Dedicated To The Outdoors

Hunting Winter Rabbits With A Bow

There has been a point in my outdoor lifestyle that has taken all my time and focus at one time or another. Not to say the others didn’t matter, it was more of an obsessive trait. For a couple seasons I was completely immersed in waterfowl hunting and often ditched my archery hunts for a day on the water to chase ducks and geese. Another point in my life had me all but watering at the mouth for grouse season and yet another time when I just had to be hunting big game animals. Once it all came together I became a fairly well rounded hunter throughout the season enjoying all aspects of the hunt except for the archery season. I always felt a little dejected and left-out when it ended even though we have three complete months to hunt with a bow. That’s when I discovered I could lengthen my season hunting rabbits with archery equipment.

Now before you run out and try it yourself, check your local regulations regarding hunting small game with archery equipment. The last thing I want to hear is you got a ticket and I am to blame because you couldn’t take the time to read the rules. Chances are pretty high that you have a green light. Another point I need to make is I am the type of person who wants to grab my gear and head out the door. In this instance, I don’t use any special broad-heads, judo heads, or specific field points. I simply shoot the same grain field point that I use for archery practice. I do not change the draw weight of my bow, obviously or I would be best suited to change field tips and re-sight the bow, nor do I hunt with dogs. I prefer to grab the bow, a quiver of arrows, and head out hunting with no fuss. Simplicity.

For those who are laughing and thinking yeah right, who the hell can hit a rabbit with an arrow, you need to stop for a moment and think about it. In truth that is the initial reaction I hear. In reality the target is not much different than the kill zone of a whitetail deer. If I cannot put my arrows in that size target consistently I shouldn’t be hunting. So it’s fair to say that if you have been hunting deer you should be able to jump right into shooting rabbits with your bow, barring the fact you can get past the physiological effect of target size. Still, don’t think it will be easy. There are numerous obstacles and benefits.

Where I hunt there is always snow on the ground at the end of the deer season when we can begin hunting rabbits. A cottontail sitting on the ground sticks out very well against a blanket of white snow. The snowshoe rabbits will be tougher to spot as their coat turns white in the winter. Look for fresh tracks in the snow and rabbit trails as well as fresh droppings. You can often follow a rabbit trail right to the food source just like a deer. Exception being a rabbit has a home-range of 15 acres maximum, and on average 5 acres, making it fairly easy to find in nearly every instance. Fallen trees or limbs, especially soft barked trees like poplars are food sources for the rabbit. Often we note the deepest snowfall of the year by the highest marking the rabbits make on the poplars throughout the winter.

Unlike the deer, a rabbit will often hold very still until you’re right up on him and then most times he will sit-up and look around. Now’s your chance because he’s going to make a move. If luck wasn’t on your side for the first shot just hold still. Rabbits are notorious for only running a short distance before stopping again to look around especially when hunting them with archery equipment. A second shot is not uncommon and is often the most successful after getting the adrenaline to slow down. If all else fails try a quick whistle when the rabbit starts it’s run. Whether it’s the sense that the rabbit feels it should stop to pinpoint the direction of the whistle is beyond me but, it does work sometimes.

If you’re going to hunt with a friend keep in mind that even though you’re not using high-powered firearms there is still a lot of risk involved. Because you’re shooting nearly parallel to the ground at times you will find your arrow might skip, like a stone across a pond, and fly a considerable distance. On a hunt with Chris, an old hunting buddy of mine, he shot at a rabbit as we walked a deer trail into an area we were planning to hunt. You wouldn’t believe the racket his arrow made as it bounced back and forth between trees when he missed the bunny from a crouching position. That arrow can change course is a hurry so, as always, know your target and beyond. Chris and I often walked the same trail and took turns shooting. It turned the hunt into a nice little competition and a ton of fun since it’s not as imperative to be completely quiet as it is with deer hunting. Speaking of noise you will find that now and again the rabbit will scream like crazy once it’s been hit. If you’ve never heard the sound it’s probably best described as a baby screaming. It will encourage any predator in the area to investigate which is why a rabbit or rodent screaming call works so well for coyote hunters.

You can take the sport to any limits you desire which is always nice when you have the option to customize your hunting to your own preferences. As I said I like it nice and simple and use my normal archery gear. Plenty of people use recurve bows and wooden arrows with brightly colored fletching so their arrows are found more easily. And that in itself is a good idea because it is terribly easy to lose arrows hunting in this fashion. And of course some even use dogs for hunting rabbits with the bow. Personally I’ve never tried it but my experience hunting rabbits with dogs using firearms always brings back the memories of fast paced action. I’m assuming if the dogs can’t push the bunny right in front of you and hold, that you had better have lightning fast reflexes. Which, in part, is what this type of hunting is about.

Hunting rabbits with the bow is a great way to hone your archery skills. It’s good exercise and one hell of a good excuse to be outdoors for those who need one. And you can double your output by also scouting the area for deer sign along the way. I can’t see that as anything better than a win-win situation. Unless of course you were to bag a couple rabbits for a fresh pepper-rabbit soup at the end of a cold winter day hunting bunnies with the bow.

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