The cottontail rabbit is a challenging quarry because of its keen eyesight and uncanny ability to escape detection by remaining motionless.
Cottontails exist throughout all of Minnesota except the far north.
- When to hunt
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- Where to hunt
You can hunt cottontails on many types of public land including state Wildlife Management Areas and county, state and national forests. You can hunt private land too if you have permission from the landowner or if the land is forested and not posted closed to hunting.
Cottontails are common throughout most Minnesota landscapes. You can find cottontails in the deciduous forests of southeast and central Minnesota. They thrive in the prairie grasslands of southern and western Minnesota. They also live in the mixed conifer forests of the north. The only place they do not exist is the far north, or roughly the northernmost one-fifth of the state.
Specifically, cottontails are creatures of thick cover, such as brush piles, thorn tangles, briars and the like. Cottontails prefer these places because they provide cover from predators. Smart rabbit hunters also look for cottontails in weedy and brushy areas around farm buildings, abandoned farm equipment and junk heaps. These places provide food and cover yet are often so close to human activity that coyotes, fox and other predators are less common. Cottontails also make their home in grassy wetland edges, corn fields, orchards and brushy fencerows.
- How to hunt
Cottontail hunting is often done with a beagle, a specific breed of hunting dog known for rousing reticent rabbits from their hiding spots. Beagles are great hunters because their small size allows them to easily scoot through dense brush and undergrowth. Dogs that just flirt with the edges of brush piles and brambles are not particularly helpful.
Cottontails also can be hunted by a single hunter or hunters in a small group. The key is to flush the rabbit from cover, and then be ready as it can hop this way and that at nearly twenty miles an hour. Cottontails often hold in a brush pile until they are nearly stepped on. Kicking brush piles is a common flushing strategy.
Unlike many species that travel a fair distance after being flushed, cottontails prefer to remain in a relatively small area. The cottontail’s home range is usually five acres (roughly the size of five football fields) or less. As such, it is common for cottontails to eventually “circle back” to within a 100 yards of the original jump site. So, be ready for this.
- A .22 caliber rifle or shotgun loaded with shells containing shot size 5, 6, or 7 are good options. Beginning hunters are likely to be more successful with a shotgun than a rifle as cottontails are, indeed, as “quick as a bunny.”
- In winter, dress in layers. Rabbit hunting in snow and cold is strenuous, and you are apt to work up a good sweat. Snowshoes may be required if snow is deep and soft.
- Sunglasses are a handy thing to have in winter due the intense whiteness and brightness on sunny days.
- The usual: compass, first aid kit, drinking water, etc.
- What’s important to know
- Hunters must wear an item of blaze orange or camouflage pink above the waist.
- It is best to aim for the cottontail’s head or behind the shoulder.
- Rabbits can be afflicted with tularemia, a wildlife disease that is transmissible to humans. As such, do not dress rabbits if you have cuts or abrasions on your hands. A simple solution is to wear latex gloves.
- Basic biology
- This small grayish-brown mammal has a white (cotton-colored) tail and a rusty patch on the back of its neck. Its belly, chin, tail and inner legs are white.
- Cottontails grow to 12 to 16 inches in length and typically weigh two to three pounds.
- Cottontails eat buds, sprouts and shoots from woody plants as well as alfalfa, clover, grass, etc.
- Cottontails sit motionless when another animal approaches.
- Cottontails are prolific breeders. A female can have three to four litters a year containing one to nine offspring in each litter.
- Cottontails are a preferred prey for many species. As such, the rabbit’s life expectancy in the wild is just four to six months.
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