Squeeze-Play Rabbits

Posted by  Saturday, November 09 2013 6:00 am
expert
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The effort succeeds because of teamwork. Each team member has a specified role to play, and if he does his job properly, the team scores.

It's the old squeeze play. The runner is on third base. The pitcher winds up and throws. The runner breaks for home on the pitch. The batter bunts. The runner scores and the crowd goes wild.

The effort succeeds because of teamwork. Each team member has a specified role to play, and if he does his job properly, the team scores. A successful squeeze play results not from individual actions, but from a team effort.

Now picture another scene. A hunter blocks the cover-break at the end of a fencerow. His two partners, 50 yards away, wade into the thickets on opposite sides of the fence and slowly move toward him. A rabbit breaks from its form and dashes ahead. The rabbit tries crossing the opening. The blocker shoots. The rabbit tumbles. The team effort succeeds. The squeeze play works again.

Team hunting tactics, the squeeze play if you will, can work wonders to improve your rabbit hunting success. A lone-wolf hunter pussyfooting through dense rabbit cover will stumble onto an occasional easy shot, but luck plays as big a role as skill. In most cases, a cooperative hunting effort is much more productive and much more fun.

Teaming up on rabbits is not simply wading through the thickets side by side hoping to get a shot. Like baseball or doubles tennis, it requires a great deal of cooperation to be successful -- and safe.

Safety should be foremost in every hunter's mind when team hunting. Driving rabbits to blockers is inherently risky, and there's simply no room for mistakes. A strict set of rules should govern each drive. All hunters must wear blaze orange hats and bodywear at all times, regardless of legal requirements. No shots are taken in anyone else's direction or until the target is positively identified. Blockers must remain in their assigned position until the drive is over, and drivers must follow their assigned route and end up where they're supposed to be. Everyone on the drive should know where his hunting buddies are at all times.

To make these points clear, map out your hunting strategy before each drive. The person who best knows the lay of the land should be the drive boss. Everyone follows his or her instructions precisely. Using a map, a pencil and paper, or just a stick in the dirt, the drive boss illustrates exactly where the blockers will be positioned and where the drivers will work. At the completion of the first drive, everyone reassembles, the rabbits are field-dressed, and the hunters reorganize for the next drive. Drivers and blockers routinely alternate so everyone gets in on the action.

Next to safety, the single most important aspect of a successful cottontail drive is proper deployment of the blockers. Hunters must be positioned where they can cover the rabbits' escape routes. After hunting an area two or three times, hunters  quickly discover which positions are best. First-timers can benefit by following these tips:

Confine your hunting to patches of cover with well-defined borders created by fields, streams, roads, railroad or powerline right-of-ways and other features. Then try to position blockers at one end or near small breaks or narrowings in the cover. This can be where a farm road crosses a fenceline, a bottleneck in a large blackberry thicket, the narrow point of a brushy gully or any natural funneling in the cover. The best areas are open enough that blockers have good shots at crossing rabbits, but not so barren or so wide that rabbits will avoid crossing them.

Blockers shouldn't be positioned right at the center of the bottleneck or opening. Nor should they face the drivers. First, this isn't safe. Second, approaching rabbits will see the blockers immediately. Instead, blockers should stand off to the side so shots are angled away from the drivers. This also permits fleeing rabbits to follow familiar escape routes without detecting the blockers.

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Although six or more people can be used in a properly orchestrated drive, in most areas with small to moderate patches of cover, two or three hunters are plenty.

Hunting big brushpiles is one situation where team hunting can outdo solitary efforts. Here, you're trying to chase rabbits hiding under the pile of limbs and brush out into the open. If you're hunting alone, the rabbit could squirt out away from view. But if you're hunting with one or two partners, someone can cover the back door.

The safest way is to have one guy put down his gun and stomp through the pile. It's easy to trip and fall while you're atop a brushpile. If this happens with a firearm in hand, it will be difficult to control the direction of the muzzle, and the gun could accidentally fire, with potentially deadly results.

Circle the brushpile first, trying to identify the most likely exit a cottontail will use. Look for trails through the adjacent cover, large openings in the brush or anything that gives a clue as to how the rabbit is likely to react to your intrusion. Then position one or two hunters where there is a good view of the exit, and let another stomp through, gunless, from the opposite side. Be ready. Cottontails may offer sitting or slow-moving shots in other situations. But when they come out from under a brushpile, they're usually moving like a bat out of hell.

Collect your best hunting buddies next time you head for your favorite rabbit covert. Try some teamplay. Br'er Rabbit's brain may not be too big, but he has plenty of survival instinct tucked away inside. To outwit him, you have to be better at playing his games than he is.

Teamplay also instills a spirit of cooperation and camaraderie in the field. That alone is reason to try it.

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Keith Sutton
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With a resume listing more than 3,500 magazine, newspaper and website articles about fishing, hunting, wildlife and conservation, Keith Sutton of Alexander, Ark., has established a reputation as one of the country’s best-known outdoor writers. In 2011, Sutton, who has authored 12 books, was inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as a “Legendary Communicator.” Visit his website at www.catfishsutton.com.

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