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For The Inexperienced Rabbit Hunter

by Lamar Denby :: Featured: May, 2002

In addition to my Pastoral ministry and writing for three magazines, I operate a part time guide service. Our featured outdoors adventure is hunting swamp rabbits with beagles. Most of my clients are inexperienced, so I take a few minutes before the hunt to go over a few safety rules and offer some hunting tips. It is with the inexperienced rabbit hunter in mind that I write this article.

Choose your hunting place wisely. Swamp Rabbits can be found in creek and river bottoms in most southern states. Tender vegetation, plenty of underbrush for cover, and fresh water make good habitat. Scout the area you intend to hunt. Look for droppings on stumps and logs, and for trails and dens. If rabbits are there signs will be evident. If it is private land get permission (in writing if possible) from the owner first or you will be trespassing. If it is public land check with your local wildlife officials for any hunting restrictions that may apply. It's better to be safe than sorry. In Texas we have several types of public hunting land and restrictions often vary from county to county.

Gun and hunting safety is of vital importance. Most hunting accidents could easily have been avoided by following a few simple rules:

(1) Keep your gun on safety until it's time to kill that rabbit.
(2) Never assume your gun is empty; always check the chamber.
(3) In the excitement of the kill, do not forget to put your gun back on safety.
(4) Keep your gun barrel pointed toward the ground at all times.
(5) Never shoot in the direction of other hunters.
(6) Wear snake chaps as they will give you some protection from snake bites and briars.
(7) A long-sleeved shirt will protect your arms from briars.
(8) A good pair of rubber boots will keep your feet dry.
(9) Pack a canteen of drinking water, a snack, a flashlight, some matches, and a compass just in case you get lost.
(10) Take a cell phone if you have one or a couple of RS radios if another hunter is with you.

The best time of the day to hunt rabbits is early morning and late afternoon. It is their normal feeding times and scent conditions are better for the hounds. Once you release your beagles give them plenty of time to trail and jump a rabbit. Do not crowd the hounds while they are in pursuit. Rabbits run in a circle so be as still as you possibly can and be patient; he will be back. A swamp rabbit will often run a straight line for some distance before he circles. If this happens move slowly toward the hounds flanking them to the right or left. This will better position you for the kill. Never move directly toward the hounds because you will more than likely be in the path of the rabbit and interfere with the hounds, causing a loose. Watch in the direction of the hounds for the rabbit. Swamp rabbits can run really fast, if necessary, depending upon the speed of the hounds. Medium to fast speed beagles are best on swamp rabbits. Slower speed hounds will give old swamper more time to reach into his back of tricks. And believe me a swamp rabbit can throw the best pack of beagles off his track if given half a chance. If the rabbit is coming by you at swamp-factor speed, chances are he will stop for a moment if you whistle, but it's not a standing rule.

A shotgun is a good choice of firearms in bagging rabbits. It is less dangerous and more dependable than a .22 rifle. I prefer a 20 gauge side by side and number six shot. An extra shell is already chambered if needed and the rabbit meat is not damaged to where it's not fit to eat. If you miss your kill on the first circle you may want to move to another spot but don't panic, you will most likely get another shot next time the rabbit circles.

After a kill it's best to field dress your rabbit before putting him into your hunting bag. Take your knife and cut from the throat down the stomach to the back legs and remove the vital organs and intestines. On a warm day he will sour in a short period of time but removing these will help prevent it from happening so quickly. If you plan to hunt long, have a cooler near by with plenty of ice. It will keep your rabbit from spoiling. Never harvest more rabbits than the law allows and keep what you kill. Rabbit hunting is a lot of fun but need not be wasteful.

If your hunt was on private land be sure and thank the owner for allowing you to hunt there. You can do this personally or send him a nice thank you card. He will appreciate your gratitude and you may want to hunt on his property again.

I hope this article has been helpful to you. Enjoy your time in the great outdoors. God bless you, and good hunting.

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