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Bow Hunting Rabbits. It’s tougher than you think.

Desert scrub is a great place to find rabbits.

Hello and Welcome

Today, we’re going to discuss the techniques that will help you put more rabbits in your game bag. We’ll also go over proper handling procedures to turn them into great table fare. Rabbit hunting is a long-standing tradition among meat hunters wherever rabbits thrive.

They are tough little survivors and can be found almost everywhere. They are super tasty and hunting them is a challenge worthy of the best of archers. Once you get skunked by the crafty little critters your respect for them will grow and so will your enjoyment of bow hunting rabbits.

I started hunting with a single shot .22 and an old single barrel 16 gauge Stevens shotgun. I soon graduated to a Ruger 10-22 but I carried that old shotgun around hunting rabbits, quail and dove until I was well out of high school.

Somewhere in between I started messing around with bows and arrows and I’m still messing around with them 45 years later. I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.  Hunting rabbits is still exhilarating because it is tougher than you think to stalk in to close range.

Rabbits are very small targets

Rabbits; jacks or cotton tails, have very small vital areas and making your shot on one of these smaller animals can require as much skill as getting a deer. Fortunately they are very plentiful and you get a ton of opportunities to improve your hunting skills as you hunt them.

It is exciting just to be in the field on any nice day even if the rabbits are tough to fool. They are constantly scanning for predators and use those big ears and eyes to spot you as well as sniffing your scent if you get the wind wrong.

You’ll soon learn that getting in range of a wary rabbit is almost as tough as getting in range of a big ol’ deer. You have to get closer and hit the tiny vital area or pull off an exacting head shot. Your sneak skills will be finely honed if you want to learn to defeat the natural wariness of the mature rabbit.

Smart and tough to stalk.

You can spot and stalk, still hunt, stand hunt and hunt rabbits from a ground blind. If they are plentiful then you can even shoot them from a tree stand.  I love the challenge of sneaking up on them.

If you know how to call in predators, sometimes you can call in a curious jack rabbit with a distressed rabbit call. It works on some jackrabbits, but you should be prepared for a hungry coyote or bobcat to appear if you try this method.

Since rabbits are plentiful, you can hunt them all year round without worry of thinning them too much. If you blow your stalk or miss the rabbit, don’t worry. You’ll find another bunny soon enough.

Stalking skill required

I hunt in the scrubby desert of southern Arizona most of the time. I love getting out in the creosote scented fresh air and cruising the brushy draws and dry washes just trying to see a rabbit. If they see you first they usually just run to their nearest hiding place and hold tight until you get too close again.

The little cotton tails will hold up under a bush, hunkered down for a few minutes as you walk by without seeing them. It’s best to go the last place you saw them and start walking in a slow concentric circle as you scour the brush and ground all around you for any sight of the rabbit.

You will want to take a minute to really look over the area for the small grey brown form of a rabbit.  They blend in incredibly well in almost any terrain.  I like to check the shadows under trees and scrub and weedy patches that serve as wind stops and hiding places for rabbits.

Start by glassing the terrain close to you out to as far as you can see.  Slowly scan back and forth, paying particular attention to any little shadow or cover that is big enough to help camouflage your prey.  Gradually look farther and farther away.

Binoculars make it easier to spot hiding rabbits.

 

When you spot a rabbit, mark it’s position in your mind and put the sneak on him.  Be careful not to step on crunchy sticks, leaves and gravel if you can avoid it. If you hunt with the wind in your face or at least in a cross breeze, it helps cover your sounds and scent.

Watch the rabbit.  If it sits up a little taller and looks around then you should hold still until it relaxes again.  when it isn’t looking at you, move a little closer.   Remember to watch the ears as well, they can swivel their ears toward any suspicious sound.  If that rabbit hears you and thinks you are too close, it will bolt.

If you are stealthy enough, quiet and methodical in your search, you can spot him before you spook him. Keep sneaking until you are close enough to make the shot and let fly an arrow.  Know how to judge distances well and you will be better able to hit the small target zone.

If you jump one of our famously big Antelope Jack Rabbits, yep, that’s what it’s called, Keep watch on its progress. They don’t really sport horns but they get pretty big and they love to run. They will bound away for several hundred yards before they eventually disappear into cover. If you watch them closely, you can see them turn their head during a particularly high bound and look back at you.

A jackrabbit ambling along.

They will eventually decide they are a safe distance away and stop bounding. Then they will amble into deep cover under a mesquite pile or thick scrub and weeds. Don’t go running after them. You’ll just get tired out. They are used to running long distances from predators.

Your best bet is to keep a careful eye on the place you last saw them, carefully approach and start a still hunt as you get closer. Look for ear movement, a head turning to get a better look at you and sometimes they’ll squirm a little to get comfortable.

Just like when you’re stalking a cautious buck, you should only move when they turn their eyes away from you. Prey animals are especially good at detecting any movement so proceed with caution.

You’ll have your best luck seeing most rabbits moving about in the cool of the mornings and afternoons. If you don’t mind hunting under a warm Arizona sun, you can hunt through the day and hope to catch them resting in the shade. It’s hot, thirsty fun and you should be sure to carry extra water with you if you try it.

Why I will always love hunting rabbits.

When I was eleven, my parents moved from the middle of town, out to a pretty rural area with no neighbors on three sides of our property. I had miles and miles of open range land to roam all day during the summer months and I saved the nearby hunting spots for short after school hunts.

I always saw rabbits, quail, doves and occasional javelina or deer. There were coyotes, porcupines, badgers and foxes. It was a bunny hunter’s dream set up. Aside from the occasional rattle snake, tarantula and Gila monster there was nothing out there to bother me and they were fascinating to watch when I encountered them.

Now ants are another story, always watch where you stand because ants get agitated if you step on their home and they get even with you for crushing their houses.

I learned all kinds of things about cotton tails and jackrabbits.  Cotton tails hang out in small groups and are very social critters. If you see one there are usually a lot more nearby.

Jack rabbits hang out in ones or twos most of the time. On really good years with lots of grass and water they might be more prevalent. During breeding season all rabbits hang out in bigger bunches. If you watch them long enough, you will see the leaping courting rituals of the cotton tails. They take turns running at each other and leaping over the other. It’s pretty entertaining.

I learned early on that is you see a jack rabbit run past you, hell-bent for leather and breathing hard, he is being chased by a coyote. Just wait a few minutes and you’ll see the coyote come loping by. That coyote will be alert with his head up trying to spot the rabbit.

If he sees you he’ll take off like a rocket but he’ll stay after the rabbit. If you marked the rabbits path in your mind, you’ll also notice that the coyote stays pretty on track by using his eyes and his nose.

It happens more often than you think. I think it is one of the advantage of quiet, still hunting with a bow. Animals aren’t frightened away by a bow as much as they are from gunshots and you get to see more of their natural behavior.

Know your prey.

If you know a little about the behavior patterns of rabbits it will help you get closer for a good shot. Both cotton tails and jacks will hold tight if you are moving fast. They’re just waiting for you to pass them by without seeing them.

If you hunt slow with a purpose, taking your time to look for tracks and other sign then they get nervous and might start fidgeting as they try to decide to bolt or hunker down even more.

If you spot one, freeze. Look away as you prepare to shoot. Once you are ready, draw and shoot before the rabbit spooks. It is hard to get everything to fall into place. You’ll probably miss a lot of shots and blow a lot of stalks.

But when you get everything right and make your shot, your confidence in your hunting skills will be boosted to the moon. That is until you muff the next stalk and lose your arrow, to boot. Don’t get too discouraged, because another opportunity to get it right, is right around the corner.

Blunts for smaller game.

Have a good time but be serious about your hunt. It is just as bad to make a rabbit suffer from a bad shot as it is a deer. Your goal as an ethical hunter is to cleanly and humanly kill your prey.

Most people will agree that a blunt tip is best for taking rabbits. Blunts are just what they sound like. A blunt arrow tip designed to impart energy into small game, using the arrows energy to kill the animal with impact trauma instead of blood loss trauma like a razor sharp broad head.

A broad head will often pass through small animals with little traumatic impact damage and with a marginal hit the rabbit can run off and be lost.

Hard rubber blunts, flat faced steel blunts, judo points and other tips designed to impart maximum shock into the smaller animals are all called blunts. A broad head uses razor sharp blades to cut major arteries and organs which leads to a large animal, such as a deer, bleeding out quickly.

For smaller game, like rabbits, squirrels, wood chucks, and smaller birds the blunt quickly kills the animal with a tremendous shock or trauma. Instead of slicing through the rabbit the blunt imparts all of the arrows energy directly into them. It works instantly and it is a quick end for the animal.

Tougher animals like Jack Rabbits and Pheasants might be better hunted with a broad head instead of a blunt so it pays to have a selection of both broad heads and blunts in your quiver as you take to the field.

Opinions vary as to which is most effective, broad heads or blunt tips, and It may take you a few excursions to see which work best for you. That being said, the real factor of a good kill shot is accuracy.

If you can’t hit a golf ball sized target at the range you are shooting at small game, then you will wound a lot of animals and they will get away only to slowly die later.

Wounded animals suffer slow deaths and you don’t want to be responsible for any animal’s undue suffering. In order to get consistent, quick, clean, one shot kills then you must practice. Get some small targets and practice hard.

I use those sticky orange target spots for rifle and pistol shooters and stick them on my archery target.

I use a 1 1/2 inch spot and start shooting at it at fifteen yards. When I can hit it every time, three shots in a row, I move back to twenty yards. I keep moving back five yards at a time until I can no longer hit the bulls eye consistently.

At that last distance, where I could always hit my target, that is my maximum effective bow range for rabbits. It doesn’t matter if my best distance with accuracy is only 25 yards or even just twenty. For small game such as rabbits, that is the maximum effective range that I can take an ethical shot and expect to humanely kill the rabbit.

I recently found some smaller sized tennis balls for small dogs and cats to play with. They are 1 1/2 inches in diameter, about the size of a golf ball and way less harsh on your arrows. They are tough to hit as well. You might want to start with a regular tennis ball at first, but a 1 1/2 inch target is your ultimate goal.

When you feel like you can hit the target really well, then it’s time to go hunting. If after a few tries, you are still missing or worse,  wounding the rabbits then you are not focusing enough.

Go back to your targets and practice shooting  quarter sized target dots.  The smaller target forces you to focus and if you can’t consistently hit the dot then move closer until you can. That will be your maximum effective bow range for smaller animals.

Smaller 1″ dots require even more focus to hit.

The other good reason to practice a whole lot for small game like rabbits is to save your arrows from loss or damage. Let’s face it, if you hunt, you will lose, break and maul your arrows. It is nice to have good, tough, inexpensive aluminum arrows to practice stump shooting and small game hunting with.

They are tough and should hold up well, until you pound one into a rock or bend it around the trunk of a tough old mesquite tree. You don’t really want to destroy your top-notch, high dollar, carbon arrows and broad heads shooting into the dirt or brush at rabbits. The better you shoot, the less you’ll miss and that means practicing until you can consistently hit your target.

If you do miss and your arrow decides to hide in the brush, Bohning makes colored arrow wraps that stick onto your arrows, making them way easier to spot in the bushes.

I like the fluorescent orange colored wraps and I even like to get two orange vanes and a white or yellow indexing vane on my arrows. It makes finding your arrows so much easier.

I also like to use judo tips and claws on my small game arrows. Sometimes if you miss your shot, the claws will snag on some grass or twig and make your arrow flip up out of the grass a little bit. That really makes them easier to find.

Here is a mini review of some of the tips I have used for rabbits in no particular order. There are many others out there. These are just the ones I like to use.

Judo points work great in grassy areas because if you miss, instead of just skittering along through the grass, the little spring arms snag in the grass and the arrows flip up, making it easier to find your arrow.  They are surprisingly tough.

Steel Blunt Tips hit hard and are very effective on all small game.  I like to use these on jack rabbits.

Rubber thumpers work well on birds like quail and chukar.  Head shot are best on birds and these work well.

Proper care of game animals

In my state of Arizona I need a hunting license to hunt rabbits, Make sure you know the regulations in your state. The license is cheap and you can pick one up at most sporting goods stores that cater to hunters. It’s legal to hunt rabbits year round.

In Arizona, it gets hot in the summer and caring for the meat requires special steps. Carry a cooler in your vehicle to cool down the meat as soon as you get back to the truck. Rabbit meat is hormone free and tastes great. It’s worth cleaning it properly and caring for it right. I carry a mesh game bag to keep the rabbits in so they can cool before I get back to the truck.

A good sharp knife is essential to field dress your game.  I love the look of this blade and it is sharp and efficient on small game.

Elegant and effective.

Rabbits are herbivores and their stomachs are full of grass and other plants. It is important to clean them within a few hours of shooting them, sooner on hot days. The stuff in their stomachs will start to smell quickly and it is best to clean it out in the field.

I like to hunt in large circles that bring me back close to my truck every couple of hours. This way I can quickly clean whatever i have in my game bag and transfer it to my cooler.

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As you clean the animal you should wear rubber gloves. It keeps you cleaner and if you see signs of disease in the rabbit you won’t have to worry about getting infected.

You can carry multiple pairs of nitrile gloves in your pack if you decide to clean the rabbits as you kill them. This is a good method to keep the meat fresh but be sure to carry enough water or wipes to clean up afterwards. When you skin the rabbit you can try tanning the hide or discard it.

Be sure to inspect the heart, liver and entrails for parasites. If you see any sign of worms in the intestines, organs or meat then discard the animal.

If the liver has discolored spots or white blotches, don’t eat the rabbit. If you see weird growths or lumps or black spots, again discard the animals.

Don’t worry about waste, coyotes, ravens and other scavengers will eat everything you reject.  They won’t get sick either.  They have a much tougher immune system than you.

Just remember these points and you’ll have a great day hunting rabbits in your favorite hunting spots.

Sam

If you have questions, comments or suggestions for an article on a bow hunting related topic that you want to know more about, please leave me a comment below or contact me via email. Thank you. Always be safe and have fun.

Here’s my address- sam@warthogenterprises.com

roberta Lippse

2 Comments

  1. I never hunted. What you just shared is quite extraordinary ’cause its very entertaining yet full of information. Who would’ve thought that rabbits aren’t easy to catch, and add those little creatures – ants, tarantulas, that you should watch out too as you hunt. I learned that a prey, big or small should be taken seriously and patiently. If jot for careful observation with its behavior I don’t think you may be able to catch a single one. 

    Reading your article is like taking lessons already and it’s free! The best thing here is not judging any hunter for their ability and skills to target their prey but their ethics on how to put an end with accuracy and mercy so they wouldn’t suffer.

    I have a question though. When you practice with aluminum arrows, doesn’t it feels different when you actually use the carbon ones. Will it have the same exact weight and pulse as you release it? I enjoyed this article. Please he careful when you hunt in the afternoon as it is really hot. Thank you for all this information!

    • Hi, MissusB.

      I’m glad you liked my article. A good hunter should know all they can about whatever they might find in the woods, from bugs, snakes and spiders to coyotes, deer and bears. Everybody has to learn as they go. It’s no shame to be a beginner but a lot of people think it is. We were all beginners at some time.

      To answer your question. Arrows come in different weights and you can get heavier or lighter arrows depending on what they are for. Aluminum arrows for hunting are really tough and durable. Especially for small game that you might be more likely to miss, you want tough durable arrows.
      Carbon arrows are generally lighter and do shoot differently from aluminum. Carbon Arrows generally shoot faster and penetrate deeper than aluminum. The differences are small percentages but it does affect shot placement.

      It’s best to practice with The arrows you will be hunting with on your upcoming hunt. The main reason a lot of people use aluminum for rough hunting is carbon arrows are expensive and not as tough as aluminum. But when you wait all year to hunt a deer, you want to have every advantage so you use your best arrows.

      Thanks for the comments and questions.
      Stay safe and have fun.

      Sam.

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