Hunting Report: Rabbit Hunting

Get energized with a bunny battery of FIREARMS!

By Steve Comus/Cal. Guns & Hunting EditorPublished: Jun 21, 2012

Rabbit hunting for me always has been something special. That’s because it was serious stuff when I was a youngster – literally meant food on the table.

I hunted rabbits first with a bow and arrow and then a pellet gun before “graduating” to a Stevens Favorite single-shot .22 and various kinds of handguns and shotguns.

In the wintertime when the meat was best, I’d carry a handgun in a pocket or holster as well as a shotgun. If they ran, I’d use the shotgun. If I spotted them “sitting” tightly, I’d use the handgun for headshots. When seasons overlapped, there were times when I would shoot a rabbit or two adjunctively to a squirrel hunt.

What rabbits I shot during the day were fare for the table that night. With fried potatoes, they made for pretty good eating.

In today’s society, rabbit hunting tends to be more recreational, and that’s fine. It also is a superb entry-level animal for new and/or young shooters.

The nice thing about rabbit hunting is that virtually any firearm and many of the airguns can work fine. So can bows and arrows. Back when I was first rabbit hunting in 1949, the arrows were made from wood, so for the bunnies I made my own blunt points – empty .38 Special cases fit perfectly. The advantage of blunt points for rabbits is that it is easier to retrieve the arrow, and the blunt point didn’t mess up the meat. I also used the blunt points for birds, but that’s another story.

The proper firearm for rabbiting sort of depends on the type of hunt. For example, if it is a serious rabbit hunt, then precision bullet placement for clean headshots makes sense. If it is an adjunct to spending time afield or some other hunt, then whatever the primary arm for the day is, that also makes sense for rabbits.

If I am on a serious rabbit hunt with a rifle, I like to use a scope and do headshots. But I have to admit that the fun factor kicks into high gear when rabbits are taken with open barrel sights or aperture sights.

Often I find myself walking around the desert with a deer rifle and shooting running rabbits (both cottontails and jacks) as practice. I have found that if one is proficient at hitting moving targets from the standing offhand position, then any shot presented on a big game hunt is doable — nice confidence factor.

In many parts of the country, rabbits are hunted with shotguns (and, hunted adjunctively to doves and quail in other parts of the country). Although any shotgun CAN work, clean kills with the .410 and 28-gauge usually require pretty close distances.

It is not uncommon to find youngsters on bunny hunts using single-shot .410s because the guns are relatively light and they don’t kick much. And most of those .410s are choked full because there is not a lot of shot to make a dense pattern. To a degree, this is a huge handicap. But youngsters tend to be well coordinated with fast reflexes, so success does happen.    

Although any gun can be good for rabbits, some are more fun than others. Also, the rabbit can be a great practice animal for other kinds of hunting, specifically hog hunting.

Frankly, I cannot imagine a more enjoyable rabbit rifle than a rimfire or centerfire AR. What a hoot! They are accurate enough to deliver deliberate headshots, yet responsive enough to use effectively on running rabbits.

Or, with a really accurate rimfire or centerfire rifle (single-shot, bolt-action, pump, lever-action), the rabbit can be hunted much like a deer. Go out into the wilds with binoculars and spotting scope, setup and scan the surrounding area, looking into the shadows at the bases of bushes, etc. until a bunny is located. Look for a twitch of the ear, a scratch of the hind foot. Figure out the distance and make the shot.

As much as such tactics are good practice for deer hunting, the rabbit is perhaps the world’s best training target for hog hunting. Face it: they are both low to the ground and go in and out of brush at a blink.

Sometimes, however, it is fun just to bust through the brush and kick rabbits out. Those are the times when a shotgun can be exciting.

Pumps and autos are totally valid for this kind of rabbiting. Nothing wrong with single-shots or doubles, but pumps and autos rule this game. Easiest choice is 20- or 12-gauge. Modified or full chokes are preferred.

Since there is usually a fair amount of walking involved in walk-up rabbit hunting, a fairly light and responsive gun can add to the fun factor.

Regardless the type of gun, the idea is to have fun afield. Also, follow all rules. For example, if a plug is required in the magazine, make sure it is there before heading afield. And most of all, be safe.

YOUTH RABBIT RIFLES can be fun for new shooters. Here is the Savage Rascal bolt-action single-shot and the Thompson/Center Hot Shot. Both are .22 rimfires and both are scaled to fit small shooters.

THE RUGER 10/22 Takedown rifle is a great rabbit gun. This new variant of the proven 10/22 lineup is worth serious consideration for everything from survival to fun in the outdoors. WON will take a closer look at this new model in the near future.

VINTAGE RABBIT GUNS include three that the author used a half-century ago for bunny hunting. They are, from top, a Crescent 12-gauge single shot shotgun, Stevens Favorite .22 single-shot falling block rifle, and Iver Johnson .22 rimfire revolver. Just about any kind of firearm can work for rabbits – old ones or new.

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