Rabbit Hunting for Beginners

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When you ask seasoned hunters, “What was your first game?” The answer is almost always the same – “rabbit”. 

Small animals like rabbits, hares, game birds, and squirrels are the gateway game to the hunting world. If you’re already made your bones in hunting, you probably know quite a bit about rabbit hunting. This article is for new hunters who need a comprehensive primer to rabbit hunting. But, even if you’re a pro-hunter, you can also benefit from the updated rabbit-hunting related information. 

Overview on Rabbits

Rabbits are petite mammals that are abundant in the US. Half of the global rabbit population inhabits North America. So if you’re in the USA, you have plenty of rabbit hunting opportunities. 

Is There a Difference Between Hare and Rabbit?

For most folks, “hare” and “rabbit” mean the same thing. But they refer to different, but very alike species. But what’s the difference?

Some differences are striking, others are quite subtle. The most significant variation is the state in which the babies are born. Hare kits are born with great vision and hair. Conversely, rabbit kits are born hairless and blind.

Another key dissimilarity is their habitat. Rabbits live in warrens – underground burrows. Cottontails are the only exception. Conversely, hares live above the ground in nests. 

Hares are larger, and the legs and ears are longer. And, unlike rabbits, hares are not domesticable. Hares also are different from rabbits in that, their fur has black markings. 

The hunting approaches for both rabbits and hares are however the same. So what we’ll cover in this article applies to both hares and rabbits.

Rabbit Hunting Gear 

To get started in rabbit hunting, you don’t need much equipment. If you’re already into outdoor activities, you likely have much of what you’ll need. 

Clothing

Thorns and briars can tear up your unprotected skin and ruin your hunting trip, so it’s prudent to wear thick protective clothing. For instance, a pair of canvas pants can boost your courage and thus improve your hunting success. 

You should also get a hunting coat, made of tough material like canvas. Your coat should have a game bag, or you should carry a hunting backpack for carrying your kills. A decent hunting outfit will protect you as you wade through chest-high growths.  

To protect your hands, you’ll need a pair of heavy gloves. Importantly, you should adhere to the blaze orange laws. Many agencies require that you are a given percentage of orange clothing when hunting small game. Highly visible clothing is also vital as hunting partners can be hard to see in thick brush. So get yourself a pair of highly-noticeable blaze-orange vest and cap.

Dan’s Hunting Gear Briar Proof Squirrel, Rabbit Hunting Vest, Made in U.S.A

This comfortable and water-resistant game vest is specifically created for small game hunting. With its pleated shoulders and pads, you can shoot rabbits without being restricted.

Features

  • An easily accessible game bag that loads from the front and sides. The bag is also blood proof.
  • Double nylon stitching
  • Two pockets for hand warming
  • Two cargo pockets that come with shotgun shell loops

Pros

  • Water-resistant
  • Blood-proof game bag
  • Accessible game bag
  • Briar proof

Cons

  • No significant con

This game vest will protect you from briars and help you carry your cartridges and your rabbits.

Buy it here on Amazon

Boots

When hunting rabbits, you also need a pair of quality hunting boots. Rabbit hunting takes a lot of walking, that’s if you hope to bag more than a few rabbits.

This means you should go for boots that’ll protect your feet while keeping them warm without overheating. You should also break them before you go hunting; otherwise, your trip may be ruined by blisters. 

In snow conditions, you’ll need either gaiters to shield your boots from snow or snowshoes. 

Muck Wetland Rubber Premium Men’s Field Boots / Muck Boots Wetland Rubber Premium Women’s Field Boot

These wetland field boots for both men and women will keep you comfortable, dry, and warm even in the coldest and muddiest conditions. 

Features

  • 5 mm neoprene. This neoprene provides excellent waterproofing, heat retention, shock absorption properties, as well as flexibility and comfort. 
  • Stretch-fit topline. The comfortable topline holds to your calf and thus keeps out debris and cold. In warmer weather, you can roll it down from the higher level to mid.
  • Breathable lining. The air mesh lining drains perspiration and moisture and allows air to circulate throughout the boot. It also keeps water out.
  • Lightweight midsole coupled with a self-cleaning outsole. The EVA midsole provides extra cushioning; the ms-1 outsole provides performance and stability in snow and mud.

Pros

  • Breathable Air Mesh lining
  • Waterproof
  • Pull-taps to help you to get them on or off easily
  • Lightweight
  • Durable
  • Quick cleaning outsole

Cons

No significant con

These Muck premium calf-high boots will protect you from scratches, rocks, and sticks, and keep your feet light, dry, and comfortable as you trudge across bumpy, wet, or frozen fields. Buy the men’s boots here; buy the women’s boots here.

Hunting Weapon

With excellent marksmanship and excellent staking skills, you can get a lot of rabbits with, a .22 rifle, a bow, or even a spear. But, a lightweight, quick-handling shotgun is the ideal weapon, especially in an overgrown terrain where you’ll need to snap shoot.

For small games, any shot size can be effective. Size 6 and 7½ are especially excellent choices if you intend to hunt cottontails. Remember that you can only become a good marksman by continually practicing with your rifle.

You’ll also need a skinning knife, a hunting binocular, and a hunting GPS (optional).

Buck Knives 113 Ranger Skinner Hunting Knife

This sturdy and stylish Buck skinner knife is designed to be smaller but effective – it combines the merits of the Buck Vanguard and Buck’s renowned Ranger. The knife comes with an ergonomic handle, classic look, and an easy-to-use design that you can rely on. 

Features

  • Functional and classic. With its narrow tip and wide curved belly, you can easily cut through thick layers. And the blunt downward angled point ensures that you don’t accidentally cut through the hide.
  • Wear and corrosion-resistant. The standard Buck blade material has wear resistance that’s similar to that of high carbon alloys. Besides, the blade has undergone an exclusive Paul Bos heat-treatment process. This skinning knife is, therefore, not only corrosion-resistant but also easy to resharpen, durable, and wear-resistant.
  • Ergonomic design. It fits perfectly in your hand.
  • Forever guarantee. Buck knives come with a lifetime warranty – they replace or repair any of their knives that have defects in workmanship or material. 

Pros

  • Corrosion-resistant
  • Easy to use
  • Stylish
  • Excellent performance
  • Wear-resistant
  • Comes with a lifetime warranty

This versatile and sturdy knife will help you skin your rabbits like a pro. Buy it here on Amazon.

What You Need to Know for a Successful Rabbit Hunt

What’s the Best Time to Hunt Rabbits? 

The first step is to familiarize yourself with local state rabbit hunting laws. Typically, rabbits are the most vibrant from late afternoon to sunset, and just after sunrise. Some states don’t allow nighttime hunting though, so beware. 

Rabbits also enjoy being out in the sun. So you’re much more likely to find plenty of hunting opportunities during sunny days. Just zero in on their burrows and then wait for the sun – the chase will start pretty soon.

Besides, rabbits don’t like getting wet, so they remain in their hiding places when it’s raining. It’s for this reason that, after a downpour, they come out and become very active. After being starved and stuck in their burrows as it rains, they come out and start looking for food.

So, one of the best times to hunt is after a heavy shower. Rabbits also become very active before a storm. If you’re willing to brave a thunder strike, your hunting bag will soon be full of rabbits. 

Tricks and Tips of Hunting Rabbits

Now that we’ve covered the basics and the required gear, let’s take a look at the actual hunting. 

Locating

How do you locate rabbit hotspots? Rabbits typically live in areas adjacent to their preferred leafy green foods – clover, grasses, soybeans, broadleaf weeds, wheat, garden crops, saplings, and alfalfa. 

So to find rabbits, look around in the small fields surrounded by brush, briars, and woods. Check out the fence rows and drainages that are overgrown with vegetation.

You should also look around densely covered railroad and power line right-of-ways that provide cover and border forage. Some of the favorite cover includes thick grass, weeds, briars, blackberry patches, honeysuckle, weeds, and even abandoned farm machinery, rolled hay bales, culverts, and irrigation pipes. 

A great way of scouting for cottontails is by driving along rural roads at dusk or dawn with a county road map. You should then mark on the map the areas where you spot rabbits. 

While some of these rabbit hotspots may be on private land, many landowners won’t have an issue with you hunting on their land as long as you respectfully ask for permission first. 

Tracking

Each seasoned hunter has a preferred tracking method. But as a novice who doesn’t have a bunch of beagles, you’ll do well by simply ‘walking them up’.

First, get in their feeding areas and look closely at the ground for rabbits’ small pallet droppings. Once you notice pellets, start walking slowly through that area. 

Take 10 steps and then stop for about 30 seconds. Keep your ears and eyes open. Then repeat the process – 10 steps followed by a 30-second wait.  

When you’re hunting alongside a partner, you should walk abreast while maintaining a 50-feet distance apart. Navigate the area in staggered succession. One of you should walk 10 feet and wait, followed by the other walking 10 feet and taking a pause for 30 seconds. Alternate until you fully cover the area. 

What makes this method so effective is that the sound of your approach often flushes out some rabbits. But it’s the 30 seconds of silence that that does the trick. Rabbits get a sense that you’ve spotted them and choose to dash off. It’s at this point that you should go for the kill. 

Rabbit Hunting with Beagles

While the experience of hunting rabbits without dogs is still exciting, having dogs makes the whole process much more fun. Dogs also improve your chances because they help you flush and chase rabbits. 

Why do You Need Beagles when Hunting Rabbits?

First, rabbits tend to instinctually stick to a small home area. They don’t get away from it even when they’re being hounded by beagles. When flushed from cover, rabbits will take off, and the dogs can barely catch up. But they slow down ones they believe they’ve gotten away from danger.

Once they’re menaced by the beagles again, they bound away leaving the dogs behind. But once they get a few hundred yards away, they cycle back to their home turf. 

Hunters track the intermittent chase by listening to the ruckus caused by the chasing beagles and the escaping rabbit. Before long, the chase circles back to where it started. It’s at this point that you stand on a raised surface to observe and wait.

If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a rabbit dashing or hopping, depending on how far it’s left the dogs behind. You should then shoulder the shotgun and aim. Bag the rabbit and move on to the next one. 

Tips for Hunting with Beagles

Don’t rush. A good dog will diligently comb an area and go through all the places rabbits could hide. But if you remain too close to your dog, he’ll take the cue and move through the area too fast and then move on.

The dog’s actions will be based on how you act. If you seem like you’re in a hurry, they’ll do the same. So stay back and let your dog get their nose in all the nooks and crannies.

Be Patient

After a dog flashes out a rabbit and it’s on its tail, most people tend to reflexively follow suit. However, the smartest move is to get close to where the dog jumped the rabbit, pick a nice spot that gives you a broad view of the area and then wait. 

In time, the rabbit will circle back. The most thrilling part of hunting rabbits is listening to the ruckus caused by the chase. There is no point in chasing down a rabbit – it’s why you have the dogs.

Dogs Have Different Traits.

Some beagles are excellent jump dogs. They’re great in finding the rabbits’ hiding spots and getting them moving. Some dogs are great in chasing. Once the rabbits start moving, they get on their trail and keep going after them. You need both jump dogs and chase dogs in your pack or at least a dog that can do both well.

A lot of rabbit hunters can’t afford to keep a pack of rabbit hunting dogs. Training beagles and providing them with adequate care can be time-consuming and expensive. The monetary and time investment can be too much for rabbit hunters with other pressing daily commitments. In this case, you can still enjoy hunting rabbits without dogs. 

Favorable Weather Conditions

Hunting in favorable weather conditions can bolster your chances. Cool and moist weather is the best because there is a stronger trail of scent left in the ground under these conditions. Super dry or cold days aren’t ideal. Dogs also don’t thrive when the ground is covered with snow. 

Rabbit Anatomy 

A head shot is the most ethical shot for small game like squirrels and rabbits. If you’re using a shotgun, you should aim at the head, and when a rabbit is making a run for it, you should point your shotgun somewhat in front of the nose so that the pellets are ahead. 

When you are hunting with a .22 Cal and for a motionless rabbit in your range, you should aim behind the eye and below the ear. A rabbit’s brain size is an equivalent of a quarter, so much a head shot will certainly hit it.

When using a shotgun, chest shots can be effective, too. The goal should be to make the experience as painless as possible for the rabbits. The basis of hunting ethics is to kill while causing the least possible suffering.

While headshots are ideal, as a novice, taking such shots may be way beyond your shooting skills. Such shots can be tricky even when you’re shooting within a shot range – rabbits tend to make fast and numerous head movements. You’re likely to hit them in the face, which will cause a huge mess.

Instead, you should take an easier shot – aim at the heart and lungs. A chest shot doesn’t mean shooting at any part of the chest. The sweet spot is at the center of the body in line with the forelegs. Shooting that spot will result in a fast death with less likelihood of non-lethal injury.

How to Position for Shooting

  • Shoot when it’s about to jump or when it’s still in a sitting position.
  • Take sitting or slow-moving shots.
  • Take chest shots from the side.
  • The olfactory nerves of rabbits are super sharp. So go easy on the cologne, aftershave, or deodorant.

The Unforeseen Emotions that Accompany First-Time Rabbit Hunting

One of the things that might shock after you’ve shot your first rabbit is the kicking and struggle that might ensure afterward. You might get a sense that you made a poor shot and you’ve caused unnecessary suffering. 

But, just like a chicken keeps on kicking after the head has been severed, even a perfect headshot may result in the rabbit kicking for about 30 seconds.

If after your first shot, the rabbit keeps going, you should take a second close-up shot, aimed at the head. The closer shot may however spread more pellets all through the body and ruin more meat, which is wasteful if you’re hunting for meat.

Instead, you can stealthily dash and grab them and then hold the neck on one hand and the back legs in the other. Quickly pull the neck back and down while also pulling the legs up. This will split the spine and quickly kill them.

Field Processing a Rabbit

After a kill, you can toss the rabbit into your backpack or vest pocket and move on to your next game. It’s always smart to carry a couple of grocery bags so that you place your kill in the bag first before putting it in your vest. If not, the blood can cause a mess rather quickly. 

Skin the Rabbit

The first step should be to peel off the hide. First, make shallow cuts around the back legs, on the lower knee joint. Then slide the knife blade –while it’s facing away from the rabbit’s body – up to the genital region. 

Once this is done, you can peel the skin away. Slide your fingers and work your way around the legs. Hold the hind legs with one of your hands, and use the other hand to peel the skin. When a rabbit is freshly-killed, the fur slides out quite easily. 

When you get to the forelegs, you should shove them through the skin. Once you get to the neck, use your knife to sever the head. And once you’ve stripped the hide, you should cut off the paws. You can use garden shears for that and then cut the tendons using a knife. It takes a bit of practice, but in time you’ll get a good handle of it. 

Remove the Entrails

Once you’ve skinned the rabbit, you should keep your meat safe by removing the entrails. You should undertake this process with great care so that you don’t spill the contents into the meat.

While the blade is up, gently slide your knife under the rabbit’s stomach and hold the entrails using your other hand. Make an incision along with the rabbit’s stomach muscle – from the genital region to the ribs. Then, slide your hand in and pull the entrails out. Next, sever the thin membrane between the stomach and the chest cavity.

You can keep and eat the kidneys, heart, and liver. The heart is tasty, but the kidneys and liver have a very strong taste.

Enjoy your Rabbit for Dinner

Once you get rid of the entrails, wash the carcass and remove all the debris, dirt, or fur. At this point, you can choose to cut it into pieces and put it in your freezer, or you can fry it and delight in the delicious meat. 

The Best Rabbit Hunting Spots in the US

Are rabbits native to the USA? They actually have European and African origins. But, they’ve now spread across America. Interestingly, North America now hosts half of the world’s rabbit population.

The rabbits’ tasty meals and abundance make them one of the best small games to hunt in the US. Each state is populated by certain types of rabbits. So you can hunt rabbits anywhere.

Most states have pretty permissive rabbit hunting regulations. However, each state law has its unique aspects and so laws vary from state to state. Before you go hunting, it helps if you familiarize yourself with the local hunting policies – hunting season, weapons allowed, bag limits, and licensing policies.

Here are the best places to hunt rabbits in the USA:

Rabbit Hunting Missouri 

Missouri is a fantastic place to hunt Swamp Rabbits and Eastern Cottontail. The hunting season starts in October and ends in February.

Rabbit Hunting in Texas

Texas is a great place to hunt rabbits and other game animals. What makes Texas such a fantastic place? Well, the state hasn’t imposed any restrictions and there are no set hunting seasons and timelines. Also, unlike in many states, you can hunt at night. 

Rabbit Hunting in Kansas

You can hunt rabbits throughout the year in Kansas. 

Rabbit Hunting Louisiana

The hunting season in Louisiana starts in October and ends in February.

Rabbit Hunting Oregon

Oregon is a rabbit hunting haven. You’ll find snowshoe and mountain hares, as well as white- and black-tailed jackrabbits. State hunting laws are also very permissive. 

Rabbit Hunting in Arizona and Florida

In these two states, you can hunt throughout the year and there is no set bag limit. 

Rabbit Hunting Mississippi

In Mississippi, you’ll find swamp rabbits and cottontail rabbits. The hunting season starts in the middle of October and ends in February. 

Rabbit Hunting Oklahoma

In Oklahoma, you’ll find cottontail and swamp rabbits as well as Black-tailed Jackrabbits. The hunting season is from October to March. 

Nebraska Rabbit Hunting

There is plenty of Dessert and Eastern Cottontails in Nebraska. You can also find White- and black-tailed Jackrabbits in this state. The hunting season is from February to September

Rabbit Hunting Georgia

The hunting season is from mid-November to February.

Rabbit Hunting Alabama

The season starts in the middle of September and ends in March. 

Rabbit Hunting Wyoming

Wyoming is a fantastic state for rabbit hunting as it’s home to plenty of snowshoes and cottontails. 

Caution

  • If you’re hunting in a group, always be aware of the position of your fellow hunters before you shoot.
  • When you’re hunting with beagles, always be aware of their location as well. Hunting dogs tend to hound rabbits, so if you’re not careful you may get them instead of the rabbit. So, to protect your dogs, always take shots carefully.
  • Always wear a blaze-orange outfit so that you’re visible to other hunters. Otherwise, you may end being shot by your fellow hunters.
  • Anything above 20 gauges will ruin the whole rabbit, which beats the purpose of hunting.

Conclusion 

Hunting small games is a thrilling and action-packed sport, since they are cunning, fast, and always make a run for it. This makes rabbit hunting fun and challenging. Equipping yourself with this Beginner’s Guide will go a long way to ensure successful hunting.

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