By Keith Sutton
Family secrets from a couple of respected old-timers
will put you on more rabbits!
I was a fortunate kid. When I was 12 years old, my great uncles, Julius and Pat, started letting me accompany them on their frequent rabbit hunts. They didn’t own packs of beagles like many hunters, so we’d “walk ’em up,” kicking through briar patches and brush piles to roust rabbits from their hiding places.
These hunts were memorable and fun. And thanks to the hunting tips these veteran nimrods shared, our outings were highly successful, too. We usually bagged eight to a dozen rabbits on every trip, which helped feed all our families.
The things my uncles taught me remain valuable for the connection they provide to that generation and for putting more rabbits in my game bag. I’m betting they’ll prove useful to you, too. Here’s what they said:
- “Watch over your shoulder.”
In isolated patches of cover, a cottontail may head directly away and disappear from sight, then circle well behind the hunter. Others sit tight until the gunner passes, then squirt out behind.
“Look over your shoulder every few minutes, and you’ll glimpse some of those renegades before they make good their escape,” Uncle Pat told me. Once I started listening, most rabbits I killed behaved that way. The same is true today.
- “Shoot fast but be safe.”
Uncle Pat also taught me that snap shooting is a must when hunting rabbits in heavy cover, so it’s important to identify your target before shooting.
“You have to shoot fast but be safe,” he coached. “Get your eyes on the rabbit, be sure it’s a rabbit, then shoulder your gun and shoot without leading. But if the rabbit bolts across open ground, swing through its body and beyond the head, shooting just as the bead clears the rabbit’s nose. When your target is running straight away, you’ll want to aim at that white tail, but don’t do that! Swing through the rabbit, centering your shot just beyond the head for a clean kill.” Experience has shown his advice was true.
- “Look for their eyes.”
Stalking rabbits as they sat in their forms was something my uncles and I often did. The trick is to spot the rabbit before it spots you. Considering a cottontail’s superb camouflage, this can be tough.
“Look for their eyes instead of their whole bodies,” Uncle Julius used to say. “A rabbit’s round, dark eyes look out of place against the crisscross of cover and are easily spotted if you walk slowly, and carefully examine all brush and weeds. You may overlook some rabbits huddled in their forms, but you’ll also bag a few at close range after spotting the eye.”
- “Make them worry, then they’ll run.”
Uncle Pat taught me another rabbit-hunting technique that has proven very effective over the years. It’s based on the idea that rabbits, being at the bottom of the food chain, are highly nervous animals, and suspense is something they can’t handle very well.
“You have to make them worry, then they’ll run,” he taught me. To do it his way, enter a covert and begin walking very slowly. Go 10 paces, and stop for a minute. Then repeat the process. The sound of your approach may flush cottontails, but as often as not it’s the silent treatment that makes them bolt. Apparently, the rabbits think they’ve been detected and decide to make a run for it.
- “Think like a rabbit.”
Rabbit hunting often is best on cold, miserable days when snow or ice blankets the landscape. Rabbit fur has poor insulating qualities, so cottontails must take shelter from the weather, making them easier to find and less likely to flush wildly.
“To find bunnies when it’s freezing outside, you have to think like a rabbit,” Uncle Julius said. “Where would you go to escape the cold if all you had to wear was a light jacket? That’s where rabbits are likely to be.” As always, he was right.
- “Whistle while you work.”
A running rabbit often will stop in its tracks if you sound off with a loud, shrill whistle, giving you an extra moment or two for a shot. Here’s a final tip both uncles shared that can help you bring home the makings for delicious hasenpfeffer.
“Remember to whistle while you work,” they said. “It doesn’t work every time, but when it does you can make a clean killing shot so there’s rabbit in the stew pot tonight.”
Keith Sutton of Alexander, Arkansas, has been following his uncles’ advice for more than half a century while hunting rabbits throughout the southeastern U.S. He is the author of more than a dozen books on hunting, fishing and the outdoors. Autographed copies are available through his website, www.catfishsutton.com.
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