Hunting rabbits is more of a challenge when you do it without the help of a keen-nose beagle, but it can be done, because Mike Jennings of Greenwich and I recently proved it.
Before I tell all the details of our hunt, I want anyone considered a senior citizen to know their chances of jump shooting a cottontail are a lot better if they’re hunting with a younger hunter.
When you and he/she get to the bunny woods, walk slowly, be a little clumsy and/or take frequent rest/catch your breath stops. You’ll see your young gun will become your “bunny driver.” Let me explain how it worked for me.
It was raining lightly when I picked Mike up at his house and we headed to one of his favorite rabbit spots in Washington County.
Fortunately, by the time we got there, the rain had stopped, and as soon as I stepped out of the car, I could see why Mike had sworn me to secrecy about where we were hunting — the ground was covered with rabbit tracks. It’s no wonder because all I saw was large blackberry and honeysuckle patches and blow-downs wherever I looked, all of which are perfect rabbit cover.
There was still about a foot of snow on the ground, which made the going a bit tough and did slow me down, but slow is good when hunting without a dog because it allows you to get a better look for a fleeing rabbit, especially in this type of cover.
It’s even more difficult when small birds are in the bushes and moving around. Several times that day, I shouldered my gun at slow, low-flying birds. I was really glad I changed the choke in my shotgun to an improved cylinder, giving me the wider shot pattern I needed for that type of hunting.
Mike’s plan for the day’s hunt was for me to stay on the edges of the tangles, 20 yards or so ahead of him, while he did the bush-whacking, branch snapping and kicking brush piles.
Despite all the tracks, neither of us saw a rabbit, but I’m sure there were one or two that slipped out the side unnoticed. I also think with the denseness of this patch, even if a rabbit did jump up in front of Mike, he wouldn’t have been able to raise his new CZ 28-gauge to shoot.
Our next stop was about 100 yards away and had similar cover, but it also had a bit more open shooting areas, at least for me. Mike told me to go about halfway up the outside of the cover, where there was an opening that the rabbits often use to escape to another patch when pushed. I watched it, but nothing came out.
The next area had a few more open spots. I just happened to be looking into one of those spots — bad news for Mr. Rabbit. I was trying to stay about 15-20 yards ahead of Mike as he bulled his way through the blackberry tangles, and shortly after he began, I saw a furry flash.
As I shouldered my gun, I saw Mike’s hunter orange right in line with the rabbit, and I yelled to him to keep moving. When he did, the standing rabbit was off and running. It was fast, but not as fast as the 300 pellets that left the barrel of my Benelli.
My goal for this hunt was to shoot one rabbit, and I did, and I didn’t even have to carry it because Mike got to it before I did and put it in his backpack.
Now I don’t mind hunting downhill, but that usually means that later you have to come uphill. Again, Mike gave me the easy way down, outside the heavy cover along the ridge that made its way into a valley about 200 yards below. I saw several rabbits in the valley, moving in and out of cover shortly after we started, but they were too far away to shoot.
We were about 75 yards down the ridge when Mike yelled: “Rabbit up,” and it did not take long for me to locate it, but it disappeared into a brush pile. A few minutes later, Mike reached the brush pile. One kick was all that was needed to move the rabbit. I was ready, and dropped number two, which went into my guide’s backpack.
We worked the other side of the valley again with Mike doing the driving, and he kicked out several rabbits, but I only caught glimpses of them and was unable to get a shot.
All the way up the ridge, we saw plenty of rabbit tracks, and I couldn’t help think what a beagle or two would do in this area, but I have to admit that despite my host not barking, he did a great job putting rabbits up and in front of me.
Senior hunters don’t need a beagle to sniff out rabbits from heavy bushes and brush piles. Find yourself a young, enthusiastic hunter and invite him to go bunny hunting.
Mike, thank you for a very successful and enjoyable hunt. When you’re rested, give me a call and we can do it again.