The good news for Iowa’s cottontail rabbit hunters is that Iowa has an abundant rabbit population, with the south-central part of the state seeing the best overall numbers. Iowa’s cottontail rabbit season begins Sept. 2 statewide.
“Cottontail numbers were unchanged from last year so it should be another good year for rabbit hunting not only for experienced hunters, but for young or novice hunters who can learn necessary skills with little competition,” said Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
The most popular way to hunt is with a shotgun walking brushy areas with grass next to crop fields in the morning or evening.
Rabbit hunting does not require a significant investment or high tech equipment, just a shotgun and some shells. Rabbit is a lean, low fat meat and popular table fare considered a delicacy in many culinary circles.
Cottontail rabbit season is Sept. 2 to Feb. 28, 2024. The daily limit is 10 rabbits with a possession limit of 20. Jackrabbit season is closed. While wearing blaze orange clothing is not required to hunt rabbits, it is recommended. Shooting hours for rabbits is sunrise to sunset.
Iowa’s cottontail rabbit population estimates are included in the recently completed August roadside survey of upland wildlife species.
Local squirrel populations are variable depending upon acorn production and it appears to be a good nut year in many areas. In areas of lower annual acorn production look for patches of hickory trees as an excellent alternative.
Squirrel hunting is an inexpensive and exciting way to get introduced into hunting. Those new to hunting can gain valuable woodsmanship skills as squirrels will twist and turn hunters through the woodlands.
“One beauty of squirrel hunting is if you mess up and spook a squirrel there is usually another one just down the ridge, this provides lots of opportunities for success,” said Jim Coffey, forest wildlife biologist for the Iowa DNR. “Experienced hunters often say that they haven’t hunted squirrels since they were a kid. Well, this is the year to be a kid again. Get yourself outside chasing squirrels and bring someone new to hunting along. Squirrels are definitely an underutilized resource.”
Be prepared during early squirrel season for mosquitoes and other flying pests, Coffey said, and try and hunt in the early cool mornings as squirrels will be very active before the heat of the day.
Hunters will generally find plenty of squirrels and little competition. This would also be a good opportunity to do some scouting for a spring turkey hunt or to look for whitetail deer rubs before bow season.
“These honed skills will make you an overall better hunter. Many of the skills needed for squirrel hunting are also used for spring turkey hunting,” Coffey said.
Squirrel season is Sept. 2 to Jan. 31, 2024, with a daily bag limit of six total or combination of red fox squirrels or eastern grey squirrels and a possession limit of 12. Fox squirrels are generally found in more open pasture timber and woodlots whereas grey squirrels tend to be in more mature timber. There is no restriction on shooting hours.
Hunters looking for places to go rabbit or squirrel hunting should use Iowa’s online hunting atlas with more than 600,000 acres of public land that allows hunting.
Hunters have the opportunity to hunt these species on additional acres of private land enrolled into the popular Iowa Habitat and Access Program (IHAP).
Enrollment in the program is at an all-time high of nearly 33,000 acres. The IHAP allows hunters access to the portion of the property covered by the agreement, from Sept. 1 to May 31. Conservation officers will provide assistance and enforcement, if needed.