NEBRASKAS COTTONTAIL HUNTING SEASON OPENS SEPTEMBER 1 - Tom Keith
LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraskas 2005 cottontail rabbit hunting season will be September 1 though February 28, 2006, giving hunters a full six months to hunt Americas number one game animal.
Cottontail rabbits are among the most challenging and rewarding small game species. Its not difficult or expensive to hunt them and there are plenty of cottontails within a 15 minute drive of nearly anyone in the state.
Rabbit hunting traditionally begins after the first light snow or hard freeze when the crops have been harvested and there is less cover to hide the rabbits. Some hunters, however, just cant wait to get into the field and begin hunting them on opening day.
September 1 is often one of the hottest and most humid days of the year and anyone hunting then should be equipped with insect repellant, drinking water, sunglasses and have a cooler of ice in the vehicle where game can be placed to protect it from spoiling in the heat.
Rabbits may be legally hunted 30 minutes before sunrise to sunset. The first two or three hours in the morning are the coolest of the day, so thats the ideal time to be in the field. Coincidentally, rabbit habits have changed over the years. In the past it was common to see cottontails all day long, but recently they have become more active at night and are most commonly seen from dawn to about mid-morning and then again during the last couple of hours of daylight in the evening.
When there is heavy cover on the ground its a waste of time to try to walk rabbits up. It is much more productive and easier walking to concentrate on the field edges where there is less, and, often shorter, vegetation. Because of the heavier cover early in the year, the hunter must have excellent reflexes and be able to shoot quickly and accurately.
It will be cooler in the woods than in the open fields, and in the early season hunting thin strips of timber growing along small creeks is often productive. In these areas limbs and branches often fall into patches of weeds, creating ideal spots for rabbits to hide from predators, keep cool in the shade and have easy access to water. Often there is little weed growth among the trees, which makes it easier to spot a rabbit as it ventures out to feed or tries to sneak away from danger.
Although hunters generally hunt with their favorite firearms, just about any type of firearm , within reason, is suitable for rabbit hunting, from the tiny .22-caliber rifle loaded with “.22 short” rimfire cartridges to heavy 12-gauge magnum shotguns. Some archers use arrows with broadheads, blunts or “judo” points to hunt rabbits and some hunters use pistols. Some even hunt bunnies with powerful, high-powered sling shots.
In Nebraska, most rabbits are probably killed with a full-choke 12-gauge shotgun loaded with shotshells containing magnum loads on No. 6 shot. Thats because most hunters who kill rabbits in Nebraska do so while actually pursuing pheasants or quail. But the hunter who goes specifically after rabbits generally chooses somewhat less power, though opinions vary widely as to exactly what is the optimum combination for rabbits. It usually comes down to personal choice, but any shotgun from 12- to 28-gauge loaded with 2 3/4-inch field loads containing an ounce of No. 4, 5, 6, or 7 1/2 shot will do the trick. Because most shots are taken between 10 and 35 yards at fast-moving rabbits ducking and dodging erratically toward or through some type of cover, most hunters find a modified or improved cylinder choke to be the best choice.
Finding a good rabbit hunting area is not difficult. Though roughly 98 percent of the land in Nebraska is privately owned, there are some 300 state and federal public areas encompassing about 800,000 acres where public hunting is allowed. Many rural landowners will allow rabbit hunting on their property, but it is imperative that the hunter receive the landowners permission before trespassing or hunting on private land.
Game taken when the weather is hot must be quickly dressed and cooled to preserve the quality and flavor of the meat and rabbits are no exception. In the field, immediately gut the rabbit and prop the body cavity open with a stick to help cool the meat, as you would when field dressing a deer. As soon as you return to your vehicle, skin the rabbit, remove head, feet and tail, and put the carcass on ice in a cooler. Never put the meat into a plastic bag until it is thoroughly cooled. At home, finish cleaning the carcass by removing hairs and small bits entrails that may remain in the body cavity. Wash the carcass well in the sink and rinse well with cold, running water. Then place the meat in a container filled with water, such as an old milk carton, and freeze it. Or, pat the meat dry and then wrap it in regular butcher paper and freeze. Label and date the container or package to avoid confusion later.
Nebraska has a number of public hunting lands that offer outstanding rabbit hunting. For a complete list of Nebraskas public hunting lands, their sizes, locations, species available and special area regulations, pick up a free copy of the Nebraska Hunting Guide at any Game and Parks Commission office or from any of hundreds of permit vendors across the state. A few of the most popular rabbit hunting areas include: Wagon Train Lake WMA, near Hickman; Osage WMA, 618 acres near Tecumseh; Wildwood WMA, 491 acres near Agnew; Harlan County Reservoir WMA, 17,278 acres near Alma; Brazile Creek WMA, 4,500 acres near Niobrara; Sacramento WMA, 3,023 acres near Wilcox; and Merritt Reservoir WMA, 6,156 acres near Valentine.
Wherever you hunt, remember to wear hunter orange so you will be easily seen and identified by other hunters. The law does not require upland game hunters to wear hunter orange, but doing so just might save your life.
Before heading out to hunt squirrels, you can purchase a 2005 Nebraska hunting permit and Habitat Stamp online from the Game and Parks Commissions web site at www.outdoornebraska.org, from a Game and Parks office or any of some 900 permit vendors across the state. All residents 16 years of age and older who hunt small game and waterfowl must have a Nebraska hunting permit and a Nebraska Habitat Stamp. All nonresident hunters, regardless of age, must have a Nebraska hunting permit and a Nebraska Habitat Stamp. The resident annual hunting permit costs $12, a nonresident annual hunting permit is $68, and the Nebraska Habitat Stamp, is $13.
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