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Cottontails The Hard Way

by Kody Chase

Last rabbit season I tried something radically different while hunting. Instead of using the traditional shotgun to kill bunnies, I used a device much older than a shotgun. I used my traditional recurve bow. It was a really neat experience and I’ll probably continue bowhunting for rabbits this season.
I’m sure I am not the only hunter in history who has ever shot rabbits with a bow. As a matter of fact, I know I’m not. American Indians were shooting and killing rabbits thousands of years before firearms were invented. What weapon do you suppose the old Indian hunters chose? Of course, the bow.
I don’t know of anyone who uses a bow for hunting rabbits, so I could not get much help on the subject, and taught myself the tactics involved in this approach to hunting. Since I couldn’t find any tips in my hunting books about bowhunting for rabbits, I decided to combine my deer hunting skills and the techniques of a modern rabbit hunter into a new system. I would be hunting a small, fast game species and knew that if I wanted to be successful at it I was going to have to practice quite a bit. Using a recurve was going to be even more of a challenge because being an instinctive shooter takes lots of time. So, I began a rigorous routine of shooting 75 arrows every day at a target the size of a takeout soft drink lid.
First, I went down to the local Wal-Mart and looked around in the sporting goods department until I came across a new backstop designed for bows. There were several models to choose from but I picked one made out of a dense, polyurethane material. I chose this one because it was strong, durable, arrow-proof, and allowed for easy arrow removal. The target is also waterproof and should last a long time. Then I looked around for a rabbit target but I found out that there is not a large commercial market for such a target so I had to improvise. At home I took a piece of typing paper and tried once or twice to sketch the outline of a sitting rabbit. After a while I came up with a nice drawing. I outlined it in a dark marker. My rabbit looked pretty good, so I went outside and tacked the piece of paper to my new backstop. I had my makeshift rabbit target, now all I had to do was hit it with an arrow!
Bow choices are as numerous as rabbits in a briar patch. Most people use compound bows, but that is not to say that traditional bows are not good anymore. It just seems easier to use compound bows because they are smaller and easier to shoot accurately than a long-limbed traditional bow. The standard draw weight is between 50 and 70 pounds. This is not necessary, of course, but it might be easier on you (and the rabbit) when you shoot it. The bow I use is a Bear Kodiak Magnum recurve with a draw weight of 55 pounds. It is fine for rabbits as well as deer.
Along with all the different kinds of bows on the market, there are broadheads for every occasion too. In fact, the broadhead market may be more confusing. Modern arrowheads are made of premium steel and composite allows. They can be sharpened until they are sharp enough to cut a hair in half. They also stay sharp for long periods of time if they are taken care of properly. Mechanical broadheads are becoming very popular, and every year manufacturers find new ways to improve the metals and the manufacturing process. However, not all of these broadheads are legal for use in every state, so check your state laws before you use them for hunting any game.
Rabbit hunting with a bow does call for the most powerful and expensive equipment. My broadheads are Bear Razorheads (considered dinosaurs among today’s cutting edge bowhunters) with a diamond shape. They are inexpensive, accurate and death on bunnies. The primary concern in selecting broadheads for any game is that you pick a style of high-quality construction that flies straight and won’t foul up your shooting. The companies that spend an extra buck on design and manufacturing produce broadheads that are consistent at finding their targets. These are broadheads to buy for rabbit hunting.
n the field the tactics for killing rabbits are a bit different from deer hunting. If you use dogs to hunt then the hunt will probably be a lot easier because you need only find the rabbit once and the dogs will do the rest. If you choose to hunt without dogs your chances of killing a rabbit with a bow are small rules unless you are an extremely good shot or can afford lots of arrows! The best way to hunt is with dogs, using the same tactics as you would with firearms except that you wait for the rabbit to stop for a moment during the chase. This doesn’t happen very often so take advantage of every opportunity as it comes.
My best day last year took place in the morning. It was December and nice and cool. I was using a traditional recurve bow and I had dogs hot on a track. We were hunting in Georgia, north of Atlanta. The woods were mostly low pines and thick briars and honeysuckle. The dogs ran a rabbit to my Dad and he shot it with his trusty .410. I was hoping to get a shot at one rabbit during the day but it was tough going. About fifteen minutes later the dogs started another rabbit. They ran it in a large circle and finally it was coming straight at me. I drew my bow and waited patiently. Since my bow was not a compound, I could only hold it at full draw for about one minute. I hoped that the rabbit would show itself in that short window of time. I was struggling to hold the bow steady when the rabbit suddenly ran in front of me, hopping from left to right. I couldn’t wait for him to stop so I let the arrow fly. To my surprise the arrow hit its mark. It hit and killed the rabbit perfectly. What a feeling! Three weeks of practice had finally paid off.
Later that day I shot another cottontail. Altogether I ended up beating my Dad, and that had never happened before. Plus, I had done it with a bow. It is a real feat in itself to kill a deer with a bow, but I had killed two rabbits with two shots! That’s what I call bragging rights!
I’m going to try my luck at hunting bunnies with a bow again this year. It takes a lot of practice but if you want a real challenge that is both fun and rewarding, this might be something for you to consider. Remember, the quality of the equipment you use will have a lot to do with the quality of our hunt. Good luck and see you in the briars!

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