Hunting the diminutive whitetail provides excellent hunting with a long season and generous bag limits.  That is not the white-tailed deer, but rather the cottontail rabbit.  They afford ample opportunity for enjoyable days in the field and the promise of good eating for the effort. 

In Illinois the season runs from early November to January of the following year.  The dates are slightly different between the northern zone of the state and the southern.  Bag and possession limits vary from one state to another. 

Many farmers regard the rabbit as a pest, and gaining access to private land is usually quite easy.  A polite request is often all that is needed to gain access.  Choosing a good location is sometimes another matter.  Areas with clean fields and pastures lush with fescue are usually devoid of rabbits.  Fescue offers poor cover and as a food it can cause problems that affect reproduction. 

Because they are the top of the menu for just about all of Mother Nature’s critters, a rabbit’s first consideration is cover.  They are concerned with cold and wetness first and wind second.  As anyone who has owned one can tell you, rabbit fur is not warm, and when it is wet it tends to mat. 

As a result of the above rabbits seek an area where they can get sun for warmth and still be out of the wind.  On sunny days, they are to be found in direct sunlight.  They preen and fluff their fur to maximize its protection from the cold.  If the ground is wet in some areas and dry in others, they will go to the dry, bare patches with cover nearby.  However, if the day is cold and windy, they will be found deep in the cover, shielded from the wind.  They burrow deep into brush piles or seek ditches and culverts for protection.  If the sun is shining, they will move to the side of a brush pile bathed in sunshine. 

Some good locations are clear-cut and powering right of ways.  A mix of hardwoods, run‑down farmland and brush piles worth exploring.  If you can contact local rural letter carriers, they often know where they have seen large populations of rabbits all summer.  

Rabbits will inhabit wood lots, hedgerows, slews and weed patches.  They will tunnel under abandoned farm equipment or buildings.  They are very adaptable and can live almost anywhere.  Generally their populations are damaged by house cats.  If cats are around, the rabbit population is usually not that good.

Other predators that attack rabbits include the hawk.  On cloudy days, rabbits are very nervous and tend to stay in the deepest part of their cover.  On sunny days hawks cast a shadow on the land that alerts the rabbit to their presence.  On an overcast day there is no shadow and the rabbits react to this vulnerability by hiding in heavy cover out of the reach of any winged predator. 

Public hunting lands are often a good place to rabbit hunt after the deer season is over.  Often they have been overlooked all through the deer season.  Hunters have been so concentrated on the deer that they have left the rabbits alone. 

The most popular method for hunting rabbits is the walk‑up method.  By moving slowly and stopping frequently, lone hunters and groups alike are likely to flush a rabbit.  If hunting hedgerows, or where cover is thin, then it is a good idea to post a blocker to intercept a sneaker. 

If there is snow on the ground, then the work of hunting is easier. Stalking and flushing techniques work well in snow.  An abundance of tracks in a given area gives away the presence of several rabbits.  Well used rabbit runs will be used by a flushed rabbit to return to the point where he was flushed.  It may take some time, without the persuasion of a beagle, but all rabbits circle back to the point where they were first jumped.  In this way, they often are able to circle around a walking hunter and are securely back in their home as the hunter goes on in frustration. 

In warm weather, rabbits can be jumped almost anywhere there is food.  However, in cold weather they move to the thick cover.  That usually means a tough trail for a human to follow.  It is then that a good beagle is worth his weight in gold.  Beagles are great rabbit dogs as they will stay on the trail, baying to tell their master where the trail is leading.  The hunter often has only to wait and as the rabbit circles around, the sound of the beagle alerts the hunter to the approach of the rabbit. 

Weapons for rabbit hunting range from the ever popular .22 to 12 gauge shotgun.  More recently bowhunters have also taken up rabbit hunting.  To the shotgunner, shot sizes of six or seven lead, and four steel, are good.  The small size shot gives a good wide pattern to cope with the zig zag run of the rabbit. 

The hunting archer can use the same bow that he uses to hunt other game.  His arrows can also do double duty thanks to the interchangeable arrowheads.  The broadhead is removed and a blunt or similar head is substituted.  Bowhunting rabbits is very difficult, but also quite rewarding. 

Hunting the bouncing white tail of a rabbit is challenging and provides some excellent meat for the table.  It is also a good way to bring back old memories of a childhood spent in search of the littlest whitetail.



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  1. Eastern cottons and marsh rabbits are the dominant species of bunnies in North Carolina. Marsh rabbits inhabit wet habitat in the eastern half of the state, with easterns found statewide. There are some New England cottons along the western border of North Carolina. Dates for rabbit hunting are normally November 17 – February 28.

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