If you're tolerant of briars and brush and aren't afraid to get dirty, you can bag a limit of rabbits with just your shotgun and some patience. It isn't as easy as letting the dogs dig into the thick cover and flush rabbits while you wait, but it is not impossible either.
Predators of all stripes snack on rabbits. Cottontails rely on prolific breeding to keep their numbers up and lie in the thickest cover for protection from the multitude of animals trying to eat them.
Dog-less rabbit hunters should first target overgrown fence rows near pasture lands. Walk parallel to the fencerow and kick the thicker clumps of cover. Stop and wait a while. A rabbit hiding in the cover often loses its nerve and bolts.
Constantly scan the fencerow as rabbits may flush undetected on the side of the fence opposite you. Keep your gun in the ready position so you can quickly mount it when a rabbit takes off for yonder. Don't idly walk down the fence row daydreaming with your shotgun slung over your shoulder. You'll miss a lot of rabbits if you do.
Brushy, overgrown, small creek drainages make excellent rabbit hides. You have to get in deep and bulldog your way through the thick brush. You literally need to kick rabbits out of their lairs when hunting thick cover like this without a dog. You can't work the easy edges and hope to flush rabbits.
Kick or beat the brush with a stick and wait. A rabbit will often flush when you've given up on the clump of cover holding any cottontails. If hunting with a partner, one should act as a dog and stomp around in the cover while the other hunter watches for a rabbit to flee.
Brush piles and overgrown areas near barns hold rabbits. You can toss a stick or stone into the brush pile and flush them. Position a hunting partner on the other side of the brush pile. Don't shoot at any flushing rabbits unless you know the location of your hunting partner. It is easy to make a mistake in the excitement of a rabbit flush and forget about your partner. You can't take flying pellets back.
Walk around a barn and pause every so often. Rabbits often hang out in the weedy, brushy strip around the barn. Barns are good areas for a solo hunter to prospect for rabbits.
They also hide around buckets, discarded building materials, gardening tools, troughs and other detritus that often ends up beside a barn. They sometimes hide under the flooring of a stripping shed.
Barns often have old, abandoned farming implements near them. Worn-out and forgotten tractors, bins, manure spreaders and bush hogs overgrown with weeds often hold a rabbit.
Always be on the ready when rabbit hunting. Rabbits flush from just about anywhere and are often out of range by the time you get your wits about you.
Most rabbit shooting is quick snap shooting, not the long leads and swinging necessary for migratory birds such as doves or ducks. You don't have the luxury of thinking about your shot. It is instinctual, quick shooting and the unfocused hunter will bag few rabbits.
A 12 or 20-guage shotgun loaded with No. 6 or 7 Â½ shot with an improved cylinder choke works well for rabbit hunting. It is always a good idea to wear unbroken hunter orange on the head, chest and shoulders visible from both sides when rabbit hunting. A good pair of brush resistant boots helps as do pants with brush guards.
Hunter education is required for all hunters born on or after January 1, 1975, except kids under 12 and hunters who are license exempt. However, a one-time temporary hunter education exemption permit is available for $5 online, which allows hunting for one year from the date of purchase without a hunter education card while accompanied by a legal adult hunter. Log on to fw.ky.gov to find a hunter education course near you, or to purchase an exemption permit.
Lee McClellan is an award-winning writer for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.
The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources manages, regulates, enforces and promotes responsible use of all fish and wildlife species, their habitats, public wildlife areas and waterways for the benefit of those resources and for public enjoyment. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, an agency of the Commerce Cabinet, has an economic impact to the state of $4.8 billion annually. For more information about the department, visit our web site at fw.ky.gov.
Lee McClellan (800) 854-0942 ext. 330