Cottontail rabbit hunting is a simple proposition on paper. You either push through the gnarly stuff until and roll them with a load of 7.5 shot, or slip along a brushy fenceline with a scoped .22 and plink them as they hang tight and try to blend in.
Both strategies can work well, but they’re often dependent on weather conditions, habitat, and an understanding of bunny behavior. Factor all of these into your day afield and you should end up with some hasenpfeffer for dinner. Don’t, and you’ll take a not-so-leisurely, rabbit-free stroll through the prickly ash and brambles, which is about as fun as it sounds.
Rabbit Hunting Weather
, cottontails spend a lot of their life underground. The colder it gets, the more likely they are to hang out in the confines of their burrows and stay safely out of harm’s way. There are times when you’ll see rabbits sunning during a cold snap, but those bunnies will be on red alert and difficult to approach (if you can find them at all, that is).
On warmer winter days, cottontails are far more likely to be out of their dens and loafing inside good overhead cover. Treat your prospective rabbit hunting days like you would —if the forecast calls for plenty of sun and seasonally warm temps, your chance at success is much better.
Those glimmer-of-spring days are perfect because you can hunt all day and have a good chance of moving bunnies every time you hop on a brush pile. The colder it is, the more likely it you’ll have to plan your hunt for the afternoon when rabbits are naturally on the move. If your region is stuck in a polar vortex, or ice fishing instead, and put off the rabbit hunting until the Arctic air moves on.
Rabbit Hunting Cover
Not all rabbit cover is created equal. A grassy CRP field, for example, might be littered with rabbit sign and clearly capable of producing a limit. The problem, of course, is that most of the bunnies will be living underground because they don’t have the brushy, tangly good stuff that makes them feel safe while on terra firma.
Overgrown homesteads, brush piles, and anything that offers overhead protection is ideal. Rabbits, like trout living in small, clear streams, are well aware that danger often comes from above, and they tend to be most comfortable with a something between them and the clouds.
Good cover becomes even better when it’s somewhat limited so that you’re not diving into a 40-acre patch of thorns and vines. If the bunnies have too many escape routes, you’ll end up bleeding, cursing, and rabbit-less. Just because a certain patch of cover has rabbits in it doesn’t mean it’s worth hunting.
It’s also worth noting that while rabbits leave a ton of sign, there’s a difference between a few, scattered tracks and droppings and a true cottontail metropolis. They’ll leave sign as they pad along trails, but the places with real concentrations will be obvious—and almost always related to the best cover. Don’t get fooled into thinking any amount of rabbit sign is good enough, because it’s not. The best rabbit sign is tracks, trails, and droppings that are concentrated tight to the best cover. The farther you get from good cover, the more likely the sign was made well after shooting light ended.
Rabbit Hunting Strategy
and shouldn’t be any threat for outsmarting us. If you push a fencerow and a cottontail gets out ahead or circles behind you, make note of it. The next time you hunt them in that spot, plan for a similar escape. There are no guarantees, of course, that each bunny will break out of the cover the same way from day to day, but they are certainly creatures of habit. Developing a milk run of huntable spots and then taking note of how the rabbits respond to pressure really shortens the learning curve on subsequent trips.
They also get more predictable once the snow starts to really pile up. If they are stuck mostly running on established rabbit trails because the powder is deep, then it can be useful to know where to position the drivers or where to concentrate your focus during solo missions.
Hit the cottontail woods on the right day, in the right spot, with the right tactics and you’ll get rid of those wintry blues. After a few heavy-vest hunts, the downtime between deer and turkey season won’t feel so long.
Feature image via Wiki Commons.