Bunnies aren't beneath me. Sadly, this is not the case for all hunters these days. Some look down their noses at old Br'er Rabbit. They've decided, what with our cornucopia of whitetails, turkeys and elk, that cottontails are kid stuff. Heck, even some kids forgo the joys of stalking, rousting, jumping and chasing rabbits.
Too bad. They're missing out. Anyone who ignores bunnies misses out on a classic American hunting tradition. Famous old hunters like Dan Boone, Kit Carson and Teddy Roosevelt honed their skills on bunnies. Pioneers and farm kids potted cottontails from Maine to California while fueling our westward expansion. And after the fences, farmsteads and roads went in, country folk maintained their connection to the wilds by continuing to stalk, jump, chase and hunt rabbits. Pursuing rabbits for dinner is simple, inexpensive, pure hunting fun.
"Hunt" is the operative word. You don't sit in blinds reading novels while waiting for cottontails to show up. You don't stare at decoys, scrapes or bait piles. You get after 'em. You walk the fields and hills; explore the hollows of that toppled old oak; stomp down that abandoned, brushy old railroad grade; turn out the hounds; stomp on the brush piles; rattle rusty fence lines; kick the rock piles. This is a physical undertaking, an exhilarating, heart-pounding freedom. Don't worry about scent or camouflage. Don't bother with trail cameras, mock scrapes and grunt calls. Just hunt.
Don't worry about missing opening weekend, either. In virtually every state the season stretches for months. Daily bag limits are generous, so hunt long, hard and often. You don't need to buy an expensive license or win a limited tag. You don't have to determine if one is a buck or a doe or whether it has enough antler points. You won't have to pay extra if the antlers are too big or too small, and you can probably get permission to hunt farms and ranches closed to big-game hunting.
Fill your freezer with mild, delectable rabbit, a staple in hunter/gatherer societies around the world. Amazingly, cottontails don't just feed our bodies; hunting them also feeds our spirits with the simple joys of our birthright—the right to roam the Earth in our natural roles as hunters searching for sustenance.
So don't shortchange yourself by thinking bunnies are beneath you. Hunt them to renew memories of a simpler time. Hunt them to refresh your skills. Hunt them to give yourself and your dogs some exercise. Hunt them to stay close to nature, to see snow falling on cedars, to smell rotting leaves and damp soil, to hear owls hooting in the gloom as you hike back to the truck, game bag heavy with the day's reward.
Finally, hunt cottontails with kids. The simple cottontail has the power to lure youngsters away from electronic stimuli, tempting them into the wilds where they discover a real world of mystery, beauty and drama. It's a place where they must learn to control more than a joystick, it's where they must learn to control themselves. It's a place where, given proper guidance, they can grow strong, straight and self-confident.
Cottontails were and still are our entre into the challenging, natural world of the hunter/gatherer. Grab the .410 single-shot. Load up the .22 rimfire. Whistle up the hounds and call the kids. It's time for a bunny hunt.
Find the Hotspots
by Mike Hanback
The start of the rut can vary by days or a week depending on region. Determine whether the "chase stage" is on by checking muddy fields or creek bottoms for big (buck) and small (doe) tracks that indicate running, then set up in an area like one described below.
Don't hunt over rubs.
Hunt funnels along buck travel routes between feeding and bedding areas laced with lots of rubs that indicate lots of deer traffic to up your odds of seeing bucks.
Transition zones are good bets.
Bucks prowl "break lines" between pines and hardwoods, rubbing and scraping as they move. Same goes for transitions between crops and woods: If you determine bucks are prowling the edge between those two zones, set a stand and sit tight.
The weather is your friend.
My research suggests bucks rut hardest when the temperature hovers between 25-30 degrees. Be sure to check scrapes one to two days after it rains or snows. If they've been pawed, hunt them.
Find fence lines.
Those that link crops with a point of woods 100-200 yards away can't be ignored. No good trees for a stand? Set up a blind on a downwind edge where the fence dumps into the woods. "Small" is the operative word—don't build a Taj Mahal.
Establish a "pressure plan."
Since everybody and his brother hunts the rut, a thick-cover draw a half-mile or more off a crop field might produce results, even in the absence of rut sign. Once guns boom, bucks will find the sanctuary and pile into it.
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