by Greg B. Oliver
People have asked me, what is the best gun for rabbit hunting. I usually respond to them by saying, the best gun to use would be the one that you are very proficient with, and love to carry (your favorite). One that you can instinctively shoulder and swing on a target at a seconds notice without even thinking about it, and hitting what you aim at. Well most of the time anyway. One that you could load with your eyes closed if you had to, or operate any of it's features while watching and tracking a running rabbit and not looking at the gun. It maybe a slick .22 rifle or shotgun that you picked out for yourself, or was given to you by your Father or Grand-Father.
I personally have more than one, depending on the time of year, and how much hiking will be involved in the course of the hunt. Early in the season, when there is still foliage, and the shooting tends to be close, I carry a short barreled, open choked, semi-auto 12 gauge, that can be swung onto a flushing grouse, or bounding rabbit.
Once the snow starts to fly, and I get more serious about hare hunting, and change to using a .22 rifle for different reasons. One is that the .22 is very light, making it easy to carry or sling, and hold for an accurate shot at a hare hiding under some brush, or when it has ran ahead of the Beagle, and has paused for a moment to look back to see were the dog is.
I go with the intent of staying out for several hours and some times cover a lot of ground, (depending were my dog decides to take me that day), so a day pack and wearing snow shoes can be enough to work with without adding a heavy gun. Throw in a couple of nice bagged hares, and you can seen were I am going with this. A hare running on the snow is incredibly fast, and can cover a lot of ground in a short period of time, but is even faster when it's running on a hard snow crust.
One moment it's almost too close, and an instant later it's out of range for a shotgun. Even a 1 1/8 oz of 7.5 can ruin a nice hare if it is shot at too close. Another reason for the .22 rifle is that even though rabbit pelts are some what delicate, I take the time and retain the fur, so the less holes in it the better. Furs can be used for decorating the den or hunting lodge walls, or use in making training dummies for your Beagles. Wrap and tie with a lots of string, a fur pelt around a bundle of old socks, will work well. Quick tanning is all that is required for this. This is simply removing the hide as soon as possible, stretching out on piece of plywood with push pins, and salting liberally, and let dry for a couple of days, then scrapping off dried salt. I have many from over the years, and they are still in great shape. (The wall hanging ones that is)
When you are alone hunting, the only things that you have to consider for .22 rifle is safety, and what's the direction of the nearest house and road, and try not to shoot your own dog. ("Pi--" off your dog, and you will have to do a lot of K-9 butt kissing, the next time you want your dog to get out of it's warm bed on a cold morning to go and chase rabbits for you.) Add a partner or two, and things can change some more. Unless you and your partner are side by side, he/she (and you) can have the risk of being "swept" by someone caught up in the moment's excitement after a bunny explodes from it's hiding place and makes a run for it.
I am not saying that you should not use .22 rifles when there are more than one hunter, it's just that you have to think a little more on the subject of safety when you do. You have to know all the time were your partners are. Simply wearing an orange hat, can let each person know were the other one is all the time. Adding an orange vest or coat would be ideal.
Take a shotgun with you, and then the scenario can be almost completely different. Space out each hunter 60 yards plus, in any configuration, and you now can hunt with your mind on the dogs and rabbits. It is still a good idea to use orange clothing when ever you are hunting, as you are never always at a safe distance away from another hunter.
I am sure you all have heard this said before, but have fun hunting, take a friend, and above all be safe about it. The "Media" and the "Anti's" love it when they hear about hunting accidents, as they say it strengthens their point that all hunters are a bunch of bumbling Rednecks, and that we exploit animals in our hunting pursuits, including our dogs.