To find a rabbit, find a brush pile

BALDWIN – Some rabbit hunters locally have noticed that rabbit tracks seem to be fewer and farther apart in locations this winter. Some have wondered if this means some problem with an increase in predators, disease, or poor reproduction.

If rabbit hunters are finding this worrisome, think about the poor rabbit hounds. Beagles and other rabbit hounds live for the chase, and when they don’t find a bunny to chase they are sadder than their already sad faces.

Why this seemingly downward trend is happening was a question to be answered. When asked about this, DNR biologist Pete Kailing said he wasn’t sure that those possible problems of health or breeding success might not have some effect on cottontail rabbits; but offered his view that a highly possible reason why hunters are not seeing as many tracks or other signs of bunnies in some locations may be in a lack of habitat – in particular a decline in the number of brush piles, a prime warren area for cottontails during the daytime hours.

“Logging operations today see lots of the slash being taken out along with the timber – for use as chipped material- and leaving little in the way of the slash that create brush piles,” Kailing said.

Cottontails burrow up at night in earthen holes, staying safe from deep cold and most nighttime predators; but in the times when they are out to feed and to take daytime shelter they will use brush piles or other natural heavy brush habitat to rest in and be safe from the many predators that prey on them.

“When logging operations take all the slash as well as the trees, it removes an important part of their habitat.”

Kailing said that if a number of serious rabbit hunters wanted to up their chances, they might take on some brush pile building in areas near to where rabbits would find food – willow, osier, fruity shrubs and other vegetation - close by.

Best times for finding rabbits moving is at day’s end when they leave daytime cover to feed then head for overnight burrows, and then again in early pre-dawn to sunup when they venture out to feed and then find day shelter in brush pile.

In some cases, rabbits will dig burrows within the brush piles, but in most cases brush piles serve for daytime ‘warrens’ (sheltered places to rest in with cover to shield from predators). Brush piles make excellent warren areas. That means that one good way to get a hound and rabbit chase going is to find and kick a brush pile to get to get a nervous bunny to break out and start the chase that hunters and hounds live for come winter.

“If you would find more brush piles you will likely find more rabbits,” Kailing said, again pointing out that habitat is the key for any species, and especially for that favorite small game mammal we call a cottontail rabbit. “Find the habitat and you are likely to find your query.” For a bunny chase that means a brush piles are a prime starting point.

For the small game hunter, the rabbit season is the longest season of any, from September 15 to the end of March – six and a half months to try your luck on a fleet-footed and super skittish target. But it is winter with its tracking snow that sees the most interest for hunters and hounds.

If hunting cotton-rumped rabbits this season, find a brush pile this winter and kick the stuffing’s out of it. Your beagle will get a kick out of it, too!