The grizzled old veteran rabbit hunters will tell you that cold miserable weather equates to prime rabbit hunting. If that is the case we should be good to go right now. Rabbit season opened in Georgia on November 13th and goes through February 28th so you still have about six weeks left to hit the woods and fields. The daily bag limit is twelve per hunter. If you don’t have beagles but want to learn about this intriguing small game sport, just ask around to find guys who go on a regular basis. If you are persistent you’ll find someone who will be glad to take you with them and hand out some pointers on the strategy and some advice on where and how to procure quality dogs.
Rabbit hunting in Georgia during the 1960’s was very popular. According to statistics there were nearly 125,000 hunters and they bagged around 1.27 million rabbits each season. Changes in habitat have sent numbers downward and thus the numbers of hunters have declined. By 2003 there about 42,000 hunters in Georgia with a total harvest of approximately 330,000 rabbits. Still rabbit hunting in Georgia ranks third behind doves and squirrels as the most popular small game animal.
Generally speaking the highest concentration of rabbits will be found in places that have briars (especially blackberry briars), and enough cover that has grown up to protect them from overhead predators like owls and hawks. They also like fields with knee high or higher cover especially if there is a food source found in those places. They favor areas where food crops are adjacent to briar or shrub thickets. Food plots engineered for deer will also entice them. Rabbits will locate in areas that have recently been clear cut and are coming back with new growth. Areas fitting that description and that are three or four years old is a prime area for rabbits.
If you are going for the first time what you will find is that hunting with dogs is pretty interesting because of how the rabbits instinctively attempt to elude their pursuers. Once a rabbit is “jumped” and the dogs are hot on the trail rabbits will often run in a circular pattern and eventually cross their original trail to throw the dogs off the scent and put them on a false trail. That means once the “race” is on you need to find a good spot up the line from where the rabbit was flushed. The dogs will do the rest as they work the rabbit back around toward your position.
One of the reasons rabbit hunting is best during cold weather is because their fur does not insulate them very well and they are forced to seek shelter. This makes them easier to find and less likely to flush early. The experts will tell you to hunt places that are sheltered from the wind and in a position to receive some sunshine. It is sometimes possible to actually spot rabbits that are holed up in cover before they bolt.
Eastern cottontails are the most common type of rabbit in Georgia. If you are hunting fields and woods this is the type you will most often see. They have dense brown to gray fur on its back with a white underside and a white tail. They typically measure fourteen to seventeen inches in length and weigh between two and four pounds.
If you are hunting in or around swamps you may encounter Swamp rabbits (also known as cane cutters). It is the largest rabbit found in Georgia and can weigh up to six pounds. It has coarse black to rusty brown fur with a white underside. If flushed these rabbits will not hesitate to take to the water and are good swimmers. Most cane cutters are found in the Piedmont region of Georgia.
Hunting rabbits is a unique experience and is worth a look if you’ve never done it before. A day in the woods is always good for the soul and you might just get serenaded by some “hound music”.
Articles and columns by Alvin Richardson about hunting, fishing and other outdoor sports appear each Wednesday in the Statesboro Herald. Richardson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Helpful hints for beginning rabbit hunters
1) Because you will likely be walking through plenty of briars make sure you wear clothing that will protect you. Invest in some briar buster breeches.
2) Wear plenty of orange. Make sure you have an orange vest and hat because you’ll often be hunting in heavy cover and it’s hard to see others in your group.
3) Use a shotgun with an improved cylinder choke and number six or seven-and-a-half shot. This gives you a wide but sufficient enough shot pattern to put a rabbit down in heavy cover without extensive damage to the meat.