As an avid hunter, I’ve had the pleasure of pursuing all types of small and big game across this great country of ours. But I have to admit, some of my fondest memories come from my earliest hunting experiences as a kid chasing rabbits on my family’s farm.
Back then, it was just my dad, my brother, and me. No fancy equipment or hunting dogs – just a beat-up old 20 gauge, a pocket full of shells, and youthful enthusiasm. We’d spend entire Saturdays crisscrossing alfalfa fields, investigating brush piles, and sneaking through briar patches in search of bunnies. I can still remember the thrill of spotting that first cottontail of the morning, or the satisfaction of collecting a handful of rabbits by lunchtime to cook up for supper.
Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy hunting whitetails from a treestand or busting clays at the range as much as the next guy. But there’s something special about small game hunting that takes me back to those carefree weekends as a kid. Rabbit hunting, in particular, has always held a special place in my heart because of its simplicity.
- Locate rabbits in brushy areas near food sources. South-facing slopes and field edges are prime spots.
- A basic shotgun is the only specialized gear needed. Focus on leading targets and limiting distance.
- Still-hunting slowly and using cover will get you within range of more rabbits. Be patient and watch for flickers of movement.
- Proper field dressing preserves the meat. Consider quartering rabbits for easier storage and use.
- Follow basic ethics like asking permission, not wasting game, and reviewing regulations. Share the sport with someone new.
A few years back, I had the chance to join a group of local houndsmen on a rabbit hunt on some private land near my home. These guys were the real deal – top-notch beagles, training pens, dog boxes, the whole nine yards. I showed up that frosty January morning feeling a little out of my element. But I was eager to see how “serious” rabbit hunters did things.
After letting the beagles out of the truck, it didn’t take long for them to pick up a scent trail. Once they started barking, the guys grabbed their scatterguns and took off into the briar thickets. Within minutes, it seemed like bunnies were darting out everywhere as the dogs flushed them from cover. The guys opened up with a mix of pump and semi-auto 12 gauges, dropping rabbits left and right as they came bounding across open patches.
Despite the fast action, I quickly realized this style of rabbit hunting just wasn’t for me. Don’t get me wrong – I appreciated the skill of those hounds and admired the deadly efficiency of the hunters. But as I lugged my overloaded game bag back to the trucks at the end of the morning, sweaty, scratched-up and tired, I found myself missing the simpler rabbit hunts of my childhood.
Now I mainly stick to chasing rabbits either solo or with my brother, without the assistance of dogs. For me, there’s just something inherently rewarding about this classic, no-frills style of small game hunting. Here are a few of the reasons I’ve come to enjoy hunting rabbits without dogs so much over the years:
Rabbit hunting with dogs often involves specialized equipment, well-trained hounds, and coordinated hunting parties. But going after bunnies on your own or with a partner can be as simple as grabbing a shotgun and heading out to the fields. The lack of gear and preparation needed makes it easy to get outside and enjoy a casual hunt whenever you get the itch.
Unlike sitting stationary in a deer stand, rabbit hunting keeps you moving and fully engaged with the outdoors the entire time. Whether you’re still-hunting through cover in search of bunnies or posting up on the edge of a field waiting for them to appear, you’ll never be bored on a rabbit hunt.
From novice youth hunters to adults new to the sport, rabbit hunting is the perfect way to introduce newcomers to hunting. The action is fast-paced enough to keep things exciting but simple enough for total novices to have success and fun.
Here in the southern U.S., we’re blessed with thriving rabbit populations and liberal bag limits. I’ve shot enough rabbits on a single morning hunt to feed my whole family a hearty supper. The fast action and plentiful opportunities make rabbit hunting extremely gratifying.
Finally, there’s no beating a fresh wild rabbit dinner. Fried rabbit with gravy and biscuits is tough to top in my book. Knowing your efforts will lead to a tasty meal makes the hunt even more rewarding.
Rabbits prefer areas that offer an abundance of food sources as well as thick protective cover. Here are some of the best places to begin your search:
- Brushy, overgrown fence lines or field edges: Rabbits will congregate along fences bordered by tall grass, weeds, honeysuckle, and briars. These tangles provide protection while also allowing easy access to grazing in the open fields. Slowly still-hunting up and down these fence lines is a proven rabbit hunting tactic.
- Recently cut hay or crop fields: Rabbits will hang around fields that have recently been mowed or harvested. Look for alfalfa, clover, soybeans, and winter wheat. The fresh regrowth supplies food while the short stubble still provides enough cover. Focus on field edges.
- Grassy or weedy ditch banks: The sloped banks along drainage ditches hold moisture and ample vegetation. Rabbits funnel in and out of these grassy corridors as they move between food sources and bedding areas. Post up at either end of a stretch of ditch to intercept this rabbit travel route.
- Briar patches and overgrown clearings: Rabbits seek out areas like blackberry brambles, honeysuckle patches, pine thickets, and brushy logged off areas. These tangled jungle-like spots offer shelter as well as buds and vegetation to gnaw on. Still hunt carefully through these hot spots and be ready when a rabbit explodes from cover.
- South facing slopes and brushy ravines: South facing slopes receive more direct sunlight, leading to lusher, thicker vegetation. Rabbits gravitate towards these brush choked hollows and gulleys to feed and rest.
While you can certainly take rabbits with rimfires like .22 LR or air rifles, most rabbit hunters opt for shotguns. The ability to quickly swing on a close, fast-moving target makes a scattergun the ideal choice. Here are a few things to consider:
- Gauge: For rabbit hunting, a 20 gauge shotgun offers plenty of knockdown power without excessive recoil. The lighter 12 gauge works too but is overkill in many cases. Go with a tried-and-true pump action model if you only want to buy one rabbit gun.
- Barrel Length: Shorter barrels in the 26-28 inch range allow you to swing and track rabbits in heavy cover better than a full length field barrel. Open sights are fast for snap shooting on close birds too.
- Chokes: Improved Cylinder or Modified chokes work best for rabbits inside of 40 yards. You want sufficient spread to hit the small target but enough reach so you don’t have to wait for them to get too close.
- Ammo: For ammunition, target loads like No. 6 shot are perfect for rabbits. This pellet size brings effective stopping power without excessive damage to the meat. Standard 2 3⁄4 inch shells work fine.
The key to a successful hunt is locating areas holding good rabbit populations ahead of time through careful scouting. Here are some signs to look for:
- Rabbit droppings – Keep an eye out for scattered pellet-like droppings, usually found near shelters and along travel routes. The presence of fresh scat is a clear sign of active rabbits in the area.
- Trails and runs – Look for narrow trails through vegetation with matted tunnels through grass and underbrush. Rabbits create these runs between feeding areas, shelters, and bedding spots.
- Chew damage on woody stems – Rabbits gnaw on the bark and woody stems of saplings and bushes to wear down their constantly growing teeth. Look for neat angled cuts on woody vegetation as evidence of gnawing.
- Dust bowls – Dry bare patches of dirt where rabbits roll and dust themselves to clean their fur and avoid fleas. Check for fur caught in nearby grass and tracks in the dirt.
- Tufts of fur – Rabbits shed fur, leaving behind tufts snagged on briars, branches, and grass. Finding wads of fur confirms rabbits are passing through.
- Active burrows – Rabbits burrow underground to make simple nests for sleeping, hiding, and raising young. Look for fresh dirt at burrow entrances to identify currently active rabbit dens.
Having the proper gear and clothing can make your rabbit hunt safer and more comfortable:
- Orange vest and hat – Wear blaze orange even if hunting alone to ensure visibility. A bright orange hat also helps other hunters distinguish you from game. Safety should always come first.
- Shooting glasses and ear protection – Protect your hearing and eyesight from shotgun blasts. Wrap-around shooting glasses shield your eyes when busting through brush.
- Brush pants – Invest in a pair of rugged brush pants made of materials like canvas or vinyl. Regular pants will quickly get shredded in brambles. Quality brush pants can take years of abuse.
- Thick denim jeans – For warmer weather, wear thick denims for added protection from stickers, thorns and briars. I like to wear knee pads under my jeans as well when crawling through cover.
- Hunting boots – Durable, snake-proof hunting boots with ankle support are a must for stomping through fields and thickets all day. Water-resistance is a bonus during cold wet weather.
- Backpack – A small backpack helps you haul out any rabbits you harvest. It also gives you a place to stow extra shells, water, and other essentials.
- Leather gloves – Protect your hands from scrapes and scratches when pushing through thick cover. High-quality leather gloves stand up to abuse from thorns and sticks when handling rabbits.
When hunting rabbits without dogs, a slow, methodical still-hunting approach is most effective. Here are some proven tips for sneaking up on bunnies:
- Move slowly – Rabbits rely on lightning-quick reflexes to avoid predators. By moving slowly and deliberately, you’ll keep them from spooking until you’re within shooting range. Take your time and watch each step.
- Use cover to your advantage – Use vegetation, fences, rocks or other obstacles to break up your silhouette as you walk. Slip from one piece of cover to the next to avoid detection.
- Watch sightlines – Only peek over or around cover briefly when moving, then duck back down. Scan ahead for movement before proceeding to the next piece of cover. Rabbits will spot you if you skyline yourself or stare out in the open.
- Be quiet – Rabbits have excellent hearing so do your best to move silently. Step lightly and avoid snapping sticks or rustling brush. Talking should be kept to a minimum.
- Check the downwind side – Make sure you identify the wind direction so you can approach from downwind. Always clear the downwind side of cover first since your scent will be blowing towards that side.
- Use a zigzag pattern – Rather than walk straight towards a potential hotspot, approach indirectly in a zigzag, looping pattern. This prevents you from overrunning potential rabbits and will bring more cover into range.
- Watch for flickers of movement – Constantly scan ahead not just for whole rabbits, but fleeting glimpses of motion. The flick of an ear or blur of fur standing out from cover is often the first sign of a rabbit.
Choosing the Best Shot Opportunities
When rabbits burst from cover, they often kick into an erratic escape pattern making shots difficult. Here are some ways to get clear, ethical shots:
- Pick natural chokepoints – Focus on shooting zones that naturally restrict and channel rabbit movement like gaps in cover, trails in vegetation, or breaks in fences. You’re more likely to get clear broadside shots as rabbits pass through these constricted areas.
- Post up and wait – Rather than chasing rabbits, post up in strategic spots like the mouth of a trail and wait for them to come to you. Let them move into open areas at their own pace rather than flushing and spooking them.
- Lead the target – Don’t wait for rabbits to stop before shooting. Lead them slightly ahead of their path of movement so they run into your pattern as you pull the trigger. This ups your odds of solid hits.
- Whistle or shout – If a rabbit is running full speed, a sharp whistle or shout will cause them to hesitate briefly to identify the sound. Take advantage of this split second pause to cleanly dispatch the rabbit.
- Limit distance – Shots beyond 30-40 yards become highly difficult on a running rabbit. Be selective and pass on excessively long shots to ensure clean kills. It’s better to wait for another opportunity.
Once you bag your bunny, properly field dressing it soon after the harvest preserves the meat and prevents waste:
- Make an incision – Turn the rabbit onto its back and make a center abdominal incision from between the hind legs up to the sternum.
- Remove intestines – Reach up into the chest cavity, detach the intestines from the backbone, and pull all organs out in one mass. Watch for the bladder.
- Clean the cavity – Use a rag or clean grass to gently wipe out any remaining blood and debris from inside the carcass. Be thorough but delicate.
- Drain blood – Hang the rabbit upside down to allow remaining blood to drain completely before processing or freezing.
- Quarter – For easier storage and use, separate the rabbit into sections of front and rear legs and loins using a sharp boning knife.
- Cool thoroughly – Get the temperature down quickly by submerging quarters in an ice bath before refrigerating or freezing. This preserves freshness.
Note: Always wear rubber gloves when handling and wash hands thoroughly after dressing. Do not eat any meat from rabbits that appear sick or diseased.
As with any style of hunting, it’s vital that rabbit hunters act responsibly in the field by adhering to these ethical practices and safety guidelines:
- Hunt only with permission on private lands and follow all regulations if hunting public lands. Always ask and obtain the landowner’s permission first.
- Review hunting regs – Be sure you possess the required licenses and understand bag limits, season dates, acceptable weapons, and other local regulations.
- No wasted game – Make every effort to retrieve any rabbits you shoot and use the meat. Do not kill more than you plan to eat.
- Respect other hunters – Follow safe shooting practices so those hunting the same areas feel comfortable. Communicate your presence.
- Leave no trace – Pack out spent shells, trash and other debris. Also avoid causing damage to fences, vegetation or structures. Leave the area like you found it.
- Share the sport – Introduce someone new to small game hunting this season. Passing on our outdoor traditions ensures the future of the sport.
As you can see, heading out after rabbits delivers an exciting, rewarding hunting experience without requiring specialized gear or high investments of time or money. So this fall, grab your favorite shotgun and a box of shells, lace up your boots, and relive the simple joy of rabbit hunting. I’ll be out there too, making memories just like the good ol’ days!
So there you have it – an overview of how to successfully hunt rabbits without the need for dogs or other fancy equipment. The basics of finding bunnies in ideal habitats, smart stalking, and accurate shooting are all you need for an enjoyable day in the field. With the right skills and techniques, small game hunting allows anyone to get out and live the outdoor traditions we all cherish. I hope this gives you some motivation to pursue this classic American pastime and make unforgettable memories this season. Let me know if you have any other questions!
Captain Hunter is a seasoned hunting mentor with over 20 years of experience in the field. His passion began as a young man on trips with his father and grandfather in the Colorado mountains. Today, he shares his unmatched skills in survival, tracking, and marksmanship through his website CaptainHunter.com. When he's not volunteering with youth hunting programs, you can find Captain Hunter providing expert hunting tips, gear reviews, and answers to your most pressing questions. His decades of experience make him the trusted guide to help any outdoorsman master the sport.