A Picturesque Day Is Necessary…
A trifecta is a type of wager, usually associated with horse racing. The bettor has to select the first three finishers in exact order. I enjoy what can be considered the rabbit trifecta of Michigan. Chasing cottontails by three distinct methods on the same day is my version of the rabbit trifecta. Anticipation begins building in December as I stay vigilant; watching for the perfect weather conditions. When that day materializes, the plan is set in motion to chase bunnies with hounds, jump shoot the varmints, and slow stalk the rascally rabbits.
Before the trifecta can be attempted, a picturesque day is necessary. Watch the weather forecast for a sunny day that either precedes or follows a storm front. Sunshine encourages rabbits to leave their snug holes to bask in nature’s golden warmth. Plus, nothing chases away the winter “blahs” like hunting small game on a sunny day. If the weather leading up to the ideal day has been brutal, the snow speedsters will also seek a snack. Fresh snow is essential for two reasons. First, the dogs will have fresh scents to follow when locating their quarry. Second, the hunter will have fresh tracks to follow when attempting to stalk within range of a setting rabbit. Temperatures in the low to mid 30s are perfect for both hunters and game. The snow stays powdery, yet the hunter doesn’t freeze while enjoying nature.
Once the “perfect” day arrives, the fun can begin. Stage one of the trifecta begins around nine in the morning. Unlike non-rutting whitetails, rabbits become active later in the morning. That gives the hunters time for a filling breakfast complete with coffee. It also provides an opportunity to load up a few beagles, and head out. Anyone who has been serenaded by the long, mournful song of a beagle hot on a bunny trail knows the joy of rabbit hunting with hounds. The bond formed between dog hunters and their dogs is akin to the relationship between a parent and their child.
We choose to begin the trifecta by tackling areas of dense cover. Large tracts of cedar swamps, willow thickets, and berry brambles provide ideal habitat for rabbits. However, this “rabbitat” can physically tear apart a hunter who has even the best brush busting clothing. The dogs don’t seem to mind; they are determined to put a gray ghost in front of one of the hunters. The thick cover prompts the hunter to carry a shotgun in 20, 16, and 12 gauge varieties loaded with high brass fives or sixes.
After a few hours of marveling at the skill of the dogs, we shift gears. The group numbers whittle down due to responsibilities at home and the lunch bell. A few diehards stick around to experience stage two. The focus evolves from hunting with dogs to jump shooting rabbits. Instead of large tracts of thick cover, hunters concentrate on brush piles, old junk heaps, ditch lines, and fence rows. The excitement of never knowing when a critter will explode from cover keeps the hunter on full alert. The furry missiles shooting out from under your boots make extremely tough targets. It’s usually during this time of the day when a few misses can encourage a little good natured ribbing. Jump shooting rabbits entails a lot of walking and physical exertion. For that reason, a light weight shotgun is the best tool of choice. A .410 or 20 gauge loaded with low brass sixes will do the job.
The energy spent while jumping on brush piles can be replenished with a quick lunch after stage two. The short break allows the hunter a chance to change clothes and gather gear for the final stage of the trifecta. The hiatus is a time any harvested game can be field dressed, and prepared for consumption. Any nerves that may have been frayed earlier in the day can be given a chance to relax. The final stage calls for the hunter’s complete attention to detail.
The last third of the day is usually spent alone, or with one other person. Stalking any game provides a challenge, especially when it’s an animal that is usually shot on the run. Look on the sunny side of cover for rabbits warming themselves before the sun goes down. To start, find a fresh track, and follow it slowly and quietly. Constantly scan in front of you to spy an ear, tail, or tuft of hair. Once the target is acquired, position yourself for a clean, effective shot. A fun gun to carry while still hunting rabbits is a .22 because it’s light, and a scope aids in determining if the potential target is a log or a rabbit. Several people are finding joy in stalking bunnies with a muzzle loader. The experience hearkens back to a simpler age when hunting for food was a matter of survival. A true challenge is pursuing the long eared carrot crunchers with a bow. Arrows tipped with judo points or field tips will put prey down for the count. Another valuable piece of equipment to add an aura of nostalgia is a pair of snow shoes. They are a useful tool in deep snow, plus they can also muffle your approach.
A little preparation and a beautiful day can allow anyone to enjoy the Michigan rabbit trifecta. It’s even more fun when the experience is spent with family and friends. As you eat the fruits of your labor for the day, remember how much fun it was to pursue rabbits in three different ways.