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Cottontail Rabbits with Airguns

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Author Jim Chapman

Cottontail Rabbits: The Perfect Airgunning Quarry

There are many species of cottontail rabbits spread out across the USA, living in a variety of terrain. They are small to medium-sized rabbits that tend towards a buff-brown color lined with black above and white below. They have relatively long ears and like most rabbits, amd are very fast. You can tell when you’re in a cottontail’s territory by the presence of their droppings, which are either hard brown pellets or soft green pellets depending on what they are eating. Cottontails feed on grasses and green plants, during the spring and summer and on bark and twigs during the fall and winter months. The desert Cottontails I like to hunt out west often take refuge in other animal's burrows or in scratched-out depressions under scrub brush. Like most rabbits they procreate freely and may raise two or more litters a year with one to six young in each litter and live up to two years in the wild.

Much of the best rabbit hunting in the West takes place on BLM land, National forest, and of course on private property. In the Midwest where I now live, I hunt these rabbits in the grassy breaks bordering the agricultural areas. The best way to locate a place to hunt is to cruise an area slowly looking fir cover and most importantly, a food supply. A cardinal rule of finding rabbits is; no food, no rabbits. Farm crops always draw rabbits and the closer to thick cover the better. Rabbits love to eat anything that is green, but once the green stuff is gone, they will chew the bark off a tree. Farmers are often not very fond of rabbits because of the crop damage they cause. Any place that you see fruit trees or cultivated fields would be a good place to ask permission to hunt. Farmers that would not let you hunt with firearms due to liability issues often let you hunt with an airgun once they understand you are not plinking at thumper with a Daisy BB gun.


I often find cottontail and jackrabbits overlapping in the deserts of California and Arizona, but tend to find cottontails around denser cover in the early evening or right before night fall


Bagged a couple cottontails right before nightfall on one of the first hunts with the prototype Crosman Discovery

Hunting rabbits with an air rifle is challenging, but can be very effective. It requires knowledge of rabbit behavior under varying weather conditions, and can be done solo or with partners. I like to hunt rabbits on the first warm day after a period of cold weather. Cottontails like to sit out in open fields soaking up sunlight. On cold and windy days hit thick tangles of vines, briars and any type of cover that protects rabbits from the elements. Brush piles are good on just about any given day. When airgun hunting cottontails with a partner I’ll walk slowly, stopping often for long breaks to glass the area. This allows me to spot and get a shot before the bunny bolts. If you do jump a rabbit near a brush pile, one hunter can have a seat and wait in ambush while the other follows the trail, as the rabbit will more than likely return. Another great location regardless of weather is an overgrown orchard. Add tall grass, plenty of old brush piles and a cottontail should be spotted. The advantage of hunting old orchards is that they are excellent terrain for stalking, and you can often get a good shooting lane before the rabbit bolts.

Unlike hunting rabbits with a shotgun or even a rimfire, with an airgun you need to shoot the rabbit before it runs or you will never be able to place a shot with the required precision to kill it cleanly. If you miss, or spook the rabbit, watch where it runs as they only run in a straight line for a short distance before they start to circle back. You can start your stalk over and try again. Don’t make the mistake of moving too quickly, in good rabbit country I might only cover an acre in a couple of hours. Walk five yards, stop and look, move another five or ten, then repeat.


Some weeks later, I used the same rifle to a hunt a farm in the midwest


I hoked the rabbit, i.e. slit the space in the tendons of one hind leg and laced the other through it, and hung it on a tree to be picked up on my return.

Old farms with abandoned machinery or rundown buildings are often good spots for hunting. Keep an eye out for rabbits around cover. Tall grass is often found in these areas offering protection from hunters, both human and others. Another place where you can get a shot at rabbits is along fence rows. Rabbits normally will follow the row to the end and then take off on a dead run for the nearest cover. Pay attention to the direction that it runs as this will give you a clue for where to hunt on your next trip out. Rabbits have their favorite escape routes and once you locate them they generally stay good for years. In urban settings, golf courses often harbor large populations of cottontails. It is sometimes possible to get permission from the course manager to cull these rabbits, and it may also be possible to get a depredation permit which allows large numbers to be removed in or out of season.

You can often hunt these rabbits near industrial areas, fields around old abandoned factories can be very productive, and if you can get permission to hunt around nurseries, golf courses, sports fields, etc, you might find high populations of quarry that arejust about perfect airgunning sport. Some states allow cottontail to be taken at night with lamps, but be sure to check as cottontails are a game animal in many jurisdictions and lamping may not be allowed. Where legal it is a high effective method of take.

There are many guns I like to use for cottontails, and not a great deal of power is required. I have an RWS model 34 in .22 that I took out to a friend’s ranch in central California some years ago that was absolutely over run with cottontails. Hunting on a depredation permit, I took over a hundred rabbits in one weekend around farm buildings and the livestock enclosures, while my friend shot about the same number with his .22 rimfire in the more open areas. I think that any medium to high power springer or PCP that offers good accuracy will make an effective cottontail gun. A well-placed headshot will cleanly kill these rabbits with any caliber though, and as a rule I try not to take chest shots unless I must to minimize damage to the meat.


The AirArms S410 FAC is a very accurate rifle, that I used to headshoot this rabbit at 80 yards


I used the Twinmaster carbine with a shrouded barrel to remove rabbits at a golf course that was having some pest problems. They were really impressed by how quiet the gun was

When hunting in areas where my route will take me back over the same area on return, I will take the rabbits I shoot, hock and hang them in a tree or a fence post then pick them up on the way back. Cottontail can be one of the tastiest of the small game animals when properly prepared, and a good hasenpfeffer is one of my favorite game dishes. And what makes it better yet, they are the perfect airgun quarry.

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