High Speed In Unpredictable Directions…
If I had to pick the best rabbit spot in Michigan it would be the large brush pile on our hunting property. Come to think of it, come winter when cold weather and snow pushes cottontail rabbits into holes, brushy hiding spots are needed for good hunting, especially when it is in a pile or heaped into a sanctuary of grass, twigs and branches covered with a canopy of snow.
Once deer season closes most Michigan hunters make outings in search of rabbits. Some use hounds to chase snowshoe hares in northern Michigan, more love hunting cottontail in southern Michigan using beagles and there is a growing army of outdoor enthusiasts who prefer to chase bunnies one-on-one. Of course any rabbit will seek the cover of thick brush but savvy hunters know what type of cover produces the best results. This was certainly the case when I went rabbit hunting with hunting pal Scott Goldammer from East Lansing.
“They should be in the briar patch and piles of stacked brush we made when making deer stands and clearing brush for deer food plots,” explained Scott, as he loaded his semi-automatic Benelli 12 Ga. shotgun and began kicking humps of grass covered with fresh snow. “If we spread out and move through these alders, thick brush and grass we will probably jump a rabbit or two, he said as we walked in tight circles to cover the dense cover.
“There he goes!” he shouted as he shouldered the scattergun and dusted the bouncing bunny with a single shot. A broad smile came to his face as he lifted the plump prize. “I knew they would be here. This one will be delicious in rabbit stew.” Scott was right about two things, the bunny was excellent eating and rabbits love thick cover.
Michigan’s bunny season starts mid September and runs until March 31st. The long season is designed to give everyone an opportunity to enjoy this special hunting sport. Most prefer to chase bunnies when fresh snow helps scouting or following racks. Hunters can use just about any means to harvest rabbit including: shotgun, .22 or.17 caliber rifles, blackpowder or bow and arrow. Daily limit is 5 rabbit. Check the DNR Hunting Guide Book for details regarding rabbit hunting.
Cottontail love a variety of cover, including cattail marshes, swampy lowlands, thick grass, brush filled woodlands, sumac stands, standing corn, thickets along fencerows, railroad tracks or around old farm buildings. Scout these areas and you will find prime bunny hunting. Heck, back in my high school days we would make winter treks to Wixom Lake and spend afternoons hunting around cottages surrounded with brush piles from cleaning yards and turning over boats and canoes where rabbits would hide.
With fond memories I recall an outing to Gladwin County near the Cedar River in search of rabbits. I was with Jack Duffy from Midland and we located an old farm that was surrounded by zillions of bunny tracks, most leading to an open corn crib filled with ears of the golden nuggets that spilled over onto the snow. We jumped several cottontails in the thick brush and snow covered mounds of grass found relatively close to the crib. Bunnies were hiding under sheets of tin that fell off the barn roof, inside ground tiles found in a pile, under the hay wagon and several bounced from a pile of brush found near the abandoned chicken coop. The old farm was overgrown with weeds, tall grass, brush and highlighted by several apple trees that dropped bushels of food for hungry waiting rabbits.
Most bunny chasers prefer a shotgun in either 12 or gauge, with modified choke for taking fast-moving, speedy targets at relatively close range. While some prefer light 7 ½ shot, experienced hunters use #5 shot to anchor bunnies and place less shot in the meat.
Most shots at jumped bunnies are somewhat obscured by brush. Don’t expect shots in the open, bunnies are masters at jumping behind cover to hide their escape. Just shoot and ask questions later is the rule of thumb for hunters. Most point, lead and shoot, paying little or no attention to trees and brush that will block most of the pellets from reaching the target. Drivers try to take shots at rabbits that stop. The trick is to aim for the head and avoid placing the bead on the body which will fill the meat with lead.
If you want more challenge, try hunting rabbit with .22 caliber rifle or bow and arrow. I like to take stand with my coyote rifle, a Ruger .22 cal magnum equipped with 4x scope. Shots are placed in the head because body shots will often blow up too much meat.
Another deadly tactic is to drive bunnies. One or more hunters follow tracks and moves through brush in an effort to jump critters and move them the direction of a stand hunter. Stand hunters usually set up at bottle neck spots where cover narrows or along major runways used by rabbits. One slick trick is to place a stand hunter near a building, hole or pile of brush that fleeing rabbits are certain to seek.
PICK THE WEATHER
Smart hunters go afield when weather conditions are ideal for rabbits. The trick is to pick a day when rabbits are active, found far from holes and willing to run without diving into the first hole they see. Prime conditions are often warm fronts highlighted by temperatures above freezing, little wind and snow that is melting. Avoid hunting when weather conditions feature sub-zero temperatures, blowing snow, freezing rain or high winds that drive critters into holes. Perfect conditions are fresh falling snow that stops around midnight as temperatures approach 32 degrees and a warming trend ushers in calm conditions with a warm mid-day sun. Such weather brings bunnies out of holes, they play at night and at daylight they seek hiding locations where they enjoy the warm sun. When snow conditions are ideal for making snowballs or modeling a snowman, the fresh packing snow is also great for following fresh tracks, and critters love to play when temperatures are rising after a cold weather.
Perhaps the most exciting rabbit strategy is to track and jump-shoot bunnies. While most savvy trackers can predict when they will jump a rabbit, most still get surprised when the brown blur blasts from underfoot. The instant you see the critter your body gets a major adrenaline rush, you instinctively jerk the gun to your shoulder and try to hit the tiny target running faster than a speeding bullet. Some hunters find jump shooting the essence of what hunting rabbits is really all about.
Those who love chasing bunnies understand how important it is to check every bit of cover for critters. Rabbits are slick at utilizing thick brush to their advantage. Many times they will be nestled next to a stump, tree, small pine or any cover that breaks up their outline and protects them from hawks, owls and predators. Savvy jump-shooters step on or kick tiny pods of brush that many others could easily overlook. If heavy snow falls, you can expect rabbits to hide under grass and brush bent over from the blanket of white. Small pine trees that have snow covered branches touching the ground make ideal rabbit hideouts.
Smart hunters purposely make piles to hold rabbits. Some construct rabbit hotels made with a lumber frame and brush piled on top for a roof. Others create habitat by stacking brush while cutting shooting lanes for deer hunting. Consider enhancing rabbit habitat the next time you trim trees, make a trail, path, shooting lane or cut fire wood or build a deer blind. It doesn’t take much cover to attract and hold rabbits and the benefit is you can have a productive rabbit hunt when most critters are deep in holes.
Archers who capitalize on fun rabbit hunts practice the same techniques used for deer hunting. Most move slowly, stop frequently and catch bunnies that are hiding in cover. Shots at sitting cottontail are at very close range, if the rabbit runs the archer leads the bounding target about 2 feet prior to releasing the arrow. Fast reflexes and an instinctive eye combined with swing are needed to take bunnies on the run. Some archers prefer to take stand near rabbit holes or well used runways as their hunting partners jump animals and get them running. Good stand locations have sparse cover that allows the archer to thread the arrow through brush.
Try a slow stop and go hunting technique when after cottontail in brush. This strategy has a way of unnerving rabbits and causes them to break from cover and provide open running shots. Look at the tracks, try to find animals that are hiding from plain view, usually you will spot the black eye against the white background. A slow approach will give you shots at sitting rabbits and a head shot will guarantee fresh rabbit stew with no pellets in the flesh.
While rabbits prefer brush they also love briar patches highlighted by dense undercover and tall cane covered with thorns. This habitat is guaranteed to hold bunnies but walking in the tangled mess is certain to test your patients and some patches are so thick that it is almost impossible to get off a shot.
Excellent rabbit hunting action is awaiting those willing to go the extra mile and work thick brush. Chasing bunnies in brush is certainly guaranteed to give you plenty of exercise and heart pounding action when brown furballs blast from underfoot. Try double-teaming prime locations, one hunter does the hard work and walks the thick cover while the other hunter takes stand near runways or rabbit holes. Brush piles can be a riot to double-team, one hunter does the jumping on the brush while the other covers his backside. When a cottontail bolts from brush you can never tell which direction they will run. One thing is certain, they come from the underbrush at high speed, afterburners turned on full blast and they are a difficult target.