Rabbit and hare hunting in different parts of the country

meta_gabbro

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Jun 22, 2020
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159
Now that there's a dedicated small game forum I figured what better time to talk about this. I've been continually disappointed in the rabbit and hare hunting articles in gun rags because they almost always talk about rabbit hunting in environments east of the Rockies. Things like hunting cottontails in thick briars, running them with beagles or doing drives with multiple hunters, working the edges of crop fields.

My problem was that those experiences were almost always regionally specific, and didn't apply elsewhere in the country. Thrashing brush to jump a cottontail might work in the oak woods, but all it'll do in the juniper flats is spook every jackrabbit within 200yds. Similarly, jumping a cottontail and letting it run a ways with the expectation that it'll stop for a shot doesn't work the same with desert rabbits; sure, they'll stop, but often it's after they're over the next draw and lost in some arroyo. Trying to run dogs above the treeline in the Rockies is novel; you ever seen a beagle scrambling across scree?

The same thing goes for other places too. "Foolproof Methods for Bagging Snowshoe Hares" from a writer in NY are almost entirely bunk when you're after them at 12,000' in CO. "The 10 Best Cottontail Tips and Tricks!" are about as useful as toilet paper when you're after brush rabbits in the Oregon rainforests.

So, how do y'all hunt rabbits in your part of the country? What works for your area? What species are you after? What are you looking for when you pick a spot? What weapons are you using? Are you jumping rabbits and shooting on the run? Are you still hunting them? Do you bait? Do you call? Are you on foot, in a vehicle? Are you using dogs, a hunting party, or are you solo?

Northern NM
Jackrabbits and cottontails -
pinon juniper hills or sagebrush flats. Spring, summer, and fall I'm looking for patches of sagebrush and cacti surrounded by juniper, juniper reduction treatments by the BLM are perfect after a couple years. Water is not a strong determinant of habitat, cover is a more reliable measure. I'll either walk ridgelines looking down into valleys with a scoped 22 and taking still shots braced on short trees, or cut up through valley bottoms kicking brush with a 20ga and a tight choke taking shots on the run, early morning or late evening. Afternoons I'll glass the undersides of trees to catch jackrabbits staying cool. In the winter tracking is possible, but unless there's fresh snow you're usually making too much noise from the crunching ice; I'll usually post up somewhere high and just glass, then try to take a long poke with a 22. Baiting is legal, and effective, but I don't. Jackrabbit distress call can be weirdly effective, have had several bucks come in when calling for coyotes; have not witnessed same behavior from cottontails. Usually solo, usually no dogs, though my Black Mouth Cur can be useful in the sagebrush patches. Usually on foot, but riding a bike along dirt roads can be highly effective. Look for rabbits sitting just on the edge of the road, tend to be very easy shots.

Snowshoe hares - Southern Rockies, 9k-12k' (I'll admit I'm less familiar with these, they're usually bycatch from grouse hunting). Edges of grassy meadows at the bottoms of alpine valleys, year round. Tall grasses and loose soil banks seem to be preferred cover, but I've not really nailed that down yet. I usually have a .410 with me, though I've passed on some longer shots where I wish I'd had a 22. Seem to find them in the same areas I'm looking for elk in, including above treeline though only sporadically. have not tried baiting or calling, though I wonder if they'd respond the same as other hares. Always on foot, always solo, no dogs. Seem to be most active during the middle of the day. Would be worth looking for early or late color changes from mid October to late November, depending on snowfall.

Southern NM - Most of the jackrabbit and cottontail points from northern NM will also apply, but they seem to be less spooky, so jump shooting is a little more viable. However, they also seem to run further when jumped, so a 22 is still nice to have along. They seem to prefer prickly pears over barrel cacti, ocotillo, and cholla.

Willamette Valley, OR - This might be the closest to eastern rabbit hunting that there is out west. Lots of flatland, lots of prickly cover from blackberry bushes, strictly cottontail (western brush rabbit) hunting. Unfortunately it's also the grass seed capitol of the world, so any gaps in the blackberry are completely shrouded by grasses. The blackberry patches can be large enough that dogs aren't effective at driving rabbits out of them. They just do not give a damn if they're more than 10' back in those thickets. ODFW recommends either hunting edges of farmland (private), or walking old decommissioned logging roads which has been modestly successful for me. Better has been hitting roads in newer clearcuts the spring after they've been replanted, especially if they've been seeded with shrubs. No baiting or calling, weapons are usually 22's though I've been bringing a 410 along more frequently for the squirrels and grouse opportunities too. Only ever on foot, trying to cover as much ground as possible since the most huntable habitat are the fairly narrow strips right along the roads. Rain does not seem to push them around as firmly as it does the deer, though I do see them come out right after the rain stops. They seem to be as habitual as eastern cottontails, and don't have a large range.

Eastern Cascades, OR - Haven't actually made it out to the eastern side of the state too often, but it's fairly similar to Northern NM for rabbit hunting. Cottontails and jackrabbits, juniper and sagebrush. The only difference seems to be a lack of cacti, which may mean that water or green vegetation may play a bigger role in habitat selection. I'll be poking around out there more this winter and next year and can report more afterward.

So, let's hear it. What's rabbit hunting like down in AZ and southern CA, or out in OK and up in MT?
 

mthuntr

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Apr 10, 2015
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739
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SW MT
I used to have a good rabbit spot when it snowed...jumping them in willow thickets. It was so good that I started using a muzzleloader shotgun. The locals decided this was a good place to walk their dogs and the rabbits have virtually disappeared. It even affected the deer and pheasant use. I complained to FWP about dog walkers letting their Fidos run around unleashed and pooping everything in a wildlife area but they couldn't care less.

On sunny winter days, cottontails and jacks seem to like some snowless rocky areas. 22LR plinking or small caliber centerfire headshots is fun.
 

49ereric

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Jun 21, 2022
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When I was young we would make a rabbit drive thru thick but narrow cedar groves with someone waiting at the end of the cedar grove. All cabins there now.
 

philos

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South Carolina
I wondered about a method to hunt rabbits in mule deer unit 90 in Wyoming. I saw a ton of rabbits there and I would think you could walk 'em up with snow on the ground. They were everywhere.
 

jjohnsonElknewbie

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Mar 16, 2021
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Western Iowa
In IA we rode hunt them after fresh snow. We also walk brushy fencelines and frozen swamps. With permission, abandoned grown over farmsteads can be awesome. Not many of these around anymore.

When I was a kid, and it was still legal, hunting railroad tracks was the ultimate for cottontails.
 

Titan_Bow

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Dec 10, 2015
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Broomfield, CO
Sitting here eating leftover rabbit stew for lunch today, LOL. I hunt NW Colorado mainly. Its primarily open high desert sage country. I look for thicker sage flats as well as thick brushy draws. If I'm out on BLM land just driving around, any time there's a cattle guard or bridge I will usually stop and take a peak.
I hunt them with a 22LR, I just walk slowly through the sage, and try and let their little bits of movement catch my eye. Ideally, I like to spot them before they run or drop into their hole. Out here, I find for cottontails, if I bump one up and he runs, I just stop and watch intently, because they typically will stop pretty quickly. Once they do, I sneak in on where I saw them stop and usually can spot them and get a shot.
My favorite time to hunt them is when its super cold, with fresh snow, but also sunny. I find that cottontails love to come out in those conditions and sun themselves in the early morning sun.
 

G19X

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Dec 31, 2022
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I grew up on 10 acres where cottontails abounded. Now that I try to find them on public units, I don’t see them anywhere. (Texas)
 

Whitey Fisk 88

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Dec 17, 2022
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I usually still hunt with a CZ457 22lr, or carry a 12 gauge with high brass #4s or 5s look for tracks around brush piles, trees that are bent over with snow, and stomp them. Im targeting snow shoe hares.

Their livers and kidneys are the best part to eat, but the meat is very good in dumplings or soups, especially with some homemade corn bread or biscuits. Ive even canned them bone in and it was decent....wouldnt do it again though.

It is a great loss to our community that we eschew and look down upon small game huting like most do. Its about the only time i have the woods to myself besides the lion hunters
 

highcj5

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SC VA
Usually after deer season goes out, I have an older gentleman with dogs that likes to go. We killed 5 today. Fun to do and get to get some exercise in.
 

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welkin

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Nov 19, 2022
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I very rarely see rabbits where I'm at in southern Oregon and I live and work in the woods. Seen a few hares. I'd love to hunt them but don't love the odds.
 

pirogue

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Jun 28, 2012
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I remember growing up in LA, and will never forget going down the road and seeing how the black folks hunted rabbits. Basically a drive and they used sticks. A bunch of em would be walking around in these patches, whooping and hollering, and the scared rabbits would just run around in circles until they got clubbed.
 
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