Essential Gear, a rabbit hunting article :: Rabbit Hunting Online Magazine

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Essential Gear

by Darrin Glenn :: Featured: August, 2002

Every rabbit hunting season I try to invite someone along that has never been on a rabbit hunt, or someone that has not been on a rabbit hunt in a long time. I have always figured there is really no better way to get a new person into rabbit hunting and beagling than to get them out on a good actual rabbit hunt! You can sit and attempt to describe the pure, clean fun of bawling beagles, shotguns and rabbits to a potential hunt partner, but there is no substitute for experiencing the real deal first hand. I have read in numerous publications how the number of hunters is declining in the U.S. each and every year, and it grips me that sooner than one thinks we hunters could be so outnumbered by the liberal, ANTI-Hunting whackos that our seasons “could” be in jeopardy. I realize that the majority of the public is made up of non-hunters (those who are neither anti-hunters nor hunters), and if the figures I have read are indeed correct, the declining number of hunters and their positive influence on the non-hunting public could have drastic consequences on our hunting future! We as hunters need positive, responsible newcomers, young and old, to join our ranks every day to keep our tradition alive and well.

When I invite someone along on a rabbit hunt and they accept, one of the first topics to surface is of course safety and the principles of a successful rabbit hunt. This is and always should be “priority #1”. For everyone to return safe and sound, hunters and dogs, is top priority. Usually the next thing most newcomers want to know about is the proper gear to hunt rabbits. The proper gear for a successful rabbit hunt often is minimal, which is good for young folks. Rabbit hunting does not require an expensive, elaborate firearm or piles of varying camo and clothing. Usually the first topic of gear centers around a firearm. What style of action, chokes, shot size and gauge or caliber? Many may disagree with me, but as a general rule, my regular hunting partners and myself discourage the use of rifles for rabbit hunting with beagles. Why? I feel that using rifles could pose a threat to the hounds as well as others in the hunting party due to the nature of hunting rabbits behind beagles. Usually the rabbits stay in heavy cover when pursued by hounds and usually are on the move, often at a quick pace. This equals shots at fleeing game in cover, where a hound could be unseen in heavy cover some distance from the bunny. A rifle bullet retains much more energy at greater distances than the shot discharged from a shotgun, and with beagles in the brush and hunters spread out to cut off the fleeing rabbit, I feel the rifle is not the best choice for this type of hunting. So that leaves us with a shotgun.

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Any type of shotgun will take rabbits successfully. From low-end single shots to top-end fancy doubles, they will all do the job. It boils down to personal preference. I myself prefer either a semi-auto or a pump action, as often my shooting leaves a little to be desired and the second or third shot comes in handy! However, there have probably been more bunnies taken with a trusty ole single shot smoothbore than any other. Most all the gauges of shotguns are suitable for rabbit hunting as well, with the exception of the big-bore 10 gauges, which would be over-kill. 12 gauges are a tad on the heavy side, especially for cottontails, but can be used successfully with minimal meat damage utilizing less restrictive chokes and smaller shot sizes. I have used my trusty Remington 870 12 gauge for years to take rabbits and have found with an Improved Cylinder choke tube and light field loads of 7’s or 7 ½’s that meat damage is minimal for the larger bore shotgun. 16, 20, 28 and 410 gauges are all good rabbit getters when matched with appropriate shot shells. Over the years I have noticed that the majority of cottontail chasers prefer a 20 gauge to the other gauges, and they are probably right! The versatile 20 gauge, matched with the proper choke and shot shell, is an extremely good rabbit hunting gun and can humanely and quickly dispatch a rabbit at about all normal shooting distances with minimal meat damage. Also remember that most rabbit hunts take place in nasty, briar and thorn choked cover, so don’t expect to bring your new, prized expensive shotgun from the cabinet and return home without a scratch on the stock!

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Proper clothing is also important for a successful rabbit hunt. Wading through tangles of briars and mean thorns is not pleasant while wearing a pair of your leisure blue jeans and a t-shirt! If a newcomer has visions of a rabbit hunt taking place on the likes of a dove field, he/she will be in for a rude awakening. It is important that proper protective clothing be worn while rabbit hunting. “Briar pants” are a must for the rabbit hunter to be comfortable and to enjoy the hunt. Briar resistant clothing comes in many styles and in a wide array of prices. Many rabbit hunters prefer to wear bib overalls, chaps or pants with the protective leg covers sewn on. All seem to work well if made with quality materials and it is just a matter of personal preference. A briar-resistant jacket is also a must. Scratched and bleeding arms are just as painful as scratched and bleeding legs! I prefer a jacket with several deep pockets and an attached game bag in the rear, and I like the bag to zip off to be cleaned. I also like to wear a good pair of tough gloves, as I don’t enjoy picking briars out of my hands either. Always remember that fluorescent/blaze orange is required in most states while hunting with the use of firearms. Even if not required, wear it! Safety should be first and foremost, and blaze orange on all in the hunting party is a must. The orange material should be plentiful and visible from all sides. I personally like an orange cap and my favorite hunting jacket has an orange game bag on the rear and orange shoulder patches and orange pockets on the front. When in the thickets, there is no such thing as wearing too much blaze orange!

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I carry a variety of items with me while rabbit hunting. My hunting jacket pockets are usually stuffed with goodies, such as a whistle for calling in the dogs, a sharp pocket knife, rubber gloves, a small section of parachute cord, a bottle of water, a few snacks and a couple of band-aids for that rebel briar that usually smacks me in the face. I also usually carry a cell phone for instant contact for aid in any emergency.

Any time you have a novice or first-time rabbit hunter accompanying you to the field, be sure to stop and explain the “basics” of rabbit hunting with beagles to them. Be sure to try and place them in the prime spots to take a rabbit and to enjoy the hunt. As the hunt goes along, take the time to explain what is going on, what the hounds are doing and what to expect from “Mr. Unpredictable”, the rabbit. An enjoyable rabbit hunt with friends can mean the difference in having a future beagler join our ranks, another hunter on our side. While in the field, also take the time to show your guest that hunting is not always about the taking of game, but just about being out in God’s great creation, enjoying what He has so graciously given us to use and enjoy!

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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 >>