I said in last weeks' column that I have seen more young rabbits along the secondary roads this summer than I have seen in several years. This can be good or bad news.
An adult female cottontail rabbit can have as many as six litters a year with as many as 10 bunnies per litter. This is really bad news for any farmer trying to raise a vegetable garden. The young bunnies can reach mating age in 3 months. When the predators are low, rabbits sometimes get out of control. Hunting and predatory animals will usually prevent this from happening over a long period of time.
At the same time, this is great news for people who like to rabbit hunt. Cottontail rabbit hunting is good fun for any hunter. It is a wonderful way to introduce youth or an adult to this noble sport. Rabbit hunting and beagle hunting dogs go together like ham and eggs. A properly trained beagle is an eager-to-please dog that enjoys the sport as much as any person who likes to hunt.
The cottontail rabbits we have in West Virginia have very acute hearing aided by large, sensitive ears. However, their only defense is their ability to run. Cottontails can run up to 20 miles an hour for about one half a mile where the habitat is good like agriculture fields that can be as dense as two per acre.
I said in last week's column that Randolph County is not prime rabbit country. After all, it is about 80 to 85 percent forested land. Cottontail rabbits prefer open fields and briar patches like the areas of Jackson, Mason and Putnam counties. There is also a large amount of multiflora rose in these counties. Now, that is prime rabbit country.
I remember when I was a young teenager in the late 1950s. I was permitted to go rabbit hunting with my father and great uncle. It was part of a crazy deal that the one who shoots and misses has to carry the rabbits. We started hunting about 8 a.m., and at about 10 a.m. we had two rabbits that I was carrying.
My Uncle Bill jumped one, got off a quick shot and missed. He quickly worked the slide on his shotgun and got off a second shot that downed the rabbit. He then says "There's another one for you, Kenneth."
I replied, "No, you missed that rabbit. You can carry these and the one you just got."
It really did not do me much good. About 30 minutes later, I missed another and ended up carrying them for the remainder of the day. When we went home, dad got two, Uncle Bill had four, and I was skunked.
To be successful at rabbit hunting, it is almost necessary to have a good hunting dog. Hunting rabbits is not at all like hunting deer or squirrels. My dad was quick to tell me when I was learning how to hunt, "When you go rabbit hunting, you hunt the rabbits." When the rabbit hunter has a dog, the dog will do most of the hunting. When the dog jumps a rabbit, the chase is on. The rabbit will usually run in a large circle when it realizes that the short-legged beagle cannot catch it. All that the hunter has to do is see where the circle is going and then cut across the arc.
I did a good bit of rabbit hunting in the 1960s and early 1970s before I came to Elkins. I was usually by myself. I had a dog, but Bessie was a Samoyed. She liked to run, but she was just too fast for rabbit hunting. While I enjoyed taking her out in the country just to watch her run, I was still able to get a few rabbits. When my mother prepared them, they were delicious. A young rabbit fried in real butter is just simply good eating.