The Accommodating Cottontail
Cottontail bunnies are boring. No antlers. No horns. Not even beards and spurs. Who needs them?
Are you kidding me?
Any hunter who shrugs off cottontails misses out on a classic American hunting tradition and some of the most delectable dinners ever devoured. Cottontails helped train millions of hunters. Young and old, male and female, famous and ordinary. I suspect North America’s humble little rabbit trained even Dan Boone, Jim Bridger and John Colter in woodsmanship. Kids from coast to coast have honed their shooting skills on bunnies. Cowboys, mountain men and pioneers have eagerly collected cottontails to stave off hunger. For generations country folk have maintained their connection to the wilds by continuing to stalk, jump, chase and hunt rabbits. Pursuing rabbits is simple, inexpensive, pure hunting fun.
“Hunt” is an active verb here. You don’t sit in blinds playing computer games or reading books while waiting for a rabbit to hop by. You don’t watch decoys and travel routes. You stand up and get after ‘em. You walk and hike and stomp the fields and hills. You peek around that corner of the fence line, poke into that old hollow log, rattle that brushpile and shuffle through that weedy old road ditch. Loose the dogs! Kick the brush piles, bounce the fence wires and rattle the rock piles. This is a physical undertaking, an exhilarating, heart-pounding freedom. Don’t worry about scent control and camouflage. Don’t bother with trail cameras and game calls. Forget stealth and just hunt.
You don’t even have to worry about missing opening weekend. Cottontail season stretches for months in virtually every state. Bag limits are generous, too. Four a day. Eight a day. In some western states there aren’t any limits! This is not a “shoot once and go home” affair. Hunt long, hard and often. You don’t have to win a lottery to hunt a cottontail. You don’t need to take out a loan to pay for the tag. A small game license is usually enough. And if you shoot one, you don’t have to hang up your gun for another year. You don’t have to worry whether you’re targeting a buck or doe or whether it has enough antler points before shooting. You won’t have to pay extra if the antlers are too big or too small, and you can probably get permission to hunt farms and ranches closed to big game hunting.
So get out there. Fill your freezer with mild, tender, delectable rabbit, a staple in hunter/gatherer societies around the world. Rabbit is served in the finest restaurants in Europe for good reason. Amazingly, cottontails don’t just feed our bodies. Hunting them feeds our spirits with the simple joys of our birthright – the right to roam the Earth in our natural roles as hunter/gatherers searching for sustenance.
Don’t shortchange yourself by thinking bunnies are beneath you. Hunt them to renew your memories of a simpler time. Hunt them to refresh your shooting skills. Hunt them to give yourself and your dogs some exercise. Hunt them to stay close to nature, to see snow falling on cedars, to smell rotting leaves and damp soil, to hear owls hooting in the gloom as you hike back to the truck, game bag heavy with the day’s reward.
And by all means hunt cottontails with kids. The basic bunny has the power to lure young hunters away from their electronic toys, tempting them to venture into the wilds where they’ll discover a real world, a world of mystery, beauty and drama; a place where they must learn to control more than a joy stick. A place where they must learn to control themselves.
Cottontails were and still are our entre’ into the challenging, natural world of the hunter/gatherer. Grab the .410 single-shot. Load up the .22 rimfire. Whistle up the hounds and gather the kids. It’s time for a bunny hunt.