Americans have been hunting rabbits for hundreds of years and, although rabbit meat may not be the important meat source it once was, rabbit hunting still offers an action-packed, exciting way to enjoy the outdoors today!
Not too long ago, families from around rural America saw wild rabbits as an important food source. Rabbit hunting was a fairly easy way to provide food for the family. Now that grocery stores have eliminated wild rabbits as an essential food source, few people continue to hunt rabbits for food alone.
However, while buying all of your food at the grocery store is efficient and effective, you lose a little bit of your connection to nature by doing so. Rabbit hunting provides an easy way to reconnect with the land. They are very numerous throughout most of rural America, and rabbits don’t require a high caliber rifle to bring down.
With a .22, a little skill and an evening to hike across the prairies, you can quite easily bring home enough meat for the entire family. Rabbit hunting can also be a lot of fun for hunters of all ages.
There are many different types of rabbits and hares across North America, but the cottontail and the jackrabbit are some of the most commonly-hunted.
Every year, thousands of hunters head into the wild to look for cottontails. These rabbits are small, quick and elusive, so getting one in your sights is not as simple as you might think.
Adult cottontails weigh typically weigh between two and three pounds, and measure in length between 14 and 18 inches. Their distinctive, short white tail gives them their namesake. Cottontails have soft fur and delicate hides that vary in color from reddish-brown to dark gray with white undersides.
They can swivel their long ears to many different angles for amazing directional hearing. Proportionally, their hind legs and feet are very large. These powerful legs give them the speed they need to evade predators.
When hunting cottontail, keep in mind that cottontails must survive completely on the ground. They usually don’t stray too far from the protective thick brush to feed. The grasses, flowers, weeds and other vegetation they love to eat can usually be found along the edges of fields and clearings. Close proximity to water is not necessarily important to cottontails, as they get most of the moisture they need from their food and morning dew.
When relaxed, cottontails will move slowly across the ground while they feed and stop every moments to check for potential danger. They move their large ears in different directions to pick up the tiniest sounds.
Once startled, cottontails will often use a very quick series of strong hops to place distance between themselves and the threat. If they feel like hiding is the better defense, they may pull their ears back against their head and freeze in place for a moment. For hunters, this can provide for an easy shot. However, if they freeze in the thick brush where you can see them, they can be impossible to find until they move again.
When compared to the cottontail, the jackrabbit is a monster. At about two feet long and weighing in between three and nine pounds, the adult jackrabbit is much larger than the cottontail. In fact, jackrabbits are not actually rabbits at all. They are hares, a larger cousin of the rabbit.
There are five different species of jackrabbits in North America, but all of them are very fast, some capable of reaching 40 miles per hour. Using their powerful hind legs, they can leap over ten feet when necessary.
Coloration varies across the different species of jackrabbits, but all have very long ears and coats ranging from gray to brown to white. The black-tailed jackrabbit has a grayish-tan coat peppered with black on the back and white on the belly. Their ears are brown with black tips and their tails have a black stripe. The white-tailed jackrabbit has grey ears, a dark brown or greyish-brown back and a pale grey belly. Their tails are mostly white.
Jackrabbit habitat depends greatly on the exact species. Black-tailed jackrabbits can be found throughout the Western United States and east to Texas and Nebraska. They thrive in meadows, desert scrubland, prairies and agricultural land. Like many other jackrabbit species, black-tailed jackrabbits prefer the open spaces.
White-tailed jackrabbits are frequent in Southern Canada to Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, Wisconsin and the Northwestern United States. They congregate in the plains and farmlands, but also live in wooded areas and alpine meadows in Colorado.
During the day, most jackrabbits rest in a scraped-out hollow or shallow depression hidden under vegetation. They emerge at dusk and remain active throughout the night. When evading predators, it uses its amazing speed and jumping abilities often moving in a zig-zag pattern. By flashing the underside of its tail, it can warn other jackrabbits or even confuse the predator at times. If necessary, some jackrabbits have even been known to swim.
Jackrabbits can multiply very quickly. Females can give birth to several litters of one to six babies each year. Unlike rabbits, baby hares are born with open eyes and furred coats. Very little maternal care is needed and the young mature rapidly. When populations boom, farmers often struggle to protect their crops.
Rabbit Hunting Tips
Although almost anyone with hunting experience can bag a few rabbits just by hitting the fields at the right time, there are a few techniques that can really help improve your success rate.
Tip #1 – Talk to Local Farmers
Any good rabbit hunter knows how valuable farmers can be in locating rabbit concentrations. Not only are most farmers happy to get some help in thinning out rabbit populations to protect their crops, but they also spend time on their land and see rabbits on a daily basis.
Tip #2 – Try Using a Shotgun
A trusty shotgun with an improved cylinder choke and No. 6 or 7 ½ shells can help a lot when hunting rabbits in cover. You need a fast-moving, wide and sufficiently heavy shot to bring down rabbits in close range. If you’re using dogs or hunting jackrabbits in more open spaces, you will want to switch to a tighter choke and increase your shot size.
Tip #3 – Cold Weather = Better Rabbit Hunting
Cold weather makes most rabbits more predictable since their fur does not have great insulating qualities. You can often find them in areas sheltered from the wind and open to the sun. If you are hunting on a fresh layer of snow, you can use their tracks to find them hiding under cover.
There are many other techniques that can help you bring more rabbits home, but most depend on the exact species and habitat you are hunting. If you understand what the rabbits are eating and their general behaviors, you should be able to take advantage of them more easily.
Rabbit hunting can be the perfect start for beginners and youth hunters. Invite your kids and other friends to come along on your next rabbit hunt!