Disclaimer: The information on this blog post is intended for information purposes. As with all matters related to hunting check with your local hunting regulations before engaging in a hunt for any of natures wild critters. What you do is solely your responsibility and it is unwise to expect others to be held accountable for your own actions.
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The ammunition will vary, personally I have always liked using rounded pebbles but I have always believed that you should be prepared for varying circumstances as such I will carry different types of ammo to suit the challenges of the hunt.
Canicas aka Marbles I have been pretty successful in the use of the 5/8 cat eye marbles for rabbit hunting as long as you target the head you will do very well.
Also the clear marbles sold for decorative use are slightly larger than 5/8 these are better in that their slight larger size gives the marble a little more weight so better impact.
More info and examples on the reason for having varying projectiles for a hunt is found here on my old blog post.
It should come as no surprise that targeting the rabbit's head is the best way to secure a clean kill and ensure no prolonged suffering.
I include the diagram of the rabbits skeletal structure in relationship to the rest of its body. Now I will review a few places on the rabbit which will also kill a rabbit quickly, one place is not immediately fatal but will prevent the rabbit from running off into the bush and die later.
Note: the numbers are listed from the diagram in order of the most ideal vital target to the least.
1. on the diagram is the cranium (skull) the prime target on a rabbit this is an instant shut down for your quarry. As you can see this is a really small target for this very reason I make it a point to practice shooting at small targets but more on that later. This is the brain and if you use a projectile with a larger striking surface like a marble or similar you can be off by a fraction and the projectile will still shock the brain and deliver a clean kill. Personally I just try for their big dark eye when see the rabbit in a side stand (the ideal shooting position). Usually with my slingshot set up this results in an instant kill.
21. Is the atlas this connects the skull and the cervical vertebrae impact here results in a total disconnection of the nervous system from the brain. I have only hit rabbits here by accident but I assure you it is also a clean kill. Usually those kills were with a heavy projectile.
20. The cervical vertebrae in layman's terms the proverbial neck bone impact here will either result in paralysis or total shut down. This largely depends on weight, speed surface size of projectile etc.
I have accidentally body shot rabbits with stones for ammo, also with lead balls, and with 3/4 marbles that were sitting near a blackberry bramble and the rabbit's adrenaline kicked in and the rabbit ran deep into the blackberry bramble to be lost and die a slow painful death (very sad moments in hunting). This happens even to other hunters who use a rifle, its a reality of hunting.
I'd rather miss a rabbit all together by trying for its head and have it live another day for the chase than cause it unnecessary suffering (my personal rant).
First of all we must consider the basic needs of the cottontail rabbit and this is true of other wild creatures.
The cottontail rabbit requires cover/shelter, a constant food source and safety by this is meant places where the rabbit can escape to safety from predators. When a suitable habit becomes unsafe for rabbits they will usually abandon such a place towards a safer habitat.
Without a special order I will list some of the places I have found cottontail rabbits.
The picture is from a defunct railroad that leads down for half a mile to a place that has blackberry brambles beside the trail that was the old railroad in this place I have found a small population of cottontail rabbits.
Live railroads that house brambles will also have a population of cottontail rabbits. Please be careful of live railroads as you never know when the train is coming. I remember as a child my father once took me on a ride to some railroads he knew and I didn't know he was hunting rabbits but that's what it was that he did. It was my first introduction to hunting small game on the railroads.
What I like about rabbit hunting on the railroads is that its usually a straight forward line so it makes it easier to trail the rabbits, but not easy to stalk as most railroads have some kind of gravel which announces your presence to all wildlife. Never the less the railroad is still one of my favorite old rabbit haunts.
Places that have brambles and a lot of brush and tall grass for the rabbits to hide in.
Here's a typical trail that can house rabbits, plenty of cover and edges for the rabbits to graze and feel safe.
I make sure I have my slingshot ready I inspect the bands make sure they are good and I go over what ammo I will be using and make sure I have enough once I'm out there on the trail.
My basic small game hunting pack, will include my slingshot, I will also pack a back up slingshot (in case of emergency need) and spare bands for in the field repairs: my ammo with plenty of back up ammo (in my case varying ammo to suit the scenario), a pocket knife for dressing game, some plastic disposable gloves for dressing game, also plastic bags to carry game in.
A fire source as you never know when you will need to make a fire. Some drinking water, I also carry an aluminum cup (sometimes) in case I need to boil some water (not likely but you never know). Aside from this the morning of the hunt before I take to the field I will either have a small thermos with my coffee or cold coffee for the hot summer days and pack a small snack some jerky or a granola bar just enough to keep the energy levels up while hiking the trails.
My rabbit hunts are usually early morning and last about 1 hour on the trail unless I'm lucky then they last 30 minutes on the trail. Suffice to say the above supplies are suitable for such hunts.
Early morning I will shower with water no heavy perfumed soaps or shampoos avoid that stuff before the hunt, and no aftershaves, colognes or deodorant. You can use that stuff when you are back home from your hunt because a shower and change of clothes are important to avoid bringing indoors, ticks, fleas or other biting creatures.
To that end once I'm dressed up for the hunt I usually Spray OFF! Deep Woods on my pant legs and the rest of my body the exposed parts I spray with a solution of Alcohol blended with Cedar wood oil as this is a natural insecticide that is as lethal to ticks and fleas as Deet is to the blood suckers. I usually have a pair of clothes outside in my garage and a bag to throw the hunting clothes in to put in for later washing. Just to prevent any potential passengers from invading your home. Ticks are serious customers and can cause fatal illness so its best to play it safe.
Personally I try to not do any talking or make any of the usual human sounds, I have heard stories from other hunters who swear that whistling will stop a rabbit that has bolted. I have also seen hunting videos from a traditional bow hunter who used this whistling tactic without success and then saw where he chose to not talk during his hunt and avoid the whistling and just take his shot when he saw a cottontail in cover finally succeeded in making a harvest.
I personally do not use this whistling nor will I talk if I can help it, silence is my best weapon on the hunt for cottontails.
Very often as I walk a trail and a rabbit bolts whether I had a chance to take a shot at it and missed? I will move on the trail investigating other spots and I often Double back on my trail as rabbits have a habit of returning to the spot you may have spooked the cottontail from initially. This has at times proven to be very successful for me.
Some other things that I have learned is that it helps me to listen to the animals within the surroundings. If birds are singing normally then all is calm and this means that either no predators have recently been through the game trails or other humans. Sometimes the raptors will show you where there can be some hidden rabbits I have had this kind of animal to human hunter communication happen as I will share in the hunting anecdotes.
Hunting Cottontails Using a High Powered Pellet Rifle and Without Dogs: A good read with talk of Moon Phases and their effects on rabbits
Rabbits management Guidelines UC IPM (note) this guide speaks of rabbit management as pests in urban settings a good read. http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7447.html