Close your eyes and picture your ideal rabbit hunting habitat. Chances are it’s some variation of overgrown brush piles, thick tangles of briars, or brushy fence rows bordering an ag field. No question these are incredible places to find a day’s limit of cottontails, but some true rabbit goldmines are right under your nose. There the kinds of places you probably walk by every day without so much as a second glance. I know I did before the rabbit lightbulb finally turned on. To help fill the stew pot after deer season is over, add a few of these unusual and overlooked places to your rabbit hunting arsenal.
At first glance junkyards look, well … junky. They’re not much more than cars, farm equipment, stacks of steel, and piles of old stuff left and forgotten. But they can be a rabbit’s Taj Mahal. To a rabbit, an old car body provides excellent shelter from wind, snow, and rain and gives shade during the summer. Grass and vegetation grow up around the frame providing food and material for dens, and because old cars are usually parked side-by-side, rabbits can easily flee from danger. Next time you’re strolling by on a hunt, give that old bumper a kick and it just might surprise you what comes springing out.
How to Hunt a Junkyard
Whether it’s a pile of random debris, a broken down manure spreader, or old refrigerator, I approach a junkyard in a similar way to a brush pile. Whatever object you’re checking, determine the most likely exit route and approach from the opposite end. If you’re hunting with a buddy or in a small group, make sure you’re a safe distance apart and approach at a slight angle. The goal is for each hunter to be able to cover an area of escape. Keep an eye out for rabbits flushing ahead of you, they may not run far especially if there are plenty of piles for cover.
Abandoned Homesteads and Dilapidated Barns
When I first started hunting rabbits, it took me a few years to realize the value of an abandoned, overgrown homestead. I suppose it had something to do with my father drilling into my head to stay away from buildings and houses while hunting with a gun. Although he was right about trespassing, once you have permission and can confirm a homestead or barnyard is uninhabited, have at it. Rabbits will dig dens around the foundations of these deteriorating structures. Often in the space around the foundation or what’s left of it, there are old pieces of farm equipment, rolls of fence, and other objects taken over by grass and woody vegetation. Rabbits thrive on this kind of cover for food and shelter. Check every piece of metal, fence, or log pile regardless of its size. They are awesome little pockets to catch rabbits hiding away from their holes, especially on nice, sunny days.
How to Hunt an Abandoned Homestead
If the area holds rabbits, there’s a good chance they will be using what’s left of the structure as a windbreak, so I approach from downwind and concentrate on the thickest cover first. I work my way up to the foundation or pile of debris, slowly watching for slight movement or any indication of preferred travel routes. If it’s an isolated pile such as a roll of fence or stack of old tires, I work my way straight at it from the side least likely to offer an escape route. By approaching cover this way, I give myself shooting opportunities on both sides and directly in front of me. Similarly to hunting in junkyards, if you flush a rabbit and don’t get a shot or miss, wait and watch. It’s not uncommon for a rabbit to run a short distance and stop at another source of shelter or even make a large circle in an attempt to return to its original hiding location.
I love hunting the clear-cut areas under powerline openings, especially ones that have only been half-heartedly taken care of. It’s amazing what some sunshine and a little rain can do around the two-year mark after it’s been cut. Thick, gnarly, waist tall briars and woody vegetation sprout up and act as a flashing vacancy sign for rabbits. Powerlines can make for ideal conditions to run a beagle or two as well. With somewhat defined edges, rabbits love to hunker down on the transition of the thick stuff and open woods or a newly cut lane under the lines. You or a small group can walk those edges kicking up anything on the outside while the dog runs the thick center, flushing rabbits into your path. A freshly cleared powerline can still be worth your time, too. The exposed stems and roots provide attractive food for rabbits while thicker edges provide good cover.
How to Hunt a Powerline Cut
In my hunting circle, we don’t usually hunt rabbits with dogs. So we have names for positions when we’re strategically working an area. This works especially well when we hunt powerlines. The hunters on the wings or perimeters of the thicker cover are known as shooters and the one or two hunters working the thick, rough middle section are, ironically known as the dogs. I prefer being the dog and always have. There’s more to be learned about how rabbits navigate and utilize cover and usually this position results in as many, if not more, shot opportunities. When navigating these wider, thick areas or transition lines, be sure to look behind yourself frequently. It’s common for rabbits to slip by you right out the back door and you’ll never know they were even there.
My Go-To Rabbit Gear
H&R Pardner Single-Shot Shotgun
This gun is lightweight, compact, versatile, tried, and true. It shoulders well, the hammer cocks easily, and the trigger is smooth. The shorter length doesn’t get caught up on briars or brush as much as standard length guns. And with interchangeable barrels, it can be all you need for anything from cottontails to whitetails.
Winchester Super X, 7 Shot
These are classic dependable loads, and they offer enough power to make a quick, clean kill, while being light enough to not over-do it. I prefer the 2-3/4 inch high brass version to completely avoid any jamming in my single shot. Low brass is fine for pumps or semi-auto models though.
Carhartt Firm Duck Double-Front Overalls
Carhartt Double-Front Unquilted Overalls. Carhartt
Arguably the most important piece of gear besides my gun, these beauties can withstand the harshest abuse from the nastiest habitat or whatever Mother Nature can throw at them. The double front keeps sharp briars and brush from scratching my legs. The bib design acts as an additional layer for my torso, and I don’t have to worry about my shirt tail riding up. Quilted versions trap too much heat for me and don’t work well for the constant movement, so I prefer the non-quilted option with tall side zippers for easy on and off with boots.
Sitka Merino Heavyweight Base Layers
Sitka Merino Heavyweight Base Layer Top. Sitka
Moisture management is essential when chasing cottontails. I’ve been hard pressed to find anything that wicks sweat like Sitka’s Merino Heavyweight Half-Zip Base Layer. It’s the right thickness to help take the chill off, while keeping the perspiration away from your body so you can stay warm, dry, and comfortable all day. The modern cut provides full range of motion without binding or bulking up. I highly recommend these base layers for any active hunter that might work up a sweat.
Carhartt Hooded Sweatshirt
A Camo Carhartt Hooded Sweatshirt. Carhartt
Instead of a hunting jacket I like to wear a simple Carhartt hooded sweatshirt. It’s very comfortable, offers the right amount of warmth, and doesn’t stick to brush and thorns as badly as other sweatshirts. The hood also helps keep the wind off my neck.
Fingerless Fleece-lined Gloves
Fingerless Fleece-lined Gloves. Polar Wear
The brand doesn’t matter nearly as much as the style. Unless you’re facing single digit temperatures or below, these should keep the cold out and still offer great dexterity when reloading and working the trigger.
Cabela’s Men’s Blaze Pro Guide II Vest
The design on this orange vest obviously doesn’t matter, it’s all about features and performance. Since my weapon of choice is a single-shot, I need easy access to shells to reload quickly. The front of this vest gives me two wide pockets. The right, I use for shells and the left for gloves if it warms up and I don’t need to wear them. The roomie, back storage pouch can hold a day’s cottontail limit easily if you choose to carry them all. Mine has been through 15 seasons of brutal abuse in harsh habitat and is still holding up extremely well.
Lacrosse Aerohead Boots
Lacrosse Aerohead Boots. Lacrosse
The waterproof neoprene top offers the flexibility and comfort for miles of walking and stepping over deadfalls, while the rubber foot portion keeps your feet dry and protected from snow, creeks, and any wet conditions. For dryer conditions, I rely on the Danner Pronghorns to keep me going all day with great comfort and durability. And when you’re hunting any one of the spots mentioned above, comfortable footwear is a must. You’ll have more miles logged at the end of the day than you think when kicking the brush for cottontails.