RABBITS (AND RABBIT HUNTERS) STILL DECLINING (February 25/13)

Not to put rabbit hunters down, but waterfowling, deer hunting and even pheasant hunting calls for a lot more out in the field know-how and expertise than rabbit hunting does.

However, rabbit hunting is unique in that it’s the only sport where hounds (and snares) can be legally used to harvest game.  The hound work is what makes rabbit hunting attractive and unique.  Running hounds on rabbits, and all that’s involved, gives this sport an allure not found in other hunting.  As a guy who has spent many winter afternoons listening to the hounds and banging away at hares as they zipped across wood roads, I believe no other wild game hunting offers as much enjoyment.

As I’ve often said in this column, rabbit hunting appeals to many people because of its simplicity.  You don’t need decoys, game calls, tree stands, blinds, high calibre rifles, bird dogs, or any of the paraphernalia that goes hand in hand with upland, waterfowl and big game hunting.  You don’t even need a hound even though beagleing is the heart and soul of what makes rabbit hunting so great.

But appealing as it is, what appears to be a general scarcity of rabbits in many areas has seen harvest numbers and hunters declining.  According to statistics released by the Department of Natural Resources, the harvest plummeted over 50 percent last season when compared to what it was three seasons ago.  When last season’s harvest is compared to what it was six seasons ago, the decline is even more drastic.

If I read the DNR tables correctly, hunter numbers are also down overall.  This is natural, I suppose.  Some hunters likely have been discouraged by low rabbit numbers and as a result, fewer and fewer of them are taking to the woods.   Look for this to change when the rabbit population rebounds – if it ever does.

Now, what was this season like?  For one thing, I’m getting mixed reports as usual.  Most of the hunters I’ve talked with say hunting has been fair to poor and rabbits are difficult to find.  This isn’t the case everywhere.  There are always pockets here and there where hunting is good but, bottom line, the rabbit population has been low in many areas for years.

As I said, there are exceptions.  One hunter I interviewed told me he and his friends usually bagged six or seven rabbits every time they went out this season.  He hunts in a wider area than average, in Kings and Lunenburg County, using a couple hounds. While he says the season “wasn’t that good,” he and his companions had a better season than any other hunters I interviewed.

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