Ca. Rabbit Season Opener

spectr17

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RABBIT SEASON OPENER -- Jim Matthews outdoor column -- 19jun02

Rabbit season opener July 1



Most guys skip the open day of cottontail rabbit season on July 1 because it's always hot, and many people still buy in to the myth about rabbits being wormy this time of year. I think I look forward to this season as much as any other through the fall. Maybe more.

Maybe it's because the plums on the tree in my backyard are fully ripe by the cottontail opener, and I'm think about fall harvests (and a wonderful plum-garlic baste we make for game). Maybe it's because I hunt rabbits with my favorite rimfire rifles. Maybe it's because rabbits are so darn good on the barbecue. Maybe it's just because its the first hunting season of the year.

Hunters can get excited about the coming fall in May and June because of tag application deadlines, new hunting licenses, maybe the purchase a new gun and getting it ready for our big game hunting. But October and November still seem like a long way off. The rabbits provide an outlet, an excuse, to get up before first light and go sit at the edge of an opening or old burn in chaparral and glassing the edges of the brush for moving rabbits at first light. Or last light after a day at work.

The beauty of rabbits for me is that they are not expeditionary. Big game -- even upland birds and doves to some extent -- require more planning and time. Big game mandates that you prepare for success and have a myriad of gear and ice chests. It involves longer hikes into country further from roads. Bird hunting requires, at least for me, the packing of dogs and all their gear. Even short hunts often stretch into half a day or more. Rabbit hunting requires a .22 and about a hour of spare time first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening. In 30 minutes, I can be hunting cottontails from just about anywhere in Southern California. I have some pretty good spots only 10 minutes from my house. The .22 stays in the truck this time of year. A guy never knows when he might get a chance to go.

The other thing is that I usually hunt rabbits alone. While hunting is traditionally a fraternal sport, which is one of the reasons we all like, I generally find myself by myself when hunting rabbits. I have hunting buddies who dearly love to hunt rabbits and get sidetracked when hunting quail if they find a pocket of bunnies, but I prefer to hunt rabbits like big game. Usually I sit with binoculars watching a small clearing with the .22, but the distances are usually short and if I don't have binoculars in the truck when I decide to go, it's not a big deal.

Sitting quietly with your own thoughts is not a bad way to begin or end a day. All the unimportant clutter filters out of your mind while you watch the scrub jays, hear the first coyote howl of the evening, and maybe even see a cottontail come out of the brush and feed its way along the edge of some chemise.

Sometimes I'll still hunt along a wash, rather than sitting, but I force myself to not cover more than 200 yards or so in that magic first or last hour. You take a step and watch for a black eye looking toward you, catch every movement and flicker. Another half step. It's not a whole lot different than sitting in one spot.

I don't bring a lot of game home hunting this way, but I suspect that's not entirely the point. It's the first hunt of the new season.

Rabbit hunting primer

Like with most other small and upland game, rabbits are creatures of their habitat, and good rain years generally translate into good rabbit years. Bad water years, like this one, seems to concentrate the rabbits in areas where the moisture and feed are best. Find the spots where the water and feed is good, and you'll find rabbits even in these dry years.

Scouting: That requires a little scouting. Since I often don't bother or have time to scout prior to the season, my scouting is usually done with a .22 in hand -- just in case. I mostly hunt Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management land. Two to five-year old foothill burns in canyons that have seasonal or permanent water are usually hot spots because they allow for lots of fresh vegetation and -- more importantly for us -- enough openings for visibility. In more arid areas of our deserts, hunting rabbits like big game makes sense: focus on the northeast-facing slopes where there is more vegetation and cover. I focus most of my scouting in chaparral and pinon-juniper habitats, and driving dirt roads after dark is a good way to find areas with concentrations of bunnies.

Binoculars: I learned a long time ago that you see more game by looking than walking. This is just as true with rabbits as big game, and I hunt with a binocular around my neck. Since most game is spotted at first or last light, I like binoculars that have an exit pupil of at least 4 mm (divide the power into the diameter of the object lens to determine exit pupil), which lets out most compacts for me. The greater exit pupil allows you to see better in low light, allowing you to peer into deep brushy shadows and see game at last shooting light.

Rifles and Ammo: One word here -- accurate. For more of my rabbit hunting, I use one of two rifles, an Anschutz Model 1516 in .22 magnum or a Ruger M77/22 in the regular .22 rimfire round. Both bolt rifles are accurate. I know that I can hit a rabbit in the head at 50 yards with either gun. In fact, I'm pretty confident with the .22 mag on out to 125-yard shots. I find most shots are from 20 to 40 yards, almost always on sitting game. There's not a lot of meat on the front quarters of a yearling rabbit, and if you are more comfortable with this bigger target, instead of the head, use the front quarters as your aiming point. Both shots will anchor a rabbit quickly and humanely. With the .22 mag, I generally use Winchester Supreme 34-grain load, Federal's Premium 30-grain load, or the new CCI 30-grain TNT load, while with the .22, I use Winchester Power Points or Remington Yellowjackets.

Game Care: Try to clean and skin your rabbits within two hours after you shoot them. If you happen to shoot them in the guts, clean them quicker. Don't leave them in a game bag or truck bed half a day. I like to get them cleaned and in marinade within an hour and have them the next day, or that evening if it was a morning hunt. If you want to save up three or four rabbits for a bigger gathering, rabbits retain their wonderful flavor even after freezing. I would recommend a vacuum freezing system to eliminate freezer burn, or you can freeze rabbits in those hefty freezer bags filled with water so the rabbit is completely encased in ice. That helps eliminate the contact with air that causes freezer burn.

I like rabbits just about any way they are prepared -- in stews (with big shitake mushrooms, ummmmm), grilled, fried, or even baked. I probably barbecue them (after soaking in one of several simple marinades) more than any other method. They are better than chicken.
 

MarinePMI

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Jesse,

Could not agree more.  There's just something relaxing about rabbit hunting.  No pressure to fill your tag, very little prep and lots of areas to hunt.  I guess it's one of those things that take us back to younger times when a boy and a .22 were a natural, accepted combination.  Where bottles, cans, and pennies were cashed in and saved to buy a box of shells.  Those shells were in some ways, I think, a token or symbol of a passage of rites of sorts.  A boy learning to be a man.  Learning through hard work and all too often the hard lessons that nature teaches.  A friend and I talk periodically about those young and often hard times.  Funny, some of the best, most rewarding and fond memories are when we didn't have a lot, but made do with what we had.  Yes, rabbit hunting always brings back a barrage of memories.  The smell of the morning dew on the grass, the gentle brush against the cheek by the first morning breeze, the sound of nature coming alive as the sun climbs into the sky...Yes indeed my friend, not a bad way to spend the morning...
 

Newby

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Megga diddos guys, thats about all I can say. Do you have any suggestions on where to go in the S.B. desert?
 

yotegetter

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I can't wait for the cottontails. They've been all over the place lately.
 

MarinePMI

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Newby,

Sorry guy, don't know the S.B. area at all. :-(
 

Thonzberry

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Jesse your making my mouth water :stimpy: I know a couple of places, but there are always more Jacks then Cottons, anyways Cottons are great eating......BBQ or Baked in Olive oil with red rose patatoes ( YUM YUM YUM ).
 

karstic

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Newby

If by SB you mean San Bernardino, you could try the Baldy Mesa area in Cajon pass if it's not still burning or Camp Cady east of Barstow, or off into the desert in the early morning. Be aware though that the area around Barstow/Victorville is shotgun only.
 

3000fps

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Long ago I tired of trying my hand at golf and the driving range and found a much more spiritually cleansing pastime of long range (as long as possible of course) target plinking with my bolt action .22wmr.  I can disapear for hours just patiently focusing and shooting.  I've seen guys drive trucks through brush to get the jacks or cotton tails to run so they could take them with shotguns.  This method really disturbs the harmony and balance of the shooting activity so I can appreciate a more "sniper like" approach to rabbiting.  Unfortunately i've only shot paper to date being a city dweller in L.A.  So could any of you more experienced guys lend me a mental hand and give me a hint as to a close place where I might quietly wait on a hillside for dinner to hop by?  I'll start my forray into the pastime of hunting quietly and at peace.

Thanks for any info beforehand.  
 

wildbirdhunter

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Welcome to Jesse’s form 3000fps
I can’t really help you with a place to hunt living in San Diego but a lot of the guys on this form are from that area so some one I hope will be along shortly to help out.
WBH
 

Bishop

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I've been rabbbit hunting Baldy Mesa for 25 years.  Was looking forward to going up there next month, but the fire is ruining that.  The east side of 15 has burned twice.  On the west side I saw a lot of quail and rabbits when I was hunting jacks in March.  I heard the fire burn't both sides of the freeway this time.   I may have to go back to Carrizo.  Boy do they have a lot of rabbits.
 

stickman

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The Cajon fire definately has changed my rabbit plans this year. I don't know about Carizo. There definately were rabbits everywhere but it has to be a cooker out here in July.
 

gwhunter69

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Sounds like what I like to do with Gray Squirrels...nice story thanks...

(Edited by gwhunter69 at 10:52 am on June 21, 2002)
 

bubba

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I managed to bag one while deer hunting last year.  It turned ou tto be the only thing I bagged that week.  The deer and grouse were not cooperating .  I shared it with 4 guys.  I was actually out to get a few sguirrels, of course when I wen tback to switch to my .22 they were all gone (intuition?) and this sole cottontail came ou tto play.  I'm hopingto get m esome grouse this year.
 

1SoCalHunter

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I saw a whole bunch of cottons at Prado on Thursday night...:smile-big-blue::smile-big-blue:

(Edited by 1SoCalHunter at 7:35 am on June 22, 2002)
 

Orso

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I just bought a Rem 597 22mag and thought I would do some rabbit hunting.  I wanted to try tanning hides this year.  I live in the LA area and was wondering if some of you guys could suggest where to hunt.  My first thought was Carrizo Plains.  I've only driven by Carrizo and thought rabbit hunting would be a good way of looking for pigs (after we get some rain).  Any other suggestions?  Somewhere close, so I could hunt in the morning and be back to watch the kids in the afternoon...

1SoCalHunter...Prado, as in Prado Dam?  Is it legal to hunt there?  Shotguns only?
 

docramo

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Ishop
Just got bagk from a trip over Cajon Pass and it appears that most of the burn is on the east side of the 15 freeway. It looked like little of the west side burned. Maybe a little soon to give up on Baldy Mesa due to burn yet.
 

Bishop

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Docramo:  That sounds a little encouraging.  I'm going to Vegas next weekend, so I'll take a look when I go over the summit.  Hope my spots are still there.
 

1SoCalHunter

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Orso:
"Prado" as Prado Olympic Shooting grounds, where you can shoot trap and skeet there, and NO you can't shoot the rabbits there, it was just a joke :smile-big-blue: but they sure have a ton of cotton tails there, I must have counted at least a dozen in about an hour....
 

QALHNTR

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<font face="Tahoma">I can honestly say that I've never seen more rabbits than I did out at Carrizo.  I usually take my fair share during the bird season but this was different.  When Grtwythntr & I headed out to our second calling spot, we chased up nine or ten bunnies within 100 yards.  I might have to just bear the heat and head up there.</font>
 


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