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Rabbit season…duck season…rabbit season…duck season – this argument between Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck is well known to generations of Americans who grew up watching cartoons. In Utah, this argument is easy to resolve because both the rabbit season and duck season occupy the same months. While I do not mind hunting ducks, the gear needed and the expense of the sport can be daunting. It is also necessary to have a good dog that is bred to retrieve your ducks from the cold, dank marsh waters. My dog was bred to retrieve treats from his treat bowl and would rather stay warm and dry in his bed and watch football instead of braving the elements.
Buda Bear “Like I am going to hunt ducks—NOT!”
By December, I would have usually been rabbit hunting at least twice. However, this year the weather did not cooperate. I like to wait to hunt rabbits until after the first big freeze and snowfall. I do this because I believe (wrong or right) that the weak and sick rabbits will not survive the harsh conditions. Also, I have noticed that the fleas and other parasites that live in the fur of the rabbit are drastically reduced or eliminated by the cold weather. The snow also makes it easy to track rabbits and you can find areas where the rabbits have been actively feeding.
I don’t like to hunt without a partner. In years past, my hunting partner and I would spend many a winter day hunting Utah’s back country. However, as we have aged, he now prefers the warmth of his winter home in Nevada. My son is my other hunting partner and he just happen to be home from college for his winter break. In fact, if the truth be told, he was the catalyst for this rabbit hunt. I am very lucky that he loves to hunt and fish. He is a strapping 6’4″, 285 pound, college football offensive lineman and he is the perfect person to have when you kill an elk or deer far from your truck.
This year, the first big winter storm did not hit the state until Christmas day. This was the perfect storm as it brought heavy snow and sub zero temperatures to the areas I hunt rabbits. My son and I planned to hunt the Saturday after Christmas. Saturday dawned clear and cold with the temperature hovering around 20 degrees at our house. As we made our way to our hunting spot, we had to travel over the summit near Strawberry reservoir and the temperature gauge in my truck had dropped to -8 degrees. It was so cold I think we actually witnessed the reservoir freezing before our eyes. Thankfully, when we reached our hunting area it was only 19 degrees!
Strawberry Reservoir At Dawn
My son and I have a special area we hunt. The area is covered with sage and rabbit brush and is dotted with hidden gully’s and rock outcroppings. Perfect Cottontail Rabbit habitat. This area is so productive that we have affectionately named it “Rabbit Central” because of the large number of rabbits we see when we hunt it. We parked the truck, layered ourselves with clothing, loaded our guns and headed for the gully. As we made our way to the gully our hearts sank as we noticed several human footprints headed in the same direction. Since there were no trucks in the area, it appeared that the area had been hunted the day before. After discussing if we should find a new area to hunt or stay and hunt the area we knew, we decided to hunt Rabbit Central and hope that the hunters from the day before were bad shots and just move the rabbits around without killing to many. As we approached the gully, it became obvious the other hunters had not affected the rabbit populations. Cottontail rabbits started darting across the sage in front of us and into the gully. Our spirits immediately rose and we got into position to hunt the gully. My son likes to walk the bottom of the gully and sneak up on the cottontails while they are sunning and eating. I walk the top of the gully with my 12 gauge shotgun to make sure that any rabbits he scares up end up in our game bag.
Typical Rabbit Hole In Side Of A Gully
We hunted that gully and surrounding area for two hours. We saw in excess of 40 rabbits and bagged 6 for the frying pan and stew pot. Interestingly, we saw the same foot prints from the other hunters throughout the gully but never saw any evidence of them having any success. We did notice that the rabbits were a little more skittish then usual and attributed that to the disturbance from the hunters the day before. The area was full of rabbit tracks indicating a very healthy population of these animals.
The rabbits we bagged were healthy and fat. In fact, these were the best conditioned rabbits I have seen in many years. In the end, we ended up with about 7 pounds of wild rabbit meat for the freezer. My son wants me to make him a rabbit stew before he heads back to college in mid-January. I will be making that stew as well as frying and roasting this rabbit meat. Check back to this page for those upcoming recipes.
If you want to try your hand at cooking rabbit, check out my past postings on cooking rabbit.
For information on field dressing a Cottontail Rabbit check out this tutorial on Steven Rinella’s blog. It is the best tutorial I have seen on how to field dress a cottontail rabbit.
As the winter comes to a close so does rabbit season. The last day of the hunt found me braving a late winter snow storm to bag two nice, plump cottontail rabbits.
The 2013-2014 rabbit season has seen more success then the past few years as the rabbits are once again on an upswing in their 10 year population cycle.
Since I was freezing from the snow storm, I thought that the best way to celebrate these rabbits was in a hardy southern Italian stew. This recipe was handed down to me by my grandmother who was an immigrant from Calabria, Italy.
The key to this recipe is to allow the rabbit to braise slowly in the saffron liquid and attain a tender consistency. Serve it with wild rice, a nice green salad and a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Delicious buttermilk fried rabbit recipe. Awesome with both domestic rabbits and wild ones as well. It is also a good recipe for chicken, grouse or pheasant.