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Bunny on the Run

Winter is no time to stay inside when great fun is to be had rabbit hunting on conservation areas.

A scatter of fur at the Scrivner Road Conservation Area was mute evidence that a predator had passed that way, maybe a fox or coyote or possibly someone armed with a beagle and a shooting iron. My bird dogs showed great interest in the rabbit aroma, but we had a discussion about it. It recalled a quail hunt on the Robert White CA north of Mexico. My Brittany locked up. I stepped in front of him and a rabbit bolted, and I turned to explain the difference between winged creatures and furred ones … and a huge covey of quail erupted behind me. I wished for a beagle at that moment. …

Rabbit season and Missourians go together like sorghum ’lasses and cornbread (and actually ’lasses & cornbread goes very well with rabbit stew, too). Most Department conservation areas sport rabbits as fair game. North Missouri’s many areas (see the Department’s Conservation Atlas) probably hold more cottontails than the more heavily forested Ozark areas, but it’ll be a rare public area that does not have them. The west and southwest prairie region also is cottontail country.

The season is long, from Oct. 1 through Feb. 15, and the bag limit is liberal at six daily, 12 in possession for cottontails; two and four for swamp rabbits. Cottontail rabbits once were so numerous they were commercially trapped; now they are strictly a game animal. Some opt to still hunt, hoping to start a rabbit. The best idea is to walk, stop, walk, stop. The hesitations often spook a jittery bunny into flight. Others wait for a snow and track rabbits to their hides. But of all the methods, running rabbits with a beagle is not only the easiest, but the most productive (and, dedicated hound hunters will tell you, the most fun).

While a coyote may run a straight line to the next state, and raccoons and foxes cover huge chunks of real estate, a rabbit usually runs a circular route. Meaning that if you jump it at point A, it will take the baying beagle on a leisurely stroll, ultimately returning to point A, where you wait with a loaded gun and a smile. The gun can be either a shotgun or a bullet gun (rifle or pistol). Obviously a shotgun is more certain on a running bunny, but deposits several to many pellets. The single projectile is deadly but harder to place in a fleeing rabbit. Beagles are plodders. They scent-hunt and usually are far behind the rabbit, unlike a greyhound, which sight hunts and runs the prey down. Some Missourians opt for a bow or crossbow, and a few hunt with falcons—usually a dog to start the bunny and a raptor to finish it. Regardless of the method, rabbits remain a staple of the Missouri hunter’s season. When deer and turkeys were virtually extirpated from the Show-Me State, rabbits thrived and every rural kid learned to hunt them for the family pot. Then it was necessity; now it’s just pure fun.

—Joel M. Vance, photo by David Stonner

For More Information

To learn more about hunting in Missouri, visit our online atlas, keyword "Scrivner".

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