Well perhaps closer to the truth would be, “there goes Peter cottontail,” especially when you are talking about that rascally cottontail rabbit. They are for sure quick footed and hard to hit, but man are they tasty.
My younger days spent afield in search of Mr. Cottontail are definitely some of my fondest. I didn’t have to sit still for very long, and I wasn’t climbing the likes of Mt. Everest to get up on top of the highest ridge. It was just a leisurely stroll through a brushy field or meadow that was long since overgrown.
We didn’t have a beagle to flush them out and then circle them back to us so most of what we did back then was considered spot and stalk rabbit hunting. Their fluffy brown fur blending in with the tangle of underbrush made them all but invisible at first glance. Add that to their habit for holding tight in their hideout when danger approaches and it makes for some interesting hunting.
Often times they would sit motionless until you were just about to step on their fuzzy little tail before exploding off through the brush offering only a fleeting glimpse or opportunity for a shot. If you were sharp eyed enough to spot one sitting still hidden in the brush, you had a good chance to take a shot while he was standing still.
This was a welcome treat for a young hunter not accustomed to shooting from the hip at a target moving at what appeared to be very close to the speed of sound. Just be sure to aim for the tip of his nose so that you didn’t ruin the meat with too much buck shot.
The trick I was taught as a young lad was to search the thick brushpiles for the tell-tale eye of a hidden rabbit. If you look for the entire bunny it is likely that natures camouflage will almost always fool the naked eye and you will look right past him. Looking for that round marble of his glossy dark eye will give him away in the jumbled tangle of briars he likes to call home.
If you are feeling sporty, you can always kick him out once you have spotted him sitting, but be quick, because he will be well on his way to the safety of his hole when he goes. Here is where the beauty of a good rabbit beagle comes in handy.
Beagles definitely make for a more difficult shot, but a well-trained group of dogs sure ups the odds of finding a lot more rabbits and thus the odds of filling the stew pot. Beagles make use of the rabbit’s reluctance to leave his home area and the fact that they will often circle back trying to get into their own home sweet home.
Ask anyone with a good rabbit dog and they will tell you that there is nothing like listening to the beagles run on a cold crisp frosty winter morning. Many will often pass up the opportunity for the shot on a rabbit on the run simply because it means that the beagles will get to do their thing a while longer.
Now, just because you have the best dog and have plenty of rabbits flushing and circling around, there is definitely no guarantee that you will come home with a mess of rabbits to eat. Those little critters can be a challenge to hit no matter how good you are with a scatter gun.
I have been humbled by rabbits on more occasions than I care to admit, even when being trailed by some of the best dogs around. Hitting the light footed critters isn’t the only
challenge you will face on a rabbit hunt.
When you’re on the hunt for cottontail rabbit be sure to take along plenty of shells and be prepared to get poked, prodded, slapped and stuck like a pin cushion. They seem to favor the nastiest, thickest, and most inhospitable thickets around.
It just so happens that Southern West Virginia has an abundance of just such areas along the old reclaimed strip mine benches and mine sites dotting the mountain sides. So if you are looking to try your hand at some rabbit hunting, remember the nastier, the better.
You have until February 29th to get out and bag a rabbit or two. Just remember the old saying of “No pain, No gain” when you go because from all my experiences in the rabbit brush, there will be plenty of pain. Especially when you put a good shot on a nice cottontail as he dives into the thickest, sharpest and most painful briar patch around and you have to go in after him.
— Roger Wolfe is an Outdoor Columnist for Civitas Media. He can be reached at [email protected]