If you're looking to extend your hunting now that deer seasons have mostly closed, consider an outing focused on the humble cottontail. In many states rabbits are open through February or later.
And contrary to what you might have heard, you don't need a pack of beagles to successfully hunt this quarry. Exciting sport can be enjoyed just working through the woods, fields and brushy areas either alone or with a friend or two.
Of course if you have access to a good pack of beagles, by all means let them accompany you on the hunt and flush out the quarry. But if not, you can still have lots of fun and bag quite a few cottontails.
Hunting Rabbits Without Dogs
To successfully hunt rabbits without dogs, it helps to understand rabbit behavior and the types of habitat the animals like. Once you have that knowledge under your belt, it's simply a matter of putting in the walking time and kicking enough brush to get the animals moving.
9 Tips to Help You Hunt Rabbits
1. As a rule, plan on hunting mornings and evenings for the best results. Cottontails have become increasingly nocturnal in recent years as they have lost much of the brushy habitat they prefer. They are most active and easiest to find during the first and last few hours of the day.
2. If the wind is blowing strongly, search for rabbits in protected gullies and hollows where they are sheltered from the chilling breezes. On still, sunny days, search for them on southern exposures soaking in the warmth of the rays.
3. Search out mixed field and forest habitat with lots of brushy cover. I've had good luck in areas with raspberry, greenbrier, blackberry and honeysuckle mixed with saplings, brush piles and multiflora rose.
4. Occasionally cottontails will actually forage out in wheat, clover, corn or soybean fields, but they'll usually be right near the edge where cover is easily accessible.
5. Pay careful attention to old abandoned farm equipment and ramshackle sheds. When overgrown with weeds, these become havens for rabbits.
6. Keep an eye peeled for the runways rabbits make as they clear trails through their habitat. These are the escape routes they use if a fox or coyote wanders up.
7. Picture a miniature deer trail when you look for these. Also search for small oval "beds" where the rabbits curl up against a log or under a fallen tree in weeds to rest.
8. Rabbit hunting requires lots of walking, so wear a good pair of well broken-in boots. Heavy canvas-faced brush pants are also necessary, since you'll need to bust through thick cover and thorns to get the quarry moving. Finally, wear a good amount of blaze orange on your upper body and head so other hunters will see you.
9. Walk in a zigzag pattern as you probe the cover instead of just plunging straight through. The erratic movement alarms the quarry and makes it flush since it can't tell which way you're going.
Employ the stop-and-go approach: walk for a few steps and then pause.
This sudden halt in your progress seems to make rabbits think they've been spotted and must flee to escape. And it also makes it easier for you to get off a clean shot if a cottontail does burst out. Instead of being in mid-stride, you'll be ready with your feet firmly planted and not wrapped up in sharp greenbriers or grapevine tangles.
Pause for up to a minute, then move forward to another good area and stop again. If you are hunting with a friend, mix up the pauses — sometimes both of you should stop together, other times have one hunter keep moving while the other one pauses.
As soon as you flush a rabbit, swing the shotgun on it quickly. Track the moving blur of fur and then slap the trigger just as the barrel moves ahead of the quarry. Of course always make absolutely sure that another hunter is not in the line of fire before you pull the trigger.
The Gun for Rabbits
You can choose any gauge from 12-28 for cottontails, and size 4, 5 or 6 shot all perform well but I prefer 6. Just keep the choke fairly open-skeet or improved cylinder is best. Modified will work, but is a bit tight for most rabbit cover.
Limits are often generous, but if you bag a couple of rabbits, consider it a great day's hunt and enjoy the delicious meals those animals will provide.