There seems to be a lot of confusion about rabbit hunting. Not only do many wonder what the best eating of the species is, but there is a stigma around parasites that keeps many hunters from going after these challenging animals. They’re small, they’re fast, they’re stealth but if you’ve never had a good hasenpfeffer, you’re missing out on a treat.
First of all, there are several species of rabbit. Brush, cottontail, pygmy and varying hare (snowshoe rabbits) have a general season here in California. In most areas, the season for these four species opens July first and goes till the last Sunday in January. These are the ones you want to eat although you can eat the others. Jack rabbits (both blacktail and whitetail) can be hunted year round and although they are edible, my experience has generally been that the meat is a bit tough because of how lanky they are. But, if you’re in for the experience, they’re worth the hunt.
If you’re going for the little guys, the bag limit is 5 per day (10 in possession) and there is no limits on jack rabbits.
Now, before you head out with heavy artillery, remember that a .22 caliber rifle, with or without a scope is a nice choice. I hunted rabbits in Mexico with a 20 gauge shotgun and it almost felt like cheating. Also, if you have kids and want to introduce them to hunting, rabbit hunting is about as good as it gets, and it’s a blast.
Desert areas are usually where you’ll find them. They like the thick cover and you will almost always see them running around when you’re driving at dawn or dusk. We used to hunt jackrabbits at night while driving around in the desert. This is a good way to get arrested.
Early in the morning or late in the afternoon are the best times to hunt rabbits. Similar to most animals, they like to eat when there is minimal light. I like to find a spot that has a lot of cover on both sides of the road and simply walk the dirt roads. You will also have good luck veering off dirt roads onto game trails that are thickly covered. I like to go at a moderate pace (not too fast and not too slow) so they know I’m there. It is also a good idea to stop every few minutes and wait. Many times they will get nervous and dart out so make sure you’re ready for a shot. I have always had the most luck by constantly moving from trail to trail. They will pop out everywhere and it can be exciting and challenging to shoot one.
Fall or after a couple of freezes is the best time to ensure you’re not dealing with parasites. I don’t like to hunt rabbits when it’s warm because of the odds that it has a lot of parasites. Although the parasites live in the fur mainly, you’ll still feel better using gloves. Get a few pair of the heavy blue surgical kind to make sure they don’t rip. This is an issue that has come up a lot lately but I’ve never had a problem. Just make sure you clean the rabbit as soon as you can and use common sense when handling it.
Some of the prettiest and softest furs I have are rabbit. You might want to save the fur and make a little furry pelt (I do). Get enough and you can have a nice rabbit fur blanket. Discard the head and legs when you clean the rabbit and wash the insides with water. After that, treat the meat like you would any wild game. Keep it cool, cook it thoroughly and you’ll have little to worry about.
My preferred method of cooking rabbit is the CrockPot. You can’t go wrong if you throw it in there with some carrots, potatoes, celery, onion, and some red wine. Let it cook all day. You’ll be happier than a pig in the mud!