Article by Matt
Walker; Photos by Steve Gulledge
Matt Walker is a former graduate
research assistant that conducted rabbit research at Mississippi
As the air turns cooler and fall progresses,
hunters across Mississippi eagerly anticipate the opening day of
their favorite hunting season. Many hunters consider rabbits to be
one of the most challenging and rewarding small game species
(especially at the dinner table). Some hunters enjoy kicking along
a fencerow alone, eager to jump a rabbit, while others prefer the
thrill of watching a pack of dogs scurrying after a fleeing rabbit.
Whatever your rabbit hunting approach, hopefully this article will
give you some helpful hints to increase your rabbit hunting
The most obvious requirement for a
successful rabbit hunt is finding out where the rabbits are.
Cottontail rabbits prefer brushy cover for protection in upland
agricultural fields and grasslands, and reach their highest
populations in areas that provide a patchwork of several usable
habitat types. As their name implies, swamp rabbits are associated
with wet areas, preferring moist lowlands and brushy cover along
streams and ditch banks. Don't forget your briar pants because the
thickets rabbits prefer are filled with various types of thorns. It
is also important to wear as much hunter orange as possible to
increase human visibility in these densely vegetated areas.
Many hunters know that fencerows often
harbor rabbits, but don't forget to check brushpiles, fallen trees,
and even wooded areas. Several hunters simply do not realize that
woods provide sanctuary to a horde of rabbits, and these areas
generally receive less hunting pressure. Also, don't forget to ask
a farmer for permission to hunt his agricultural fields. Rabbits
often feed here, and the farmer likely would appreciate help
controlling local rabbit populations that may harm his crop.
One of the most overlooked secrets of
rabbit hunting is scouting. Cottontail rabbits are highly active at
dawn and dusk and this is usually when most rabbits can be seen.
Pay special attention to where and how the rabbits flee because
these escape routes are used repeatedly and may be useful in the
Now that you know where to hunt, we
will examine what to hunt with. In thick cover it is recommended to
use a shotgun with an improved cylinder choke and No. 6 or
7 shot. Because shot distance is limited in heavy cover, close
shots are usually taken quickly where a wide pattern with heavy
shot is beneficial. However, some hunters prefer to use a modified
or full choke when hunting with dogs to make sure no stray shot
brushes a dog. A tighter choke with heavier shot such as No. 4 will
allow for longer shots.
Another important factor is determining when to
hunt. Cold, damp days provide the best days for rabbit hunting.
Rabbits often take shelter somewhere hidden from the cold and the
wind with easy access to open areas where they can absorb
body-warming rays of sunshine. The first warm day after a cold snap
often provides good hunting. Try to cover your human scent as much
as possible and stay downwind of the rabbit.
Low humidity and dry ground are two
variables that may lead to having a poor hunt. Dry air tends to dry
the dogs' noses, making them less likely to absorb scent particles,
and dry ground doesn't hold scent well either. Strong winds also
discourage rabbit movement and may make them harder to find.
Hunting after a few good frosts will increase visibility and reduce
The most common mistake made by rabbit
hunters can be easily corrected--Slow Down!!! Humans and dogs both
seem to think that covering more ground increases hunting success.
Dogs and humans both miss rabbits holding tight to their hidden
position even when in close proximity. Moving more slowly and
performing a more thorough search of the area would likely flush a
rabbit and provide a shot.
A couple of rabbit hunting tricks may
be helpful. When rabbits flee, watch them into the distance where
they often stop and look back to see if danger is out of range.
This may provide the perfect time for bagging the rabbit. Another
trick is whistle or click your tongue when the rabbit takes off.
This will often cause a rabbit to stop and try to decipher what and
where the sound is.
While this article may be of little
use to the seasoned professional, it may provide beginners some
helpful tips on how to increase rabbit hunting success. Rabbits
provide a difficult shot, a race for the dogs, and overall
excitement for the hunter. Don't forget to involve children, as
hunting provides hours of recreation for people of all ages. May
the conditions be great, and the rabbits run freely!