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Fins, Fur & Feathers: Shhh.. Be vewy quiet. I'm hunting wabbits
Rabbit hunting seems to be more popular in the South and Midwest than it is in the Pacific Northwest. I am not sure why that is, but if you havent given it a try, you are truly missing out on a fun hunting activity that has liberal bag limits and extended seasons.
Many of us cut our hunting teeth on small game, and for me growing up in Coulee Country of Wisconsin, rabbits were one of the first game we hunted. Tactics can be as elaborate as you want, no special gear is needed and the meat is top-quality. Heres a quick look at what you need and where to go.
True to there stereotypical image, rabbits do tend to reproduce quite rapidly, there is almost always an ample supply of bunnies to be had by the hunter. If you do any kind of upland bird or small game hunting, then you have just about all you need to hunt bunnies. A good pair of brush pants helps when busting through some of the thick blackberry brambles found on the island. Weather will determine if you hunt in shirt sleeves or a parka. Dont forget to wear your blaze orange. A good pair of comfortable boots and you are all set.
I have used many types of firearms for rabbits and what you use is a personal preference and depends on your hunting method. If you are going to be busting brush or running a dog, then you will most likely use a shotgun. These shots will be at running game, and using a .22 rifle on a moving target is extremely tough. (Use of a rifle is prohibited on the island). Some like the load capacity of a 12-gauge, but for me, that is just a little too much weight to be hauling around the field. I like to use a lightweight 20 or if you have a 16 would be ideal. Loaded with #6 shot and you should have ample power and range to make clean effective kills. I have seen people use a .410, but for me these just lack the charge to make a clean kill. To hunt the bunnies with a shotgun, it is as simple as taking a walk. Find areas with large brush piles or blackberry tangles. Take a leisurely stroll, stopping to kick or stomp on the brush. Dont just meander through the field. You need to stop and pause every so often. Many times a rabbit will hold tight and hope the predator will walk past them. If you stop, it makes the rabbit nervous and you may be able to entice a flush this way. If you miss or dont get a shot off, keep an eye on where the rabbit went, often they will circle around and return to the place they were flushed. This is very important if you run a dog on rabbits. There is few things more fun than listening to a good pack of beagles trailing a running rabbit. If you have the chance to hunt behind a dog, then you are in for a real treat. Listen to the dogs and try and place yourself between the path of them and watch carefully as the rabbit tries to outrun the dogs.
Now dont get me wrong, I have nothing against hunting rabbits with a rimfire, I do it often, it just means you need to travel off-island and change your tactics. In the early morning hours and just before sunset, you can often see rabbits in the clearings near brush feeding on the tender grasses. If you are stealthy you can stalk these places and dispatch the rabbit with a well placed .22 round. The report does not spook rabbits as much as a shotgun and if your aim is true, you tend to damage less meat. There are so many quality, inexpensive .22 rifles that can be topped with big game-quality optics that you can use rabbit hunting as a tune-up to the upcoming big game seasons. I have a Remington 597 and a Ruger 10/22 that are topped with good scopes, that I use for small game hunting.
It is not hard to find a place to hunt rabbits. Tthey can be found anywhere with ample brush and a food source. On the island, check any public hunting lands. Check with the base on hunting regulations and if able both the upper and lower game ranges have very good populations of rabbits. You may be able to find a local farmers who wouldnt mind a few garden marauders removed. Off-island, public land used for hunting upland birds have good supplies of rabbits, just check ahead for restrictions.
After you have killed a rabbit you need to field dress it immediately. This will cool the meat to prevent spoilage. If the liver has yellowish-white spots on it, discard the entire animal. The rabbit has a liver disease and cooking the meat will not kill it. It is a good idea to wear gloves.
Chasing rabbits isnt just for kids, it is a way that all of us can return to a time when the game was ample, and tactics were just a walk in the park.