Stalking and hunting rabbits is a wonderful sport. Although this type of hunting may not have the sudden excitement and explosiveness of quail hunting or the heart pounding feel of hunting larger game, hunting rabbits has its own attraction, including a high success rate.
According to expert rabbit hunters, hunters that choose the right coverts can easily bag at least a few rabbits. Because of this, rabbit hunting is an outstanding way to introduce beginner hunters and younger people into the sport of hunting.
Rabbits also make for pretty good eating, and because they are easy to skin and harvest, your workload after a kill is measurably reduced.
In the following article we will talk about rabbit hunting in more detail, with most of our tips focused on the novice or beginner rabbit hunter just starting out with the sport.
About Rabbit Hunting
Rabbit hunting is far from being an overly complex sport. It can be as easy as a quiet walk in the woods with your favorite single-shot shotgun and a pocketful of shells; or a major outdoor event with packs of rabbit hunting beagles, multiple hunters hunting different areas of the covert, and a bunch of specialized equipment designed to maximize your hunt.
In a nut shell, there are many ways to hunt rabbits and a lot of habitat types where rabbits like to hang out. For this reason, rabbit hunting is extremely popular. To help you become more familiar with this sport, below we have outlined several beginner tips, including where and how to find rabbits, the gear you will need for a successful hunt, tips for walking up on rabbits and some basic shooting tips that will have you shooting like a pro in no time.
Where and How to Find Rabbits
If you have ever been in the “great outdoors,” you already know that rabbits can be found virtually anywhere. However, this does not mean that you will necessarily see rabbits every time you hunt—unless you know where to look for them… the hotspots that they usually live in and frequent.
Cottontail rabbits, the subjects of this article, are typically found in areas that provide good cover for the rabbits, areas that are also adjacent to some of their favorite foods. Some of these favorite foods include:
- Grasses and clover
- Broadleaf weeds
- Garden crops and the buds
- The bark of small saplings
When you go in search of cottontails, your best bet is to look for them in the following places:
- Fields. Rabbits tend to hang out in and around small fields that are bordered by woods, brush and briars to afford them good cover.
- Near vegetation. Look for cottontails along drainages and fencerows where vegetation has sprouted up.
- Clear-cuts. Rabbits hang out in recently cleaned timber clear-cuts.
- Brush piles. Find rabbits in brush piles on freshly cleared land sites.
- Areas providing other hideouts and nearby forage. Covered power line and railroad right-of-ways and other places providing hideouts and nearby forage are great places to find rabbits.
Areas of cover that cottontails like to frequent include blackberry patches, briars, honeysuckle, thick grass and weeds, rolled hay bales, abandoned farm machinery, irrigation pipes and culverts.
As a novice hunter, one of the best ways to scout for cottontail rabbits is to drive or trek down rural, out of the way roads just about dawn or dusk. You can use a country road map or even Google Earth to mark where you see rabbits.
In doing this, you’ll have a better idea of where to find rabbits later on in your hunt—in the cover immediately adjacent to the areas at which you spotted them. Some of these places may turn out to be on private land. However, because rabbits can wreak havocs on gardens and the like, many landowners are more than happy to give you hunting permissions on their land.
Rabbit Hunting and Your Gear
An expert marksman with superior stalking skills can bag any number of rabbits with a wide variety of weapons, including a .22 rifle, pistol or even a compound bow or crossbow and arrow. However, for those just starting out with their rabbit hunting career, we recommend a light, easy-to-handle shotgun.
A shotgun is, by far, the most effective weapon to use against cottontails, mostly because they tend to hang out in overgrown, close-quarter habitats where snap shooting is common and most effective. A 20-gauge shotgun with an updated cylinder choke is one of the best choices for beginner cottontail hunters.
However, if you can’t get your hands on one of these weapons, any shotgun will do, regardless of gauge, action or choke, when going after rabbits.
As far as the type of shot you should use in your shotgun, this is really a matter of preference. According to experts in the field, your best bet in terms of rabbit shot is the 6 and 7.5 varieties, but you can go as big as size 5 or as small as size 8 if those are the only sizes you can get your hands on.
So what about your personal hunting apparel? You need to remember that briar patches and other thorny bushes can make mincemeat out of unprotected skin. For that reason, we highly recommend you wear fairly thick clothing when hunting for cottontails.
Wearing a pair of vinyl-faced canvas field pants can really boost your stalking confidence when out in the field. Also, a durable canvas upland hunting coat with a game bag for carrying rabbits makes it easy to move through chest-high cover.
Heavy duty hunting gloves are also recommended, as you may have to reach into some very thorny bushes and patches during your hunt. Due to the fact that brush can be very thick along a rabbit hunt, if you plan to bring along a hunting partner it is recommended that you both wear highly-visible, blaze-orange vests on your hunt, or a ball cap or stocking hat that is also colored with bright orange—the universal symbol for “don’t shoot.”
Walking Up Rabbits
As a novice hunter, we are going to assume that you don’t have a pack of beagles to flush the rabbits out of their cover. Therefore, you will need to learn how to walk up rabbits, which is one of the most basic hunting methods.
The methods for walking up rabbits tend to vary from one hunter to the next, as everyone has their own personal preferences for how to do this. However, if there is one certain way to assure you can get a rabbit to abandon its tight-sitting ways, it is by using a similar plan to the rabbit: sitting tight and simply out-waiting the rabbit. Like other well-camouflaged animals, a cottontail cannot stand to be out-waited, and any pause on the hunter’s motions makes it a nervous wreck.
So here is what you will want to do:
First scout out and enter what you think is a good location. Make sure you walk through this area very slowly, taking about 8-10 paces, then stopping completely for about 30 seconds. Keep repeating this process as you make your way through the location. Although the sound of your approach may be enough to flush some rabbits from the brush or dense cover, more often than not it is the motionless silence that does the trick. Because of this silence, you are outsmarting the rabbit into thinking it has been spotted, and thus he makes a run for it.
If you plan to hunt with a partner, which is always a good idea when you are just starting out, it is recommended that you stand about 50 feet apart, walking abreast when you walk up a rabbit. Try to move in staggered succession, following the count we described above—10 paces and wait, followed by the hunter walking 10 paces and waiting. Keep doing this until you have flushed the rabbits or covered the entire location of cover. Look around behind you from time to time as well, just to see if any cottontails decided to break cover after you passed them.
Shooting Tips When Hunting Rabbits
Finally, let us look at some shooting tips while hunting rabbits. The first thing you will need to learn how to do is “snap shoot.” Rabbits hiding in deep cover seldom give you more than a brief instant to make your shot, a fact that makes hunting cottontails a great challenge. There will be no time to swing through your target. Instead, you must pick up the rabbit on the run, shoulder your shotgun and fire all in one motion—known as snap shooting.
If a rabbit does bolt across “open” ground, which is a rare occasion, you can certainly ponder your shot but not for very long. On pass shots, swing through the body and beyond the head, shooting just as the bead clears the rabbit’s nose. When the cottontail is running straight away from you, never draw your bead on that cotton-like white tail. Instead, try to swing through the target, centering your shot just beyond the head. In doing this, you can ensure a fast kill with meat that is undamaged.