The walk-and-stomp and wait-for-the-hounds-to-circle-it-back brigades shoot a lot of rabbits. They’d shoot a lot more if they’d hunt cottontails with the same tactics they reserve for pheasants and whitetails.
1. Find the Rabbitat
You can shoot more cottontails in an hour in perfect habitat–what I call “rabbitat”–than you can all day in fair covers. Scout your spots well.
A key element of rabbitat is a brushy, knee-high overstory that offers rabbits protection from flying predators. The more thorns, the better. Thickets of blackberry, wild rose, and other prickly brambles are perfect.
Basically, if you can toss a hat three times and it never hits the ground, you’re in the right spot. Scattered brush piles and these gnarly jungles are even better.
2. Take a Stand
For every rabbit that flushes near boots or beagles, many more flush farther out and quickly skedaddle out of sight and out of range.
For that reason, it’s a good idea to position hunting partners ahead of the regular line, especially at places where rabbits can follow features like ditches or fence lines to other coverts.
3. Get a Hawk’s-Eye View
Forget the hippity-hoppity. When a cottontail runs flat-out, it hugs the ground like a Ferrari and can easily pass you unseen. Even a few feet of added elevation will help you see and shoot more of these freedom-bound rabbits.
Sit atop rocks or brush piles, or use a lightweight climbing treestand. Missourian Fred Baum, of the famed Baum Squad packs of beagles, often carries a lightweight stepladder with a suitcase handle attached for portability. He sets up his ladder over particularly tight cover and shoots limits of rabbits from this vantage point.
4. Shoot ‘Em on the Rebound
Cottontails are homebodies. That’s why they circle back to where they were flushed when pushed by hounds. You can take advantage of that instinct when a rabbit dives into a thick brush pile or other gnary covert.
Leave a hunter to quietly wait with a good view of the pile. Often, as the sounds of the rest of the hunting party fade, the rabbit exits the mess and heads back home.
5. Hunt Early and Often
Don’t let too much of the season slide by before you hit the briars. Rabbit populations fall quickly through the fall and winter as predation takes its toll.
The later in the season you hunt, the more important the above tips will become to finding success.
–Illustration by Andre Malok