To the casual observer, Illinois does not seem to have a sizeable population of rabbits.  Last year saw a small spike in the number of rabbit hunters as they increased by 2% with a harvest that decreased by 6.3% over the previous year.  One need only look across the vast fields of the state and notice the lack of heavy cover.  Rabbits are normally associated with the heavy cover of grain fields, wood lots and brambles.

Every year the Illinois Department of Natural Resources biologists report that the areas in the south central part of the state contain significant populations of cottontail rabbits.

Scratch a hunter and you will find a rabbit hunter.  Most hunters began hunting careers chasing these ghosts that vanish before our eyes.  As an adult, or as a starting point for children, the ghost of the prairie is an excellent first quarry.

Like bass, one can seek this quarry anywhere there is wood.  Rabbits are tolerant of man and are often located in farm yards and anywhere there are wooden buildings, occupied or not.  They like the brush found in most areas of the state.  They seek heavy cover areas for protection from the elements and from predators.

Slews, swamps and weed patches are a favorite loafing area.  Rabbits tunnel under abandoned farm equipment and buildings.  They adapt to almost any type of cover available.  Rabbits do have to fear all sorts of predators, from coyotes and house cats, to man and hawks.

On cloudy days a rabbit will remain motionless in the most remote part of their cover.  On sunny days hawks cast a shadow on the land but on cloudy days there is no such warning.  They become prairie ghosts which appear as a last resort or when they become too wet and hungry.

The most popular method for hunting rabbits is the walk-up method.  By walking slowly and stopping frequently, hunters alone or in a group can flush rabbits.  It is a good idea to post a blocker at the end of the cover.  Work toward him or her.  That will head off a sneaker otherwise overlooked.

The use of dogs is a popular way to hunt rabbits.  Any specie of dog can be a rabbit dog.  The most popular rabbit dogs are hounds and in particular the beagle.  A rabbit pursued by a dog will circle wide and return to the spot where he began the chase.  A hunter will find trying to keep up with a rabbit, an impossible task.  Only a dog can do such a thing.

Dogs push the rabbit to complete the circle more quickly.  How quickly depends upon the hunting pressure, numbers of predators in the area, and the size of the rabbit.  Dogs never quit looking for the rabbit, even though he might have gone to ground or slipped away.  The dog will stay on the trail.  If rabbits stayed on a straight trail, the hunter would have no need for a dog.   Rabbits do not stay on straight trails.

If there is snow on the ground, the work of the hunter is easier.  Stalking and flushing are good techniques in snow.  An abundance of tracks in an area is a good sign of the presence of many rabbits.  Rabbits use well-traveled runs to return to the point where they began the chase.  Without a dog, it may take a little time, but he will return.  Rabbits flush, circle around a hunter and are often back in their burrow with the hunter being unaware he has been snookered.

On warm days, rabbits are almost anywhere there is a food supply.  On cold days they tend to stay in heavy cover and make a hunter’s job more difficult.  Regardless, the wily rabbit is a worthy opponent for a weekend afternoon when other game seems to be scarce.  They are out there one just has to work a little to find this ghostly apparition.


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