Outdoors enthusiasts of a certain age well remember their grandfathers extolling the virtues of fried rabbit, declaring it superior to filet mignon and better than any restaurant meal you could buy.
Many hunters scratch around for something to get them afield during that dull period from Christmas until the first warm winds of spring. Grab a shotgun, don some brush pants, a hunter orange vest and walk an overgrown fencerow to jump a rabbit.
“The rabbit population is still really good, we have a lot of rabbits in Kentucky,” said Ben Robinson, small game biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “Hunters should find good winter rabbit hunting across the state.”
Mail carriers in rural areas help Kentucky Fish and Wildlife by recording rabbits they see while driving their daily mail routes. “Last year, we had our highest mail carrier survey since the early 1980s,” Robinson said. “They were down a little this year, but there are still plenty of rabbits.”
Late December and January are great rabbit hunting times. Robinson hunted rabbits this past week and did well, harvesting several. “Even if you don’t have a dog, you can still hunt rabbits successfully,” he said. “Kick around some cover and you can jump some rabbits up.”
Robinson and his hunting group had their best success in woody cover. “This cover grows more important for rabbits as the weather gets colder,” he explained. “We found our rabbits in blackberry thickets, in small creek drainages, along fencerows and in wood lots near fields.”
He also said rabbit hunters without dogs must be quick on their feet. “You don’t have the set-up time that you do with dogs,” Robinson said. “When you get near the cover, be prepared for a quick shot.”
Don’t give up on a rabbit if it bolts from thick cover and you don’t get a shot. “That rabbit is likely close by,” Robinson said. “Hunt the next decent cover you come across. A rabbit is not going to run farther than it has to. They hide quickly.”
Cedar thickets make excellent rabbit hunting spots on cold, windy days or when snow blankets the ground. Thick stands of young cedar offer a windbreak as well as hiding cover. Make sure to stop and wait periodically when hunting cedar thickets. “Being still makes them nervous and they will flush,” Robinson said.
The Bluegrass Region and the mountains of eastern Kentucky hold the highest rabbit densities, but practically any wildlife management area in Kentucky offers decent rabbit hunting.
“Some of our smaller off-the-beaten-path wildlife management areas don’t get as much hunting pressure and have good populations of rabbits,” Robinson said, “especially those outside the Louisville, Lexington and northern Kentucky corridor.”
Shotshells loaded with No. 6 shot make an excellent rabbit load. Most rabbit shots are fairly close when hunting without dogs in winter. An improved cylinder choke works fine. When hunting with dogs, a modified choke is a good choice. Don’t over-choke your shotgun and damage the tasty rabbit meat.
“You will be more successful hunting with dogs,” Robinson said. “A lot of dog owners are looking for someone to hunt with them. It is worth a try to ask to join them. If you have some access to land to hunt and they have dogs, you can make a partnership.”
Rabbit season closes Jan. 31 in the Eastern Zone. The season closes Feb. 10 in all counties west of and including Hancock, Ohio, Butler, Warren and Allen. The daily bag limit is four rabbits.
Robinson asks rabbit hunters to participate in the Hunter Cooperator Survey and fill out a hunting log. This log provides valuable population information to biologists so they can make more informed decisions regarding rabbit management. Participants receive a small gift and a copy of the annual survey. Hunters can find printable hunting logs on the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife website at fw.ky.gov. Click on the “Hunt” tab, then the “Game Species” tab.
Editor’s Note: Author Lee McClellan is a nationally award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.