Rabbit season is in full swing, and there is hardly a season I look more forward to.
I cut my teeth as a youngster gunning down bunnies and still enjoy a good day of rabbit hunting to this day. We did not have any beagles when I was growing up, so my method of hunting them was to simply beat the brush and kick them up. I guess you could say that I was the closest thing to a rabbit dog we had!
Well, times have changed, and I now have some beagles to do the work for me, although I still like to beat the brush now and then just for old times sake. But for the most part, I really enjoy watching and listening to the dogs as they are in hot pursuit of rabbits, not to mention that the shots are much more presentable with a dog, rather than shooting at feeling bunnies as they high-tail it out of there when you kick a brush pile.
I am also a deer hunter, so my rabbit season does not usually start until around the first of the year once the deer seasons have finished up.
While there are several ways to go about hunting them, over the years I have learned some lessons that have helped me put more rabbits in the freezer.
When hunting in thick cover where shots will be quick and short, don’t over-choke you shotgun. One of my brothers figured out years ago that in thick cover a smooth bore slug barrel works well for close shots at bunnies. Along these same lines, consider using an improved cylinder or even a skeet choke when hunting in extremely tight cover. For more normal hunting conditions, however, a modified choke is about right.
If using beagles, learn to stay put where you or your dogs first jumped a rabbit up. I can’t tell you how many times I got antsy as the dogs got far away, and I went after them to try to cut them off only to have them end up right we started at. Sometimes it may take awhile, and your dogs may even nearly get out of earshot. But if you are sure they are on a rabbit, be patient as they will likely eventually wind up bringing him right back to you.
When it comes to shotgun gauges, sure a 12-gauge will work fine, but I feel that a 20-gauge or a .410 fits the bill perfectly. Not only are they lighter to lug around the thickets, but they also do not destroy as much meat as a 12-gauge will tend to.
While it is not necessary to wait for it, I like hunting in the snow. A couple inches of fresh snow will not only aid in tracking rabbits but will also make it a whole lot easier to spot them as they dart from one patch of cover to the next. It also makes it a lot easier to make sure your dog is after what he is supposed to be. Most of my beagles don’t run deer, foxes, or coyotes, but I have had a couple that would. By being able to verify the tracks in the snow, I could pull them off the track if it was not a rabbit.
I am glad that rabbit season is finally here. Besides the excitement when a rabbit flushes from its hiding place, I just love to be out in the field this time of year. Listening to the dogs and watching them as they are in hot pursuit, well that just adds a whole different dimension to it for me. Hopefully the things mentioned in this column will help you out a little bit this winter.
Heck, if nothing else, maybe it will get you in the mood to go do some bunny hunting.