Dancing the Dodge and Dash
Dr. John Woods 11.17.14
Cottontail bunnies give a whole new meaning to the term zig-zag. I know because I grew up cutting my hunting teeth chasing down cottontail rabbits over the fence in the backyard with a Crossman .22 CO2 pellet rifle. Talk about learning to rabbit hunt the hard way.
When I finally got my first shotgun, though it was a hand-me-down Stevens bolt action shotgun in .410 (caliber) gauge, I thought I had done died and gone to heaven. The term “action” applied to this gun was a bit of a sarcastic joke on me. I will say nothing more on this subject except this note to parents. “Please never buy a .410 shotgun for your young child wanting to learn to hunt.”
In my childhood days back in the 60’s, it was in vogue to learn to be a hunter by starting out with small game pursuits. Before I was ten years old I was hunting rabbits, squirrels, and quail in the fields behind the house in Southeast Missouri. My dad taught me to handle guns safely and encouraged me to hunt from an early age. Parents trusted kids back then to go hunting and not get into trouble. I turned out just fine.
I am afraid that approach to training to become a hunter today is grossly overshadowed by kids barely able to pick up a gun (much less hold it still) who are already shooting record class whitetail bucks. Sorry, but I am always skeptical every time I hear a story of a five year old taking a huge buck with daddy. I wonder if these kids ever actually learn to hunt.
Rabbit hunting is still some of the most basic hunting fun one can have. Everything about it is terrific from getting out in the fresh air, taking a nice slow, long walk, enjoying the outdoors splendor, and pursuing hopeful opportunities for some fast action shooting. Rabbit hunting is a great way to teach a kid or spouse to hunt.
“Even after a morning of deer hunting or lounging around the camp at lunch, I like to gather up my Ruger 10-22 scoped rimfire rifle or borrow my hunting buddy’s Remington 870 and take a stroll up and down the backwoods trails at camp looking for rabbits,” says Mark Cockrell.
“There is something really cool about kicking up a bunny out of his thicket hide and busting him out into the open for some fair chase shots. You hit some and miss a lot. I’ll take a running shot on a speedy rabbit with a shotgun, but it’s a waste of time with the .22. Sometimes if I hold still, the rabbit will run out ahead of me about 20-30 yards and stop. Then I can get a clean shot. You’d better hit them the first time though or they quickly jump back into the thick of it where you can’t even wade into the briars.”
Every time I have had the rare chance to rabbit hunt with a group of guys and a good pack of dogs. I admit this is the ultimate small game hunting thrill. Watching a good beagle work a patch of sage grass pasture or a harvested timber cutover in hot pursuit of a flashing white bunny tail is something to see. Half the hunters are really dog chasers who love to listen to the baying beagle hounds, forgetting all about the shooting. It’s all about the experience of rabbit hunting.
Having said that about rabbit hunting with dogs, it is also very pleasurable to go hunting solo or with one other good friend afield after a rabbit. It is a joy indeed. Shooting has to be precise, and swinging a smoothbore on a zigging and zagging cottontail is an acquired skill only earned from boots on the ground experience.
Most of us common everyday rabbit hunters quickly choose a good 12 gauge semi-auto or pump action shotgun with a modified choke installed. I use No.6 shot in cheapie field loads that seem to perform better than my shotgun shooting skills can.
Far more expert smoothbore shooters than I make a good 20-gauge their gun of choice. I have seen some fine side-by-side shotguns in the field along with a number of over and under guns. In Mississippi I have yet to see one of these guys dressed in English wool shooting jackets, knee high knickers, and red flashes on their socks. Bib overalls or some Carharts seem to get the job done with a good pair of Muck boots.
I have known of at least one rabbit hunter using a 28-gauge, but he has a darned hard time finding boxes of shells for it. If you are a good shot, then the 28-gauge can be a real joy to shoot as is the nearly forgotten 16-gauge. That is a gauge I have seriously pondered acquiring, but just have not found a pristine specimen at the local gun shows.
I wish more hunters would get back to rabbit hunting. Deer and duck hunting are fine sports indeed, but there is nothing more “salt of the Earth” than chasing a zig-zag rabbit.