The Thrill of Hunting Cottontails

By Rodney Vaughn, photographs by David Stonner | January 22, 2015
From Missouri Conservationist: Feb 2015

 “Hunt ‘em up! Hunt ‘em up! Get those rabbits!”

We cheer on the beagles as they worm through the thickets, nosing out the scent of those rascally rabbits. The sound of yodeling hounds on the hunt is music to my ears.

I had not owned beagles or gone rabbit hunting in years when my wife came home with a full-blooded beagle puppy named Jed. I started training him in the yard, and in six months he was running rabbits. That was eight years ago. Since then, we’ve added another beagle named Ellie to our family, and we hunt several conservation areas here in the Southeast Region.

A favorite rabbit hunting spot is Crowleys Ridge Conservation Area in Stoddard County. I have a unique understanding of this area’s shrubby habitat because it’s also where I work. As a wildlife resource assistant, I work under the guidance of the local management biologist. I provide the manpower needed to create the area’s wildlife habitat. For nearly seven years, we have worked hard to promote excellent escape cover, brood-rearing habitat, and food sources for quail, grassland birds, rabbits, deer, turkey, and a host of wildlife species on this 1,878- acre area. My typical day consists of prescribed burning, disking, timber stand improvement, edge feathering, and farming — all used to create and maintain early-successional habitats that benefit small game.

Chasing bunnies gives you plenty of exercise. This includes stomping your way through thickets and brush where rabbits hide. In fact, you will find the most rabbits in the densest cover, so make sure to dress for fighting briars! Wearing tough clothing with thick material, like canvas, is a must to protect your skin. Remember that it is also a good idea to wear blaze orange for high visibility in thick cover.

Because it can be hard to see rabbits when they run out of thickets, I recommend hunting with a party of three to four other hunters. Once you’ve flushed a rabbit, quickly put the dogs near the last place the rabbit was sighted and then the fun begins! The dogs begin yodeling and barking to let you know they’re hot on the rabbit’s scent. Now is the time to sit back and enjoy listening to the dogs run, or to visit with fellow hunters. The rabbit may run a quarter mile or more before circling back to the area he started from.

When the rabbit finally makes the turn, you will hear the dogs start to get closer and closer. The rabbit will be running ahead of the dogs, so spread out from the other hunters and be ready. Watch closely and be sure to identify safe shooting lanes around you and your fellow hunters. Once the rabbit appears, be sure to identify your target and beyond it before shooting. Again, this is where blaze orange helps keep hunters visible to each other.

During our family hunts, it has become a tradition to yell “Hasenpfeffer!” when we know the rabbit has been bagged. Hasenpfeffer is a German stew cooked with rabbit meat. But my favorite way to cook rabbit is to braise it until it’s tender, then batter and fry it. You can find my recipe at node/29599. Once we have the rabbit in hand, we let the dogs see it and tell them what a good job they’ve done. We watch them closely when we do — once old Jed grabbed a rabbit from a friend and escaped with it into a thicket!

Whether we harvest one rabbit or a limit in a day, there is no better way to spend a cool, crisp winter day than chasing bunnies with a good beagle or two. If you want some exercise, fellowship, and fun, rabbit hunting may be your sport. Rabbit hunting requires a Small Game Hunting Permit. Conservation Department Quail Emphasis Areas are typically good places to start because many have good populations of rabbits. Be sure to check the Department’s Conservation Atlas at node/3333 to find a rabbit hunting area near you.

This Issue's Staff

Editor In Chief - Nichole LeClair Terrill
Art Director - Cliff White
Staff Writer/Editor - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Circulation - Laura Scheuler