Frozen branches from the autumn olive slapped my face as I slowly made my way through the tangle. As I stopped to wipe tears away I caught a glimpse of brown. As we made eye contact the cottontail made a beeline for parts unknown.
Instantly the old Remington 1100 20-gauge barked off a round. Then a second shot was sounded and the rabbit was in a cartwheel.
As I slowly made my way to retrieve the bunny a second rabbit squirted out from a pine. I hollered to my son and a single shot from his Winchester 1300 was sounded. That quickly two plump rabbits were in the game pouch.
HUNTING WITHOUT DOGS
Hunting rabbits without a dog can be very effective. It requires a knowledge of rabbit behavior under varying weather conditions, and can be done solo or with partners. Here are some tips on where to go and when.
A great time to hunt rabbits is the first warm day after a cold snap. Bunnies will be sitting out in open fields soaking up sunlight. On cold and windy days hit thick tangles of vines, briars and any type of cover that protects rabbits from the elements.
Brush piles are good on just about any given day. If you jump a rabbit near a brush pile on a windy day, the pile will be the first place it will scurry back towards.
Another great location regardless of weather is an overgrown old apple orchard. Add tall grass, plenty of old brush piles and soon an old cottontail should be spotted. The great thing about old orchards is they are easy to hunt without a dog.
Often the hunter will jump a rabbit and if a quick shot fails, then cutting over to your side will often result in a second shot as the rabbit puts some distance between you and him. They only run in a straight line for a short distance before bouncing to the side.
Old farms with plenty of abandoned machinery or rundown buildings are another good spot for the hunter without the services of a hound. Once again look for the rabbits tight to cover. Tall grass is often found in these abundant areas offering protection from hunters as well as hawks.
Move very slowly while stomping and kicking any piece of cover that could conceal a rabbit. Two hunters can work as a team in this type of cover. One hunter should post up after anticipating where a rabbit might run.
The other hunter slowly pokes around the old machinery. Maintaining a safe distance between each other will almost always spell defeat for the rabbit!
Don't leave that farm just yet. Hunting out fence rows can be productive as well. Rabbits normally will follow the row to the end and then take off on a streak for the nearest cover.
Pay close attention to the direction that it runs. This will give you a clue for future outings on a good stand location. Rabbits have their favorite escape routes and once you locate them they generally stay good for years.
An hourglass-shaped woodlot with prime habitat is another high-percentage location, and Christmas tree plantations are also always productive with or without a dog.
The best method for a single hunter is the stop-and-go method. Far too many hunters make the mistake of moving too quickly, but in prime habitat I might only cover a couple of acres in a half hour.
As you might guess, I hunt rabbits similar to the way I stalk deer. I just stop and search each and every piece of cover before moving. Five yards, another slap in the face from the briar tangle. Stop and look, move another five or ten.
As for hunting with a partner, a favorite hunting technique my son Eric and I use involves posting a hunter on stand. I like to have him stand at the end of a fence row. The best locations are at intersections of two fence rows or where a thicket necks down into a tree line or any type of bottleneck.
Often the posted hunter will get the most opportunities and harvest the most rabbits. On one hunt Eric had to reload quickly after dusting off a pair of rabbits. Often doubles or triples end up scurrying down their emergency exit.
When you come across a brushpile one hunter should take a stand that offers the best opportunity for an open shot while the other jumps on the pile.
When hunting with a couple of others it pays off to place a hunter or two on a stand. If you are hunting a Christmas tree plantation, an old orchard or long fence line, have a hunter stand near the end while the other hunters work their way toward him.
This also works well with thickets, cattail marshes and brushy fields. Many times the rabbits will run well ahead of the drivers without the hunters even being aware that a rabbit has flushed.
HUNTING WITH DOGS
Hunting with a Beagle offers some fast-action shooting. Often the rabbit takes off as if in a hundred-yard dash. Shots can be tricky but if you're patient the shots on the return trip are easier.
If the rabbit doesn't hole up, the patient hunter who remains still on his stand will be rewarded with an easy shot. Often once the rabbit places some distance between himself and the hound he will stop and look back. These are the best opportunities for a hunter with a .22 rifle. A sitting or very slow-moving rabbit makes for some fun plinking.
When the kill is not of any importance I head for either an old orchard or a pine tree plantation. Try and find a spot with a bit of elevation and take a stand. Let one hunter and the hound do much of the work.
Often it's a toss up on who jumps the most rabbits between the pusher and the Beagle. Either way, in short order a rabbit will be bounding its way ahead of the pack.
Hunting the pine trees is fairly easy. There are usually two-tracks about every ten rows of trees. Stay fairly close to these and when the dog lets out, hustle to the opening.
The rabbit normally runs a short distance down the rows and then makes a hard turn. If you are in position when the rabbit cuts the opening, a quick open shot will present itself. When using a Beagle it's best to let the dog do much of the work.
Walk slowly and keep your eyes peeled for any sudden movement. When the dog takes off on a hot trail it's best for all of the hunters to spread out. On a good day the rabbit will run a complete circle.
But because rabbits can be as unpredictable as a Beagle, nothing can be for sure. This makes for some fun shooting as the rabbit makes its way across the rows of trees.
Rabbits have a tendency to run in an erratic manner. Rarely do they run in a straight line. This is the beauty of hunting an orchard or a pine tree plantation.
LOCATING PRIME RABBIT COUNTRY
Much of the best rabbit hunting takes place on private property. The best way to locate a prime piece of property starts with a slow drive. Ride around taking note of the cover, terrain and food sources, the latter being among the most important.
No food, no rabbits — just that simple. Farm crops always draw rabbits and the closer to thick cover the better.
Grapes, berries, red osier dogwoods, fruit trees, young saplings and just about anything that they can sink their teeth into are all favorite foods. Rabbits love to eat anything that is green, but once the green stuff is gone, look out! Any twig or small tree is fair game.
They will girdle a fruit tree overnight. People who make a living off of the land are not very fond of rabbits because of the damage the rodents cause. Any place that you see fruit trees would be a good place to check out.
Once a prime piece is located then some friendly conversation is in order. Sometimes all it takes is a knock on the door and a smiling face to gain permission to some great private property for rabbit hunting. Take your son or daughter along when seeking permission to hunt and leave the hunting clothes at home.
This article written by Jack Payne.