CA Guns & Hunting: Rabbit Season

CA Guns & Hunting: Getting ready for rabbit season!

BY BILL KARR/Cal. Guns & Hunting EditorPublished: Jun 12, 2018

Rabbit season in California falls under the category of “Resident Small Game” in the DFW regulation booklet, along with tree squirrels and jackrabbits. Tree squirrel season doesn’t open until September, but jackrabbits, of course, may be hunted year ‘round with no limit. Cottontails, brush rabbits, varying hare (snowshoe rabbits) and Pigmy rabbits are controlled by season and bag limits.

cgh_karr_cottontailsCOTTONTAILS LOVE BLACKBERRY patches, and this one died where it laid alongside a blackberry bush on the side of a dirt road. WON PHOTO BY BILL KARR

Rabbit season is the first mammal season to open in the state, and it’s always on July 1 every year statewide, except for a small area in San Joaquin County between Stockton and Tracy. Check the regulations for exact boundaries of the closed zone.

The limit for cottontails and the other listed species is 5 per day and 10 in possession after the first day of the season, and both rifles and shotguns, as well as pellet guns, may be used for hunting them, with non-toxic shot or projectile.

Here’s some tips for rabbit hunting from Keith Sutton for Bass Pro Shops:

1. Leapfrogging — As farming operations and urban development encroach on prime rabbit hunting areas, large contiguous blocks of hunting territory are harder to find. This has caused many rabbit hunters to abandon the traditional method of hunting all day in one large swath of brushy territory. Instead, many now opt for "leapfrogging," where hunters cover one brush patch or overgrown fencerow in an hour or so, then drive on to another rabbit hideout.

2. Farmers know cottontail concentrations — Savvy rabbit hunters know that farmers are an invaluable aid for finding cottontail concentrations. Since they work their land daily and see rabbits regularly, farmers know where huntable populations are likely to be. Most are eager to keep cottontails thinned out so they don't cause crop damage.

3. Sunrise & sunset scouting — Driving rural roads near dawn and dusk is another good way to find potential hunting sites. Cottontails are most active early and late in the day, especially along the fringes of fields and roadside cover, where briars and thickets provide sanctuary near favorite feeding areas.

Drive slowly, and note any spot where you see several cottontails. Then inquire at nearby homes for the name of the landowner so you can request permission to hunt.

4. Wear protective clothing — Most good cottontail thickets have one thing in common -- thorns. Whether you're hunting behind dogs , kicking up rabbits yourself or retrieving downed game, some type of sticker will be clawing at your ears, fingers, thighs and other tender parts. Wearing protective clothing can do wonders to make your trips afield more enjoyable and less painful.

Blue jeans are preferred by many rabbit fans, but offer little protection. A good pair of briar-busting breeches with thorn-proof material covering the front should be considered essential equipment no matter where and how you hunt. It also helps to wear a briar-resistant hunting coat, gloves and some type of hunting cap with flaps that can be pulled down over your ears.

5. Remember the orange rhino — A buddy of mine often describes dense rabbit cover by saying, "You couldn't see a blaze orange rhino in there." In some locales we hunt, this is darn near true. Cover is so thick, you can only see a few feet. For this reason, we wear hunter orange hats and bodywear on every trip.

Safety should be the foremost consideration on all your rabbit hunts. Remember the orange rhino, and make hunter orange clothing a must for everyone in your party.

6. Barrels & bullets — When stomping for cottontails in thick cover, use a shotgun with an improved cylinder choke and No. 6 or 7½ shotshells. Since cottontails jumped in thick cover usually are close and moving fast, a wide, yet sufficiently heavy, shot pattern is needed to put a rabbit down without excessive damage to the meat.

7. Cold weather means hot rabbit hunting — Cold, miserable days often provide the best gunning. Rabbit fur has poor insulating qualities, so rabbits are forced to take shelter from the weather, making them easier to find and less likely to flush wildly.

To find bad-weather bunnies, think like a rabbit. Where would you go to escape the cold if all you had to wear was a light jacket? Hunt places that are sheltered from wind and open to warm rays of sunshine, then move to other locales offering protection from adverse conditions.

8. Spot & stalk — Stalking rabbits as they sit in their forms is great sport, especially when hunting with youngsters not yet adept at bagging running rabbits. The trick is to spot the rabbit before it spots you. Considering the rabbit's superb camouflage, this can be tough. Old hands at this endeavor have a rule: look for their eyes instead of their whole bodies. A rabbit's round, dark eyes look out of place against the crisscross of cover, and are easily spotted by a hunter who walks slowly, carefully examining all brush and weeds.

9. Watch over your shoulder — In isolated patches of cover, a cottontail may head directly away, disappearing from sight, then circle well behind the hunter. Others sit tight until the gunner passes, then squirt out behind. Look over your shoulder every few minutes, and you'll glimpse some of these renegades before they make good their escape. Snap shooting is a must, so be careful to identify your target before shooting.

10. Stop-and-go hunting — A veteran nimrod taught me a rabbit hunting technique that has proven very effective over the years. It's based on the idea that rabbits are highly nervous animals, and suspense is something they can't handle very well. It works this way. Enter a covert and begin walking very slowly. Walk ten paces, then stop for at least a minute, then repeat the process. The sound of the approach is sometimes enough to make cottontails flush, but it's just as often the silent period. Apparently, the rabbits think they've been detected and decide to make a run for it.

11. Woodland rabbits — Most hunters think of thickets and field edges as the places to go for a rabbit race. Some fail to realize woods harbor rabbits, too. Look for cottontails in brushpiles, honeysuckle patches, fallen treetops, cane brakes and other forest cover. Because such areas usually receive less hunting pressure, they often hide extraordinary numbers of rabbits.

12. Take a kid hunting — To get the most out of your next rabbit hunt, take a kid with you -- a son, a daughter, a niece, a nephew, a grandchild or maybe a neighbor's child. It was in the cottontail fields most of us were trained as young hunters. We may have dreamed of deer or more exotic game like grizzlies and lions, but with cottontails, we learned the crucial basics about hunting, nature and ourselves.

Share these things with children. Share the fun and excitement, the triumphs and disappointments, the barrage of wonderful sensations experienced on a rabbit hunt. Our heritage of hunting is a priceless treasure. Do your part to pass it on.

cgh_karr_overgrownOVERGROWN ROADS WITH cover lining the sides is excellent country for hunting cottontails. Walk slowly and stop often, as that will many times flush a hiding rabbit. Almost always, if you find blackberry bushes you will find cottontails near them. WON PHOTO BY BILL KARR

cgh_karr_chuckharrisonCHUCK HARRISON OF Western Wildlife Services with 8 cottontails out of the possible 10 rabbit limit (5 apiece) for the author and himself during a morning hunt in the Sacramento Valley. WON PHOTO BY BILL KARR

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