Missouri's landscaped yards provide excellent habitat for the eastern cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus). As a result, cottontails are often abundant in suburban and urban areas, where their feeding habits sometimes lead to conflicts with property owners.
The Wildlife Code of Missouri classifies the cottontail rabbit as a game mammal that may be taken during prescribed hunting and trapping seasons. See current regulations for details. Taking cottontail during the prescribed seasons can help control their numbers. Cage-type traps are allowed as a hunting method. The Code also specifies that you may shoot or trap damage-causing cottontails out-of-season without a permit. Refer to 3 CSR 10-4.130 Owner May Protect Property; Public Safety of the Code for details and restrictions.
NOTE: Both the black-tailed (Lepus californicus) and white-tailed (Lepus townsendii) jackrabbit are species of conservation concern and may not be shot or trapped under this rule.
Fences offer practical and inexpensive protection for small areas of high-value plants. Rabbits can be excluded from vegetable and flower gardens, nurseries, and ornamental plants with an 18- to 24-inch-high fence of 1-inch mesh galvanized wire. Temporary posts are sufficient. The bottom edge of wire must be either carefully staked to the ground or buried several inches to prevent rabbits from burrowing under. Fences must be well maintained to ensure ongoing protection.
Tree trunk guards can prevent cottontail damage to individual trees and shrubs. Cylinders of ¼-inch mesh hardware cloth, 18 to 24 inches high, and set into the ground surrounding the trunk will help prevent gnawing damage to the main stem. Multi-stemmed shrubs should be encircled with hardware cloth or 1-inch mesh wire. Commercial tree wraps and plastic guards are usually available at lawn and garden supply and hardware stores, as are wire cylinders and tree wraps. Guards and wraps are not effective when snow depth exceeds the height of the wire or wrap.
Removal of brush piles, debris, dumps, and other cover make an area less suitable for rabbits.
Legal restrictions prevent the use of most repellents on gardens and crops. In addition, dew and rain wash these away, so periodic reapplication is necessary. When repellents are legally used, they must be applied according to label directions, with particular attention to dilution, application rates, and repeat treatments. Typically, repellent use is limited to woody plants during winter when cottontail are likely to gnaw bark and clip twigs. Fencing, tree guards, or wraps better protect woody plants, such as ornamental trees and shrubs, orchard fruit trees, and nursery stock with less time, trouble, and expense. Mothballs are not effective. In addition, the naphthalene they contain is toxic, and the vapor is harmful to humans.
In summer, when cottontail numbers are high and food is plentiful, the effectiveness of baited traps is limited. Winter trapping, especially during periods of snow, is usually more effective because food is scarce, and the bait will tempt hungry rabbits. Areas showing constant rabbit activity such as tracks or gnawing on woody plants are logical places to set cage-type traps. Apples slices are suitable baits.
Foothold traps are effective but require special skill and experience. Restrictions on use apply, so see current regulations for details. Professional assistance is advised.
Cottontails can be shot with a BB or pellet gun, or a conventional firearm (usually a rimfire or shotgun) where use of such guns and firearms is allowed. Check with local authorities regarding use of guns and firearms.