The right way to Hunt Winter Rabbits—and Have a Blast

We didn’t shoot on the first few that skittered out in entrance of Al’s factors. This was imagined to be a severe late-season quail hunt in any case. However a few hours into the morning, it grew to become obvious that each quail and quail signal had been noticeably absent. And that rabbits had been in all places.

Shaun shot the primary one. Alex was his canine, and also you don’t shoot recreation on the bottom with out the proprietor’s permission. I’d been holding off, hoping he’d break the ice. Alex yipped with glee when the rabbit tumbled.

A solid-liver German shorthair, Alex was a real Continental pointing canine, bred and educated to hunt birds, waterfowl, fur, and small recreation, and to observe blood trails. He cherished all of it, however he solely made that particular, completely satisfied yip when a rabbit rolled in entrance of him. Though not particularly brilliant, regardless of his in depth schooling, Al was good sufficient to know what too many people neglect: Rabbit searching is probably the most enjoyable.

The right way to Hunt Rabbits With or With out Canine

Our quail hunt grew to become a cottontail hunt from that time on, and we couldn’t have picked a greater place or day for it. Cropfields divided by overgrown fencelines and interspersed with brushy attracts and small woodlots rolled on for hundreds of acres across the reservoir. A couple of evergreen windbreaks nonetheless stood the place there’d as soon as been farmsteads, earlier than the lake was constructed.

The rabbits had numerous locations to cover and thermal cowl within the pines and brush, plus their alternative of corn, soybeans, bark, and buds to gasoline them by way of the winter. The late-January day was chilly however not so bitter as to maintain rabbits burrowed up, and an inviting solar drew them to southern exposures.

Better of all, for us anyway, was that the bottom was carpeted in snow, which was pocked with tracks and dotted in all places with little spherical droppings. In contrast to snowshoe hares, cottontails don’t develop a coat of white winter camo. They might fairly sit tight than run, a method that works very nicely once they mix into their environment, with solely the glint of a shiny black eye to present them away. Towards a snowy background, cottontails stand out just like the phrases on this web page.

Our outing was a mixture of rabbit searching types. We rolled a number of in entrance of Alex when the capturing was secure. Others we noticed and took with fastidiously aimed head photographs as they crouched immobile, ears flat. Some we flushed ourselves, wading into the comb and stomping, then stomping some extra, to dislodge tight-sitting rabbits we suspected had been in sure thickets or blowdowns. Most of the time, the hunter standing guard exterior the thicket was rewarded with the shot, so we took turns busting brush. To be trustworthy, we’d have achieved higher if we’d put Alex again within the truck, so we didn’t need to preserve monitor of him earlier than we shot. Canine ­aren’t mandatory on a hunt like this one, however who may deny Al his enjoyable?

The Finest Weapons and Masses for Winter Rabbits

photo of Winchester Model 12 shotgun
Rabbit searching is the right time to bust out your older upland weapons, like a Remington 870 Particular Subject, an Ithaca Mannequin 37 Featherweight, or a Winchester Mannequin 12, like this classic 20-gauge. Rock Island Public sale Firm

Having come equipped for quail, in nylon-faced pants and canvas coats that turned briers and burrs, we had been nicely dressed for rabbits. I carried a Ruger Purple Label 20-gauge, the early form with a blued receiver. Mine had mounted Skeet chokes that had been excellent for the shut photographs the rabbits gave us. Shaun had a 12-gauge Remington 870 Particular Subject, the straight-gripped mannequin with an ­extra-short barrel and an IC choke. Upland “brush” weapons work completely on rabbits, and for many who stay the place upland birds are a reminiscence, the brier patch is likely one of the final locations left to take that light-weight, previous, lead-only quail or grouse gun that’s been sitting behind the secure.

Had I identified it was going to be a rabbit hunt, I might need chosen No. 5 or 6 shot if solely to scale back the variety of pellets within the meat, however the 7½s we’d introduced for quail labored effective. The rabbits reminded us shortly that it’s not a lot what you hit them with that issues; it’s hitting them within the first place. A juking cottontail solely reaches about 18 mph, however they’ve the benefit of being earthbound. They’ll cease, begin, and zigzag throughout the bottom in methods no chicken within the air ever may, and so they can dart behind cowl at any time, too. The keys are to maintain the muzzle of your shotgun under the rabbit’s line of journey and drive your self to have a look at the pinnacle as an alternative of the conspicuous white tail situated on the unsuitable finish.

Or you are able to do what I did that day, and shoot rather a lot. The bag restrict was 10. We had time, ammunition, and, it appeared, an infinite provide of rabbits. So, capturing a restrict wasn’t ­going to be a query of if however of when, and what number of shells we’d have left after we had been achieved. By the point we every had 5 or 6 rabbits, although, 10 didn’t seem to be such an vital quantity anymore. We had a ton of rabbit meat weighing down our gamebags already, and it was a protracted stroll again to the truck.

“Give up when you’re nonetheless having enjoyable” is a tough idea to promote to a German shorthair pointer who loves rabbit searching greater than the rest, particularly when, proper then, you’re feeling precisely the identical manner.

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