Seems the rage among hunters today is bigger bucks and bulls. That is fine to an extent, but it can interfere with some grand outdoor adventures. If the focus is only top-of-the-line trophy animals, there is too often little inclination and opportunity to slow down and truly enjoy the hunt. That is not to say that seeking an outstanding whitetail buck or trophy-class bull elk is not enjoyable, it just usually demands a singleness of purpose, a dedication that approaches obsession.
There is, however, an alternative that can result in pure relaxation and complete enjoyment. This alternative is the rabbit. Abundant, inexpensive to hunt, and generally willing to cooperate, rabbits are the answer to several hunting dilemmas.
Rabbits, in one form or another, are available all across the U.S. Generous season structures facilitate hunting in weather that is crisp and comfortable or for the hardy outdoors types, in knee-deep snow. In short, rabbits have it all and provide just about anything the hunter may want.
Unlike the pursuit of high-strung whitetails that may require a wealth of equipment, rabbit hunting tends toward the simple side. Any basic shotgun will work, and a pair of worn boots, jeans and wool jacket will generally suffice in the gear department. And unlike that pursuit of big bucks and bulls, rabbit hunting can be a rather social affair. There is little need for great stealth. This allows the young and/or inexperienced individual who might become bored with silence and solitude to participate. This is particularly important when introducing a child to the wonders of the hunting world.
There is diversity. Some hunters prefer to follow a pack of eager beagles. This is outstanding. The dogs, their tiny legs pushing them through the tangles and their high-pitched yelps riding the cool air, add a distinct measure of class and excitement to the hunt. And the use of dogs is highly effective. Good beagles will find rabbits if they are present. The hunter’s job then is to take a station in the proximity of the jump and wait. The rabbit will be back.
A word of caution is in order here. Know at all times where hunters are located. Hunter orange is a good idea, even if not required. Also, using any form of elevation – a stump, downed tree or rock can add safety to the setting. Shots will, from such locales, be directed downward. And, elevation permits the hunter to have a better view of the tangles below where the rabbit will be.
Hunting with beagles aside, rabbits can be hunted by stalking. The careful hunter may see a rabbit sitting quietly in its form and have a shot. Or, that same hunter may bump the rabbit from its hiding place and get that shot. It will be fast, but that is part of the allure. Weed patches, new-growth timber, and edges near agricultural fields should hold a good supply of rabbits for the beagle hunter or the stalker.
What are the tools of the trade? Shotguns are for the most part. Any action type will do, even the simple single barrel. Gauge is a matter of preference, but the 20 gauge is ideal. Rabbits don’t require heavy payloads of shot. Number 8, 7-1/2, or 6 in a sensible field load will work fine. I usually take along my double-barrel caplock muzzleloading shotgun and stoke it with 60 grains of Hodgdon’s Triple Seven and an ounce of No. 6s. It works beautifully and holds that added element of nostalgia.
If you want an additional degree of challenge, try archery gear. Draw weight is of little concern, and compound or traditional bows will handle the chore. Traditional bows, which are usually shot instinctively, may have an edge over sight-equipped compounds. Use blunts or Judos for rabbits. These will take the game easily and will not scoot under grass and weeds.
Do we all then give up on those marvelous rutting bucks or bugling bulls? Not at all. But if we need a break, if we want to bring along a new hunter, if we want a simple thrill and a day of unparalleled pleasure, we could do worse than hunting rabbits. These little speedsters are just too good to overlook.