Time to turn sights to rabbit

OUTDOORS

December 05, 1993|By LONNY WEAVER

I managed to wrap up my portion of the deer season last Saturday afternoon when one of Carroll County's yearling bucks stepped out from behind a bush about a 10-minute stroll from my patio. One buck a year is usually enough for me, so now it is time to move on to other activities.

Like rabbit hunting.

Surveys indicate that some 40,000 Maryland hunters go gunning for rabbits each year, and Anne Arundel County is one of the top spots. The average wild rabbit around here weighs about 2 pounds and is lucky to live a full year due to weather and predators.

All we have to do is look outside our window to see that historic prime rabbit habitats (large areas of brush and fallow fields) have been replaced by clean farming methods and housing developments, malls and highways.

For these reasons, you probably will want to line up a couple of hunting spots to hit during the day to collect the allotted four-a-day bag limit.

I've never really had a problem getting permission to rabbit hunt, and usually the farmer will even point me in the right direction to a prime brier patch. By the way, every Department of Natural Resources biologist I've asked this fall confirms what my eyes have been telling me most of the year: this is a great year for cottontails.

Now, if you haven't tried rabbit hunting yet, I can assure you of JTC two things. First, you are going to be hooked on rabbits the moment one jumps out of a brush pile. Second, you are going to need some leg protection from briers and heavy brush.

I gave up on heavy, cumbersome canvas-faced, leather-faced and synthetic-faced traditional hunting pants long, long ago. Latch onto a pair of nylon leggings carried in most sporting equipment catalogs and stores instead.

You will be walking and generating a lot of body heat, so dress accordingly. Except for the coldest conditions, my choice is a wool or similar shirt over a cotton turtleneck, roomy trousers, long johns and, in the wetter areas of the county,| rubber-bottom/leather-top boots that are broken-in well.

And don't forget a blaze orange hat and hunting vest. I know this may sound kind of elementary, but I have found that most waterfowl and deer hunters -- folks who sit rather than walk -- don't have a clue how to dress for comfort in the upland game fields.

Just about any shotgun and load will serve for rabbits, but my personal nod goes to a 26-inch-barreled 12- or 20-gauge pump or auto-loader choked improved cylinder and throwing at least an ounce of No. 6 shot. This is a good choice whether using dogs or your own shoe leather.

In short, hunt slow, stop often, backtrack and cover every inch of likely cover. If you are fortunate enough to hunt behind good rabbit dogs, help them by rattling through cover they might have missed, but don't press them.

Immediately field-dress any rabbit bagged (it's a simple task) and skin it (also simple and easy) as soon as possible for best flavor.

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