When the deer seasons dry up, the winter sets in (oh, it’s already done that?) and when the snow seems to blanket the land more thickly with every passing day, hunters have different strategies for how to keep their skills in check until the springtime.
Sure, some of us opt to simply go into hibernation and wait until the weather gets better to return to hunting. But for every fair weather hunter, there is another winter warrior among us who isn’t ready to let a little bit of snow separate him from his hobby.
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Some of them are coyote hunters, working to keep the predators from hunting priority deer properties or to eradicate the spread of the animals to suburban areas. Others are raccoon hunters, looking for a bit of revenge on the garbage-scavenging beasts that have been breaking into garages and tearing up trash and recycling bags for years.
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However, while coyotes and raccoons are perfectly adequate game animals for a hunter looking to stay active through the cold hard winter months, they don’t necessarily make for the tastiest meals. In fact, if your goal with winter hunting is to find the animals that can spark your appetite, then the best option is to start going after rabbits.
While not terribly common on the average restaurant or home-cooked menu these days, prepared rabbit can actually be a delicious treat, especially in wintertime stews and roasts.
For all of these reasons and more, rabbit hunting used to be the main pursuit for hunters during the winter. And hunters didn’t stop targeting rabbits in the winter because they didn’t like the taste of the meat on their dinner tables, but because finding rabbits became difficult.
Nowadays, some hunters believe that going after rabbits in the winter is more trouble than it’s worth. Certainly, the population of the cottontail and showshoe hoppers has thinned over time, thanks to factors ranging from habitat destruction to a preponderance of predators (coyotes among them). However, rabbits are resilient animals with quick reproductive cycles, meaning that their populations can keep pace with even the most destructive forces.
If you go out this winter in pursuit of a rabbit, you will find one – so long as you know what to look for and where to look.
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The most important thing to remember when searching for rabbits is which habitat conditions you are looking for. In the winters especially, rabbits like to nestle themselves into thick piles of brush or bramble for cover. Areas where trees have recently been cut down or felled by the elements are perfect, as rabbits will often find spots beneath branches to hide.
Places thick with bushes or pine branches could also be viable spots for a cottontail hideout.
If you have no luck finding brush piles or bramble thickets, head out on a sunny day and search for south facing slopes on your property. Like virtually any other animal, rabbits will go here when it’s bright out to soak up the sun and warm up. By looking for tracks and following your dog’s nose, you can find the choice slopes and plan a stealthy attack.
Keep an eye out for the recognizable tracks, and follow them (duh). Early mornings are best, especially after a fresh layer of new snow.
As far as guns go, a .22 is likely all the firepower you’ll need for these furry critters. At times a 20-gauge could work well, but there’s no need to overdo it.
Stalking a rabbit can be great, just be sure to match your camo to the amount of snow (hunters don’t always think about this; green or even brown camouflage can stand out to a rabbit’s excellent vision).
So if a fresh blanket of snow and some cold temperatures don’t scare you that much, think about joining the rabbit hunting crowd and you’ll hopefully end up with something unique and delicious for a meal that perfectly matches the weather.