Think Small for Rabbit Hotspots
Deer hunting didn’t become a part of my lifestyle until my teenage years were behind me, but November has always been a highly anticipated time of year for me because it marks the opening of rabbit season. Like squirrel hunting, rabbit hunting seems to have lost a great deal of market share in terms of participation since I came of hunting age in the early 1980s, but based on what I hear from other hunters, the reasons for its decline is quite different. While squirrels are plentiful, the complaint I generally hear from former rabbit hunters is that it simply got too hard to find rabbits.
I don’t disagree that it’s harder than it used to be. Vanishing fence rows and growing difficulty getting access to quality places has made justifying beagle food expenses more difficult than it once was. Predators have taken their toll, as well. Difficult is not the same as hopeless, though, and if you’re willing to change the way you think about rabbit hunts you can still get a few for the table. The trick is to think small.
A few years back I wrote an article for Illinois Outdoor News about creating and improving small patches of rabbit habitat, and while this isn’t meant to be a complete reprise of a subject that has already been covered, I do want to reinforce the idea that hunters in rural areas are missing out by not considering little bits of cover that could literally be in their own back yard. While not completely shielded, rabbits are considerably less likely to be harassed by predators such as coyotes, foxes and bobcats when they stay near a homestead, and they now seem to thrive in these places more readily than in the open areas we traditionally think of as rabbit hunting spots.
The hunt I just experienced with a couple of family members on the day of this writing is a perfect case in point. It included three locations:
1. A strip of heavy honeysuckle and thorns about 50 yards long and about 10 paces wide. The spot is located in a waterway that serves as drainage for the open field surrounding it.
2. A neighbor’s homestead. The yard is about an acre in size and the portions that are of particular interest to us are the small, thorny patches on the east and west edges. The neighbor (and you couldn’t ask for a better one) also owns the field surrounding the yard.
3. Another small homestead belonging to a family member. This property features an overgrown orchard of no more than half an acre on one side and a thick fencerow going up the eastern edge of the back yard on the other.
That probably doesn’t sound like much of a hunt, but we jumped three rabbits in spot one, three more in spot two and four in the final location. I’ll add that we didn’t actually push the third spot very hard, and I’m betting there were other rabbits in there that we didn’t knock loose. The final result for the morning was ten rabbits jumped and five rabbits harvested on a fun hunt that lasted about two and a half hours.
I realize that shooting rabbits so close to homes, even in rural areas, may seem distasteful to rabbit hunting purists. The spots which are close to houses do, obviously, require a lot of thought with regard to appropriate shot angles as well, and we pass on many easy shots each year for the sake of safety. Bigger, open places with good cover holding lots of rabbits would be my first choice, but since those locations aren’t terribly accessible where they actually do still exist, piecing together little spots like these has kept rabbit hunting alive for me. Hunting small sure beats the idea retiring the beagles and scatterguns.
Something else I realize is that getting permission to hunt even little thickets here and there requires some luck, some connections and some doing. But if you do have access to them, don’t overlook them.