This years cottontail rabbit hunting season began November 6 running through February 28 (for season dates and bag limits see the Ohio Division of Wildlife site), and it’s expected to be a very good year.  Division of Wildlife biologists are predicting fair success statewide with exceptional hunting in some areas.  And some of that fine action can be found in prime habitat around our own territory.  So, on various hunts there’ll be gunners who come home with four cottontail limits time after time. Unfortunately, some hunters will return with one or two, or none, and their lack of success will be for almost age old reasons.

There’ll be no problem finding rabbits.  As always, in early season, the game tends to stay in grass, fencerows, brushy areas, weed fields, and light thickets.  Come bad weather, they’ll move into heavier brush, though some will be there early on this year  if  bad weather persists.  And when it gets really bad, they’ll look for tall timber with downed tree tops, old farm machinery that’s dry underneath, and hollow logs where they can get in out of the rain and snow.  Nothing new there.

But if you hunt without dogs and simply line up across field after field to move down their length hoping for a shot, you’re going to miss a lot of bunnies.  To solve this problem, I’ve seen veteran hunters who don’t make wild shots place a couple of old timers near fields end before they move through, usually along the far left and right edges.  Cottontails jumped and missed will typically run to the end or near it, then circle, often running in the open for at least a few seconds.  Which gives these quietly waiting standers a shot.

 They might also place them at spots where one field meets another, an arm stretches off to touch some good cover, or a thin bit of brush or weeds joins two thick fields.  Rabbits know their home area and they’ll head fast for safer ground.  If you’ve a stander there to meet them, bags will surely grow heavier.

Gunners hunting alone or with a single friend can do better if they use the terrain to advantage.  Like putting that partner at the end of a fencerow while you walk it.  Or placing him at the far side of a small patch of brush while you hike through.  Taking turns at this means both will get shots.  Walk through together and the only sign you’re likely to see in such thick vegetation is grass shaking as they race out ahead.

 A single man can improve his odds by hesitating when he reaches a likely brushpile or bit of cover, and looking around a bit.  It’s guaranteed that any waiting bunnies will squirt out its far side, so make sure the side they leave meets open territory, instead of heavy brush. A little circling before you get there is all it takes.

And instead of watching only your immediate surroundings, keep an eye out well ahead.  In early season and on warmer days particularly, it’s not unusual for cottontails to jump up to 30 yards ahead and never be seen, especially if they slip out quietly.  Look for these.

Even dog hunters can improve their lot by thinking a little.  I hunted with a beagle for many years and would be doing so yet, if she hadn’t died and her four followers turned out to be worthless.  Ketchum hunted close, which I liked, and ran slowly, which made for small circles and game returning at a walk.  But the old adage that rabbits will return to where they were jumped isn’t always true, especially if you loose off a round or two when they go. And I always shot, if possible.

So, I’d listen carefully when she went after the rabbit, and determine whether it was circling to the left or the right.  Then move quickly and quietly in that direction, pick a spot with open terrain, and stand still.  Often I’d pick it off on the first circle.

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