Illinois Outdoors

Rabbit hunting has rewards

January 12, 2008 at 11:29 PM

Every Sunday afternoon in the wintertime, my cousin Rodney and I would go rabbit hunting with his beagle, Napolean. It didn’t matter if was cold, snowy, windy or raining — there were brush piles to stomp and rabbits to run until it got dark.

When the dog hit a track, he’d start his singsong baying as he ran the rabbit in a big circle. Rodney and I would find a vantage point and wait for the rabbit to come around.

Some rabbits seemed to enjoy the chase and stayed just ahead of the dog. If the rabbit ran in a circle like he was supposed to, we’d catch sight of him in just a few minutes. Rabbits who had lost their taste for being chased might go down a hole, or run straight away instead of circling. As he chugged along behind the rabbit, Napolean had no hope of ever catching it. But he could stay close, and that made him fast enough.

Napolean got too old to hunt and Rodney went off to college at about the same time. Without a dog, I’d walk the hedgerows trying to sneak up on a rabbit and get a decent shot.

If somebody went with me, we’d try to run the rabbits down a fencerow. One person would circle ahead, then the remaining hunter would start walking toward him. With any luck, the rabbits would run to the standing hunter and he’d get a shot. We didn’t know at the time that we were rehearsing for deer drives and learning how to set up safe shooting lanes.

Rabbit hunting is inexpensive, uncomplicated and, in most places, it’s not crowded. If the fields and timbers around my house are any indication, this is a good season for cottontails. You have until Jan. 22 in the South Zone to get out and try your luck (North Zone hunters are out of luck since their season ended Jan. 8).

On bright days, rabbits like to sit in the sun. Only the dumb ones sit where there’s no overhead cover. Hawks, owls, coyotes and foxes make sure those not-so-bright bunnies don’t sit unprotected for long.

Look for rabbits in sunny spots at the edge of brush piles, or places where the sunshine hits the ground in blackberry patches. If you hunt after a fresh snow, walk field edges and look for tracks. You may see which brush pile Brer Rabbit calls home.

Rabbit hunting is a good way to introduce newcomers to the sport of hunting. Young hunters enjoy rabbit hunting because you don’t have to be quiet, you cover enough ground to stay warm, and if a rabbit busts out of a brush pile, it may present the opportunity to unlimber their brand new Christmas shotgun.

Even though it doesn’t present any trophy opportunities, rabbit hunting is fun and challenging. At the end of the day when you put a pan-fried rabbit on a plate with cream gravy and biscuits, it’s easy to see that small-game hunting has its own rewards.