Hunting jackrabbits can be challenging, but it’s a great way to control a potential nuisance population while honing your hunting skills. They also have lean, tasty meat that’s often used as a replacement for poultry. Even the most experienced small animal hunters have to work at bagging a jackrabbit. I’ve been hunting small game in Wyoming, including cottontails and jackrabbits, for about 16 years. These tips may help take the guesswork out of hunting, help you get cleaner shots, and help ensure that your next jackrabbit hunt is fruitful.
Pick your jackrabbit hunting equipment
Most hunters choose either a small-bore rifle or a shotgun for jackrabbit hunting. In small-bore, a .22 or .223 is often the top pick. Which one is best? That will depend on the hunting terrain, the method you intend to use, and when you’ll be hunting. The general rule of thumb is that anywhere that you’ll likely get a long shot — such as in open terrain and/or in the early morning – bring a rifle.
Shotguns are, obviously, a lot easier to shoot without missing. They’re excellent for closed terrain where short-distance shots are probably the only option you’ll have. It’s also a good option if you have to flush rabbits out of the brush and need to make a close-range but high-speed shot. The only real drawback here is that removing shot from a rabbit before you eat it can be time-consuming, and someone will inevitably still bite down on a ball from time to time.
Know how to find your quarry
Some jackrabbit hunters believe that you can only hunt these rabbits at night or in the early morning, which is when they’re active and easy to spot. It’s actually quite possible to hunt during the day, it just takes a little more patience and a good knowledge of the terrain so you know where to find the rabbits.
Open daytime terrain is preferable if you don’t want to walk for your jackrabbits, but it takes some practice to know how to spot the well-hidden animals. When you are within range of a potential hunting spot, give a single shrill, loud whistle. If you can’t manage it on your own, a sports whistle works very well for this. Jackrabbits know that movement kills, so they won’t run. Instead, they will extend their ears up to identify the sound. Those ears make the perfect guide for the shot. This strategy works best in areas with low-lying brush or on grassland.
Sagebrush and rabbit brush are prime jackrabbit hideouts, and they sit high off the ground. A careful examination with binoculars will reveal the animals huddled under the foliage so they can be taken with a rifle. Alternatively, walk by yourself or with a well-trained dog through rabbit areas to flush out the rabbits, then use a shotgun for the kill. If you flush an animal while you have a rifle and aren’t confident in your ability to make a moving shot, simply watch where the jackrabbit goes. Eventually, it will find a new hiding place and stop.
Handle harvested animals with care to avoid pests and disease
Living in Wyoming, I’m constantly reminded of just how important it is to handle wild animals carefully. After all, this is one of the last surviving pockets of bubonic plague in the United States, and there’s trichinosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia – the list goes on. While none of these are very likely, it’s crucial to practice safe handling. Rough-skin the animal in the field and put the skin and body in separate sealed plastic bags, then get them on ice as quickly as possible. If you plan to cure the skin, freeze it first to kill any mites, ticks, or other parasites, and then let it thaw to work with it. If you don’t skin the animal in the field, then freeze the entire animal before working with it – surface parasites leave the body soon after death, so you only have a short window to safely work with the fresh kill. Whenever possible, handle the animal with gloves.
Food animals must be chilled, then either frozen or cooked as quickly as possible after harvest. Always carry a cooler with you, butcher the animal the same day, and get it into either the freezer or oven. Properly prepared meat is healthy and considered safe, but mishandling can have dire consequences. Review food handling safety and follow it to the letter, paying special attention to the proper temperatures and frequent hand-washing just as you would with any meat.