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An online space for outdoorsmen from CNY and beyond. Tell us about the one you caught or the one that got away.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Hunting rabbit is a sport to enjoy all winter

Even though the strange weather this winter has disrupted some traditional winter sports, rabbit hunting is one that we can enjoy in many kinds of weather. The variety of ways we can hunt rabbits and the relatively widespread areas where bunnies are found combine to make it a popular winter pastime. Despite having fewer rabbits and fewer rabbit hunters in recent years, it is still a popular sport that can be enjoyed in many ways.

A generation ago we headed to the back pasture or overgrown field and chased up a few bunnies on a Saturday morning. But now these pastures are probably second growth and the abandoned fields are a housing development. These changes have impacted rabbit hunting in a major way.

Abandoned farms may have provided good habitat at first as brush and grass cover increased. But as the plant succession evolved into second growth forests, the high canopy cut down on ground vegetation, depriving rabbits of food and cover. There's about an eight or ten year period before habitat suitable for rabbits seriously declines.

Even on the remaining farms, the changing agricultural practices have meant a shift in rabbit cover. Most farms are now larger scale operations. Rabbits will still be found on these farms but now they will be in different locations. Areas of thick cover, especially if they are located next to a food source are the logical places to find them. Examples of these are the corners of fields that are too wet or steep for the large machinery so they remain untilled and become overgrown with briars and brush.

Woodlots that have been cut and have open areas or piles of brush and tree tops are ideal for rabbits. If they are next to a hay or cornfield, so much the better.

If it seems that rabbits are found in heavier cover than they used to be, it's probably not just your imagination or the effects of age. Many others have commented that you cannot walk through a field and kick rabbits out of the stubble anymore. One theory is that with the increased numbers of predators around, rabbit survival is highest in areas that have the thickest cover.

A similar theory suggests that the large number of predators is also the reason that rabbits are even more nocturnal now. It is not that rabbits think or learn from their experience, after all they aren't rocket scientists. It is simply a matter of natural selection. The dumber ones that inhabited more open areas or were active in daylight didn't survive long enough to reproduce as much.

While rabbits might find food and cover in heavy grass during the summer, the best covers include heavy briars, sumac, grey dogwood or multiflora rose. In winter when the grasses are matted down from snow, the cover of briars and brush or tree tops is more significant. These are the areas you should concentrate on when hunting cottontails.

Quick, fast handling shotguns are called for in rabbit hunting since hunters are often presented with a bounding target amidst openings in thick cover. Most hunters use number 6 or 7-1/2 shot.

Early morning or late afternoon are the best times since cottontails are most likely to be active then.

Prime time for snowshoe hares is early morning after a fresh snowfall since fresh tracks provide optimum scent and less confusing trails for the hounds to follow.

Hunters without dogs can enjoy the sport and be successful. One way is to walk through the heavy cover, pausing frequently. The pause often unnerves the rabbit and makes it think it's been spotted so they will burst from cover. Be ready to shoot when you pause.

A good method is to have two hunters walk parallel through cover, pausing to stomp brush piles, fallen tree tops, or other cover. Remember that the thicker the cover, the better the cottontails like it. Heavy duty briar pants are called for when rabbit hunting.

A method that can be used with several hunters is to post some hunters at likely escape routes, while one or more hunters zig-zag through the cover, pausing frequently or stomping brush piles. It is important that all hunters wear blaze orange and be aware of where everyone is.

If you find rabbits in an area that isn't too thick, it is possible for a single hunter to stalk quietly and hunt them with a .22. The best time is usually in the morning if rabbits are sunning themselves in front of their burrows.

Yes, rabbit hunting is changing, like many other things. But one thing that hasn't changed is the fun and challenge of hunting one of our most common, yet elusive game animals.


CNY SPORTSMANS SHOW: Save the date of February 4 for the always popular Central NY Sportsmans Show. There will be the usual mix of tackle vendors, conservation groups, guides and exhibitors. You will have the chance to meet and talk with expert deer and turkey hunters, as well as various anglers. New this year for youngsters will be the Daisy Shooting Booth sponsored by the NYS Outdoorsmen Hall of Fame. Youngsters can also sign up for the special youth turkey hunt with an ECO, as well as the ever popular exhibit by the Utica Zoo. The new lineup of attractions and seminars will be publicized in the next few weeks.

2011 IN PASSING: We avoided the traditional year-in-review column last weekend, but a few people were commenting on a lot of things about the past year. Obviously for a lot of things including the economy, natural disasters, international affairs and domestic politics the news for 2011 was generally bad.

Even though we don’t pretend that events in the world affecting the outdoors compares to the things above, 2011 was not a good year either for a lot of things. Certainly the heavy rains and flooding in May and the effects of Hurricane Irene on the High Peaks of the Adirondacks and the Catskills were devastating. Most important of course was the human tragedy that they caused. But streams were destroyed and subsequent re-channeling to rebuild roads have left many of them unsuitable as fish habitat.

The cold wet weather in mid May was bad for nesting birds and the grouse and turkey populations have shown this decline in many areas. Invasive species continued to spread and show up in new places despite the efforts of many people or groups.

Hunting violations seemed to show a surge in numbers in most areas. One local ECO commented that in his many years of service he has never seen so many serious violations around this area. Violations ranging from shooting deer out of season, using guns during bow season, jacking or hunting at night, carrying loaded firearms in motor vehicles and similar crimes were rampant as a report from the Watertown Office regarding Region 6 has shown.

Hopefully all that is behind us and the sporting opportunities as well as the behavior of a small segment of the population will improve greatly in 2012.

ADIRONDACK EXPOSURE – FLORIDA STYLE: For those who may be heading for Florida for part of the winter, but are looking for more adventure than just dodging alligators on the golf course or the happy hour at the condo complex, there is an answer. Scott Locorini, owner of the popular Adirondack Exposure outfitter and guide service, is offering various guided kayak expeditions in Florida. Trips such as Cedar Key, the Everglades, Big Bend or Suwanee River offer a variety of experiences. For more information, contact Scott at or visit

FISHING REPORTS: Steelhead fishermen have been doing well in the upper part of the Salmon River between Pineville and Altmar by fishing the heads or tails of the pools. Wooly Buggers, egg sucking leeches, or estaz eggs have worked well.

For fishing reports from eastern Lake Ontario to the Niagara River and major tributaries like Oak Orchard River, visit or

SYRACUSE SHOW RETURNS: The Northeastern Sports Show at the Syracuse Fairgrounds was canceled. But recently, Wight-Ox Productions — who are involved with the Rochester outdoors show — announced that it is resurrecting the show and will hold the New York Sportsmans Expo at the Horticulture Building at the Fairgrounds. Dates are January 27–29 and there will be a new emphasis on conservation groups as well as manufacturers and sporting tackle vendors.


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