A scatter of fur at the Scrivner Road Conservation
Area (about three miles south of Russellville,
Mo.,) was mute evidence that a
predator had passed that way, maybe a fox or coyote or possibly someone armed
with a beagle and a shooting iron. My bird dogs showed great interest in the
rabbit aroma, but we had a discussion about it.
It recalled a quail hunt on the Robert M. White Conservation Area north of Mexico, Mo.
locked up. I stepped in front of him and a rabbit bolted and I turned to
explain the difference between winged creatures and furred ones -- and a huge
covey of quail erupted behind me.
I wished for a beagle at that moment ... .
The season in Missouri
is long, from October 1 through February 15, and the bag limit is liberal at
six daily, 12 in possession for cottontails; two and four for swamp
rabbits. (Check the state DNR for any changes before you go hunting).
Cottontail rabbits once were so numerous they were commercially-trapped; now
they are strictly a game animal. Retired Department of Conservation rabbit biologist
Ken Sadler once said that rabbits are just like people. "When they overpopulate
they get stressed out, develop ulcers and die."
Some opt to still hunt, hoping to startle a rabbit. The best tactic is
to walk, stop, walk, stop. The hesitations often spook a jittery bunny into
flight. Others wait for a snow and track rabbits to their hides. But
of all the methods, running rabbits with a beagle is the most fun.
Obviously a shotgun is more certain on a running bunny, but deposits several
too many pellets to the delight of dentists everywhere. The single
projectile is deadly, but harder to place in a fleeting rabbit. Some opt for a
bow or a crossbow, and a few hunt with falcons --
usually a dog to start the bunny and a raptor to finish it.
A friend uses a .22-rifle with a big magazine and "walks" the rounds onto
the bounding bunny. He doesn't worry about shooting his dogs because
beagles scent hunt and usually are far behind the rabbit, unlike a greyhound,
which sight hunts and runs the prey down.
Regardless of the method, rabbits remain a staple of the Missouri hunters' season. When deer and
turkeys were virtually extirpated from the "Show-Me State," rabbits thrived and
every rural kid learned to hunt them for the family pot.
Then it was necessity; now it's just pure fun.
For a fine selection of Small Game/Predator gear, click here.