Cottontail hunting fills the off-season gap

BUNNY TRADITION – The author (L) and his good buddy, Rito Escamilla pose with limits of cottontail rabbits taken a few years back. This should be an excellent year for rabbit hunting. TIM E. HOVEY PHOTO

By Tim E. Hovey

Smack dab in the center of the year, right in the middle of the hunting offseason is the cottontail rabbit opener. Owing to their prolific reproductive rate, cottontail rabbits have one of the longest game seasons of any other species in California. Stretching almost seven months, the opener starts July 1st, extending through the last Sunday in January. The daily bag limit here in California is five rabbits a day, with ten in possession.

Most hunters get their hunting start by pursuing small game like cottontail rabbits. They are abundant in most wild areas where water and green vegetation exist. They are heavily tied to seasonal precipitation, with litters being smaller or absent during prolonged drought periods. However, they are one of the first species to rebound when the rains return.

COTTONTAIL RABBIT – Rabbit populations are heavily tied to precipitation. Hunters should see abundant rabbit presence in areas where they occur. TIM E. HOVEY PHOTO

Their habitat requirements are particularly specialized. They won’t be far from water, and they need heavy brush where they can escape predation. When I’m investigating new areas, I look for fresh rabbit scat and prints in dusty areas. Their scat is small, round and about the size of a pea. If you find lots of this in an area, start hunting.


Rabbits are more active during the early morning and closer to dusk. They usually wait out the heat of the day in heavy brush or in underground burrows. In mild temperatures they can be active throughout the day.

Using any gauge of shotgun, loaded with number 7’s or 8’s, hunters will do well walking brushy habitat adjacent to a spring or water source. Rabbits are thin-skinned animals and easily harvested with the small shot shells. When I’m shotgun hunting, I like to brush up against vegetation while I walk, hopefully kicking up resting rabbits.

JESS LIMIT – Jessica Hovey poses with her first cottontail rabbit limit. Most hunters started their journey by hunting small game, like rabbit. TIM E. HOVEY PHOTO

One of my favorite ways to hunt cottontails is to set up on a high point, overlooking a drainage or good rabbit habitat during the morning or evening. Putting the sun at my back and using binoculars, I’ll glass for rabbits either feeding or moving during their active periods. Resting my scoped 17 HMR rifle on a set of shooting sticks, I’ll snipe rabbits out to 150 yards. It is my favorite way to hunt rabbits.

SOLO LIMIT – A morning walk in a drainage resulted in a limit for the author. Rabbits will not be far from a water source. TIM E. HOVEY PHOTO

Rabbit meat is one of the tastiest and tender wild meats out there. It’s a white meat and cooks up just like chicken. Our favorite dish is rabbit in mushroom sauce. We brown up the rabbit meat in a saucepan filled with olive oil. Once brown, we place the meat in a casserole dish and cover it with two cans of mushroom soup. It’s then placed in the oven at 425 degrees until done.

BAKED RABBIT – Rabbit meat is one of the tastiest wild game meats. It can be cooked in a number of ways. Pan fried and then set in the oven
With mushroom sauce is the author’s favorite. TIM E. HOVEY PHOTO

This season’s habitat conditions for cottontail rabbits are excellent, and they should be abundant where they occur. They are excellent table fare and easily harvested. Start the hunting season off right and take your shotgun or rimfire for a walk. This will be a great year for cottontail rabbits.