Best Time of Day to Hunt Rabbits and Squirrels

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Directions

  • Place vegetables in the bottom of a cast-iron Dutch oven. Top with rabbit meat.
  • Sprinkle Allegro over top of rabbit and vegetables, and then pour 2 cups broth over top. Add thyme sprigs.
  • Cover pot with lid, and then bring dish to a slight boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer.
  • Simmer for 2 to 3 hours, or until rabbit meat falls from the bone, checking periodically to see if remaining 1 cup of broth is necessary. If dish appears dry, add broth.
  • Remove rabbit pieces from the pot. Gently pull meat from bone, and then return it to the pot. Stir until meat is well-incorporated, and then cook another few minutes before serving.

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Get winter small game hunting tips, like the best time of day to hunt rabbits and squirrels, and how to cook wild rabbit and other foraged finds.

Small-Game Hunting

The bitterly cold evening in early February was unproductive. I spent 90 minutes still-hunting across our 38 mostly wooded acres in southwest Virginia, and then stand-hunting next to a massive sycamore pocked with squirrel dens. But every time a bushy-tail emerged from its lair, it quickly scampered out of shooting range.

With only 30 minutes of light left, I had to make a decision. I could continue to monitor the sycamore’s cavities for squirrels or head for the wildlife opening and hope to jump a cottontail. Squirrels or rabbits, which would it be? I chose the latter, and I quickly moved across the frozen landscape until I neared the opening. Edging around the perimeter as darkness began to set in, I spooked a rabbit, quickly mounted the 20-gauge, and downed my quarry.

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The next night, my wife, Elaine, and I dined on a bunny and bushy-tail casserole, accompanied by wood ear and amber jelly roll mushrooms I’d recently gathered. The winter landscape may look barren, but it’s alive with possibilities for folks who cherish the hunting and gathering lifestyle.

Best Time of Day to Hunt Rabbits and Squirrels

One of the little joys of winter is venturing out my back door, easing into the adjoining woods, and slowly still-hunting along the seeded logging road that encompasses our property. Even if you’re not a rural landowner, you can likely experience the same joy come wintertime. Most folks have federal land or state-managed wildlife areas within driving distance of their home, and those public lands receive light hunting pressure during the late season. Alternatively, ask a friend or neighbor if you can use their property.

My typical plan is to spend 90 minutes afield during the warmest period of the day, which is when gray and fox squirrels are most active. Depending on frontal conditions, that could be the middle of the day or the late afternoon. But if I want to try to bag both bushy-tails and bunnies, there’s no question that evening is best time of day to hunt rabbits. This is because, regardless of the temperature, the evening is when cottontails become most active.

For small game, I like the lightness and maneuverability of a 20-gauge fueled with #6 shot. If I’ve decided to exclusively chase squirrels, I opt for a full choke. If rabbits are the target, an improved cylinder choke is the better bet for a bounding bunny, as the more open choke will allow the shot string to expand quicker. If you’re going after both small-game animals, a modified choke is a solid compromise.

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When targeting squirrels, food is the major factor to consider. If the white and red oak and acorn crops have been heavy, squirrels will be concentrated in the hardwood groves. By the time winter arrives most years, however, creatures from bears to blue jays will have long since consumed all the hard mast.

With the hard mast gone, part of the challenge — and pleasure — of pursuing squirrels is figuring out what they’ll be eating. These members of the rodent family favor pine glades, where they seek the cones, or congregate near hickories and walnuts, searching for the odd nut. Occasionally, they haunt persimmon trees and grape arbors, looking for any fruit still attached or fallen on the forest floor. Keep an open mind and cover lots of ground; that’ll be your best approach if the squirrels in your area don’t seem to have a predominant food source.

If you’ve determined what their food source is and that area has some established den trees (like the aforementioned ancient sycamore), then it’s best to take a stand. Sooner or later, in that last hour or two of daylight, you may well have the chance to bag a brace of bushy-tails, if not more.

While food is the main consideration for finding squirrels, habitat is how you track down rabbits. They can usually be found in heavy cover near grassy openings. An overgrown field bordering brush piles, briar patches, or a second-growth forest is where bunnies are likely to venture near day’s end. Still-hunt through these areas for the best chance at finding a few.

See also  Private v. Public Roads

More to Hunt and Gather Across the Winter Landscape

  • Foraged Mushroom, Wild Rabbit, and Squirrel Recipes
  • Hickory Tree Nuts, Wild Persimmons, and Pine Needle Tea

Bruce and Elaine Ingram live in Troutville, Virginia. They’re the authors of Living the Locavore Lifestyle. For more information on this book and others they’ve written, email them at BruceIngramOutdoors@Gmail.com.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>