rabbits and squirrels, is a sporting tradition suffering serious decline. With the excitement of a trophy aspect eliminated from the equation, small game hunters are left to find highlights in the experience of hunting and the enjoyment of table fare collected from their efforts. Advertisers aren’t too interested in promoting these oldest of outdoor traditions and therefore new hunters often lack exposure to the overall excitement and joy found in hunting small game animals like rabbits and squirrels.
This is quite unfortunate, because hunting small game is a great fun and provides excellent table fare. Camaraderie is right at the top of the list of reasons to rabbit hunt. When hunters move through a rabbit woods behind dogs or just kicking brush piles to flush a few bunnies themselves, they are able to talk and joke and enjoy one another’s company. It’s much different from the solitude of deer hunting.
When slipping ghost quiet through a snow covered winter forest in search of rabbits, hunters are able to experience a crisp serenity of stillness not found in nature any other time of year. And as long as the conditions outside aren’t absolutely freezing, rabbits will be active and on the move.
Low and I hunted hard to cover about 40 acres of habitat consisting of forest, brush from edge feathering and ditch banks. Rabbits are nervous critters and will most likely bolt from their hiding place at the slightest of perceived danger. As Low and I approached likely hiding spots, we positioned ourselves to cover escape routes rabbits would likely take once sprung. When you approach a likely hiding spot, walk slowly, stopping every now and then as you would when hunting pheasants. This will most likely unnerve them into leaving their present surroundings for safer habitat. Of the five rabbits we kicked up, two are now destined for a Dutch oven.
Weather more than anything else affects the behavior and temperament of rabbits. Time of day should be taken into consideration too. I prefer to hunt rabbits when it’s above 25 degrees, or near that, with the sun shining brightly. I believe rabbits hold tighter to cover in colder conditions.
If you have an opportunity to hunt rabbits behind beagles, do it, because it is incredibly fun. But you don’t have to have dogs to hunt rabbits. All you really need is a shotgun and a pair of boots. Start walking and look for areas of thick cover where you would hide if birds of prey were trying to catch you.