Brittlebush Bunnies Abound
Rabbits Provide A Fun Training Ground For Youth & Adults

by Rory K. Aikens

Near-record winter and spring rainfall has resulted in a wildlife bonus this year— brittlebush bunnies abound.

The plentiful rabbit population provides an excellent opportunity as a training ground for young hunters — or just a lot of fun and good eating for adults.

Small Game Supervisor Ron Engel-Wilson said DFG biologists recently conducted dove call counts throughout the state. During those counts, most of them also kept track of "rabbit encounters."

"We have a tremendous crop of rabbits this year, both cottontail and jack. Those young rabbits not only make superb eating, they provide a great training opportunity for young hunters," Engel-Wilson said.

Engel-Wilson explained that the same skills used in successful deer hunting can be learned, and even sharpened, for young hunters (or even experienced ones) on a brittlebush bunny safari.

"Just like with deer, you'll want to get a high vantage point such as a ridge and use your binoculars to spot the quarry, judge the wind direction, then engineer a stalk. It's rudimentary hunting skills, and it's fun," he said.

Typically, what the young hunter will notice from his or her high vantage point is movement down below. That's often when binoculars can be used to pinpoint a rabbit, or possibly just a rabbit's ear, foot, or even an eye.

The great thing about rabbits is they are found virtually throughout the state. Some of the best rabbit hunting can be found in the low desert foothills. Areas with brittlebush, bursage, jojoba, Palo Verde and cactus are good habitat for cottontails. The areas with sparser vegetation are likely to hold jackrabbits.

You can use a .22-caliber rifle, either with open sights or telescopic sights, a bow and arrow, or even a shotgun. A .410 shotgun, especially a break-action single-shot one, provides an excellent training and harvesting tool for inexperienced hunters. Or, a fun gun for adults.

But don't think of rabbits as necessarily easy quarry, just plentiful ones. "Cottontails often hide, and hide well. Often all you will see is blurred movements between the brittlebushes. Careful, quiet stalking can be productive," Engel-Wilson said.

Look for rabbits in slight depressions at the bases of trees and shrubs and behind shrubs and rocks. Even though cottontails blend in well, your eye will often pick out an eye, ear, foot, back or other part of the body once you become accustomed to seeing them and develop what Engel-Wilson calls a "search image."

This time of year, you will want to be in the field before first light to be established on a ridgeline or other vantage spot at legal shooting light (a half-hour before sunrise). Once the sun is up and the landscape heats up, rabbits will often take to cover and be more difficult to find.

It's always good to pinpoint area water sources, and hunt natural pathways to those sources, such as arroyos and washes.

This time of year, those harvesting bunnies will want to clean them and get them on ice posthaste. It's always a good idea when cleaning game to use plastic, throwaway gloves. Also, it is a good idea to hunt below the 3,000-foot level because of the potential for plague and tularemia in the higher elevations. Young rabbits have less chance of being infected by disease, but don't take chances when you don't have to.

But also be mentally prepared — seeing the sunrise on the desert with the feel of a trusty old .22 in your hands and the smell of gun oil in your nostrils could make you feel young and full of vinegar again. It's also a memory you will want to bestow upon your young hunter as well. The brittlebush bunny hunting phenomenon is not to be taken lightly.

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