By Andrew Whitman
As you probably already know, rabbit hunting can vary from great to average to poor, and one fluctuating factor year after year is habitat. In our own case, we rent our fields to a neighboring farmer and his cows tend to graze the grass really short and trample down some of the brush and briars that might normally hold a few rabbits.
However, even the best habitat will eventually change over time and become less favorable to certain game species. This year, instead of waiting on nature, I decided to create some new rabbit cover myself and it worked out really well.
The first thing I learned is don’t waste time trying to rehabilitate old hiding places. Once the rabbits are done with them, they are probably not coming back. Identifying potential new hiding places that are just lacking a little bit of extra cover can be far more productive, but the search should begin in a location with plenty of nearby escape potential.
An isolated bush in a field will usually not hold a rabbit, simply because the rabbit does not want to cross a lot of open ground when forced to flee. The edge of a field or a place with some scattered brush should work. In my case, I use a field that has a lot of cedar trees that have sprung up in it.
If you find swathes of dried grass and some briars within your search area, then you have found a good spot. The rabbits like the grass because they can blend in well and the briars will prevent a predator from easily pouncing on them.
Remember, a rabbit will often sit tight as you approach its hiding place and will not run until you are very close or actually kick at its cover, but then it will flee for the next nearest cover. If you enhance its hiding places with some branches from a cedar tree, you have made it even more attractive and more likely to hold a rabbit when you come looking.
Cedar branches are easy to snap off on a cold winter day, so you don’t even need tools, and your clothes will smell like a cedar forest for hours (which is always nice if you plan to do some deer hunting later). Often a source of cedar branches is not far from where you need them. Usually 6 to 8 branches that are 3 to 4 feet long are enough, and just piling them up around the sparse cover and making it look a little denser is all it takes.
It may take a couple of weeks for a rabbit to find your newly enhanced cover and move in, but once one has taken up residence you can rouse it two or even three times before it will completely give up on that location. The rabbit, of course, has only added this spot to his list of many hiding places, but often you can find them lounging around in your specially created cover on a bright sunny afternoon. This takes a lot of guesswork out of a hunting day and makes for good teaching opportunities for younger kids.
I took my 17-year-old son out a few times this year and we plied one manmade brush pile after another until he finally shot his first rabbit. One afternoon, we hit the jackpot and jumped multiple rabbits in less than 30 minutes, many of them predictable going from one of our special brush piles to another and giving us plenty of chances to get a shot off.
Now my son is starting to identify potential rabbit cover all on his own and to anticipate the direction a rabbit may take when it runs. We usually wear blaze orange, although it is not required, since the shooting opportunities can suddenly turn fast and furious and I want to know where my hunting buddy is at all times. In summary, enhancing mediocre habitat can lead to a lot of exciting and memorable hunts, and I hope I have encouraged you to at least give it a whirl.