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A hunter wishing to achieve consistent rabbit hunting harvests must adapt to new fieldwork methods. This includes learning how to hunt rabbits without a dog.
Rabbit hunting with dogs has been one of the most popular small-game harvesting methods for hunters since time immemorial. It however doesn’t mean that you have to stay home if you don’t own hunting dogs.
With anything from a trusty scattergun to a full kilt of arrows, you can work the bush and find cottontail success. Take advantage of the extensive rabbit season that runs for the rest of the winter.
You can use some of my insights on how to hunt rabbits without a dog.
Removing Canines from Your Rabbit Hunting Equation
Hunting rabbits without a dog is not only great fun; its healthy exercise and can result in bountiful harvests. Other than when using snares, rabbits can be flushed from their warrens or sitting high as they do when it’s snowy.
Depending on the conditions, your small game harvest deciders will be identifying where the rabbits are and tracking them. You must stay on your bunny quarry until you bag them before they duck into subterranean burrows.
Like one rabbit hunter told me, ‘if you have no dog, it’s up to you to be the dog.’
Your beagle-like activities will include rattling every blow-down, stomping all the brush, and leaving no patch of briar unturned out.
However, you are no canine and not inundated with a dog’s skills or senses. As such, strategy comes into play for tracking down cottontails without a dog.
Keep in mind these three factors as you proceed to outwit the cunning hare, including;
- Every available predator, from a raccoon to a coyote, hunts rabbits.
- Rabbits are fast, super-fast
- Many North American rabbit species like the cottontail don’t dig their burrows.
Getting to Where the Bunnies Are
So you are looking to chase down rabbits without your much acclaimed canine companion. Well, it boils down to creeping up on their habitat.
Hunting in the right place will undoubtedly alleviate the guesswork of whether you’ll see any rabbits at all.
We rely on a dog for guidance as they can sniff out bunnies from hundreds of yards. When going it solo, find places that have the choice of food rabbits prefer, as well as cover from predators. Look for a thorny cover that reaches your waist, such as blackberry or thick raspberry briars. Substantial brush and woody fields are a favorite due to cover during winter since cottontails don’t hibernate.
Rabbits prefer to habituate near human dwellings, so you won’t have to go far to find them. The reason is that in areas such as burns or plots having little predator activity, and the bunnies know humans can’t outrun them.
Track Rabbits by Their Habitat Preferences and Activities
Find rabbit feeding areas, droppings, or trails leading to dense overhead cover where they feel safe from owls and hawks. Thickets are the perfect places to locate trails. Thorny briars are obstructive and troublesome to fast-moving bobcats, coyotes, or foxes.
Unless there’s an attraction of food close by, rabbits stay in cover most of the time. There’s no telling when they’ll come into the open, and you might have to carefully glass the intended hunting grounds to ensure it’s well-endowed with rabbits.
I prefer using a shotgun when it’s rabbit time. But that’s not to say it’s the only choice for such small game hunting. My 12 gauge is almost always sufficient. If you want to lighten the load, you can go for a 20 or .410 gauge. These are more compact and lightweight for snap shooting or extended toting while possessing an adequate payload for rabbits.
Keep your weapon of choice at the ready, as when rabbits dart from cover, they do so rapidly. You only have a couple of seconds to sight and shoot; more so often than not, it’s within the thick obscuring cover.
Kick and Stomp for Concealed Rabbits
Step into the thicket, shotgun at the ready, and stomp around the bushes while altering your pace. By creating a staccato of movement, you preempt a rabbit’s expectation of where you’re going to go next. Walk the brush and stop, wait for around 20 seconds, keenly listening for rustling. Keep an eye out for any darting bunnies. Zigzag and alter your direction, being errant as to confuse the concealed rabbit.
When rabbits are unsure of their security, they are bound to try and run for it. Double-back to the same cover and be ready to aim at the flurry of brown or rustling in the underbrush.
Gang up, and You’ll Get the Rabbit
Hunting with a buddy or two works to cover more ground and bring bunnies out from beneath the cover. When one hunter does a zigzag across the brush, another posts on the edge of the cover where the driven rabbits will exit.
Tight sitting bunnies will hold on to their hideout even when a hunter makes a pass. Kick out the thickets while your friend sits tight on the lookout. With a distance of about 30 yards between, move slowly forward while pausing at 15 or 20 yards. Your partner can then work their way up.
Hedgerows are another preferred rabbit habitat and these are worked by two hunters moving together on both sides. Move in flank on each side, kicking or stomping cover to flush a rabbit, which your partner will easily target.