Some outdoor activities stimulate the senses more than others, such as the bugle of an elk, the gulping of an adult male, the horn of a flock of geese, or the song of mallards in flight.
There is a lot to see in the great outdoors, but there is also a lot to hear. For primordial sound, it’s hard to beat a pair of matching beagles chasing a cottontail rabbit.
If one dog has a long, hound-like bark, while the other dog has a short, high-pitched, hoarse, almost hoarse bark, well, you’ve got some real music in the works. The fact that they are on the trail of one of the most misunderstood game makes it even more compelling.
Rabbits are prolific to say the least, with jokes about their mating ability. And that’s a good thing too, as they top the list for most predators, from cats to raccoons, foxes and hawks.
While cottontail rabbits typically only live 12 to 15 months, they begin to breed at two to three months. Once they start, they can have up to six litters of young per year, with each litter averaging five rabbits.
Rabbits are active year round, and like many animals, they are usually seen at dawn and dusk. They tend to congregate in habitats such as rows of bushy fences, edges of fields, and brush piles where food and cover are suitable and will typically spend their entire lives in an area of 10 acres or less.
Contrary to popular belief, rabbits do not dig their own burrows and instead use natural cavities or burrows dug by groundhogs or other animals. These underground dens are mainly used in wet or cold weather and also to escape the pursuit, and often rabbits will use brush piles or other thick blanket as an alternative to a burrow.
While it is common to have a rabbit that “dig in” when led by dogs, it is also common to have a rabbit dive into a pile of brush to escape. Rabbits tend to run in a circle when chased by dogs, with some rabbits running in wider circles than others.
Sometimes they’ll keep going around in circles and sometimes they won’t even make a full turn before diving into a burrow or brush pile.
Once a bunny is jumped up and the dogs are out on the trail, the action begins as soft music streams through the crisp fall air and hunters search for a promising place to stand in anticipation of the rabbits returning as they go around – often returning near the jump point and choosing a location close to the one to stand can be fruitful.
While rabbits are made to have beagles on their tails, they can also be hunted successfully without a dog. When moving cautiously through a thick blanket, it is often possible to find a sitting rabbit.
There is also fun to be had once the snow is on the ground, with a hunter becoming a “dog” for a hunting partner by following rabbit tracks and howling occasionally like a beagle would. This can cause a rabbit to go around in circles like it would if chased by dogs.
Most hunters use a shotgun to hunt rabbits, with 12 and 20 calibers being the most common. While some prefer to use smaller shots, like # 8, # 6 generally works better because there is still enough granules and it is able to penetrate the brush better than the lighter granules.
Being thin-skinned, it doesn’t take a lot of pellets to stop a rabbit, so any caliber shotgun can be used, even a .410.
Right now, the season is underway and for the most part runs through February, and with a daily limit of four and a possession limit of 12, there are plenty of opportunities out there.