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OUTDOORS WITH BABE WINKELMAN

Silly wabbit

By Babe Winkelman

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[April 05, 2014]  You don't hear much about rabbit hunting these days. When I was a kid, the number of gunners out chasing bunnies (and squirrels too) was a lot higher. But for whatever reason, Peter Cottontail just doesn't get a lot of press. So I figured I'd pay homage to this fleet-footed, great-tasting animal.

I also want to inspire you to grab that scattergun and hit the field with a kid or a new hunter and experience the thrill of rabbit hunting. They're cagey, dodgy and a great way to introduce future hunters to our sport. Hunting them will improve anyone's woodsmanship and marksmanship. Plus, at the end of the day, you'll have a bounty for the dinner table. I'll tell you my favorite way to prepare them at the end of this article.

When you head out on a day afield for rabbits, the first task is to find bunnies. Head to farm country and do some from-the-road scouting during first light. This is when you'll often spot cottontails wrapping up their evenings along field edges, tree lines, brushy ditches and other edges adjoining thick cover.

After locating a likely looking spot, it's typically easy to get a farmer's permission to access private land. They're not too fond of having a bunch of rabbits around anyway, and as long as you're gracious and respectful of their property, you'll be assured of having long-term permission.

Next, dress yourself in the proper gear. Comfortable boots, brush pants and blaze orange are just the ticket. Safety comes first, and because rabbit cover is usually the thickest stuff around, it's important that every hunter be highly visible to ensure security.

Load your shotgun with low-brass 7-1/2s. I like an improved cylinder 20-gauge, but .410s, 28s and 12s make great bunny busters too. For those looking for a real adventure, poking around with a .22 or even archery tackle is an exciting challenge.

When you're into the rabbit cover, you'll have the best success with a walk-and-stop approach. Find the thickest, brushiest areas around and take a dozen or so steps. Then stop, look and listen for about a minute. Rabbits will often freeze up when you approach, then get very nervous when you stop, and eventually bolt as a result. So be ready! And every time you stop, take a look over both shoulders at your back trail. The clever bunny will often sneak around behind you to make his escape.

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As you walk and stop, look for rabbit sign. If there's snow on the ground, great. Their recognizable tracks and trails will be easy to spot. Look for their telltale droppings too. And if you find fresh cuttings on the stalks of bushes and small saplings, then a rabbit won't be far away. Another thing to look for is shining eyes. Rabbits have incredible natural camouflage, but their big, shiny eyes will often give them away as they hunker down in the thick stuff.

Be prepared to shoot fast when a rabbit busts cover. They're quick! Anticipate that they'll head for the next patch of heavy cover, and when they get there, they'll often stop  and sometimes it's within shotgun range. If you connect on one, get to him quick so you don't lose the location. Oftentimes you can be right on top of a dead rabbit and it will still be hard to find.

Finally, when you get home and have the rabbits all cleaned and parted out, here's a very simple but delicious way to prepare them. Soak the pieces in salt water for a few hours or more. Then pat them dry and dust them in seasoned flour. "Flash-fry" the pieces in hot, hot oil or bacon drippings to sear the outside of the rabbit. Then, layer the pieces in a cast-iron baking pot. I like to put some sliced onion between the layers. Cover your pot with the iron lid and slow-bake the rabbit for about four hours at 250 degrees. When it's done, the meat will literally fall from the bones and taste about as good as anything you've ever eaten.

There's a reason Elmer Fudd worked so hard chasing wabbits. They're fun to hunt and fabulous to eat. So get out there and enjoy it for yourself, and best of luck.

Good hunting.

[By BABE WINKELMAN]

Babe Winkelman hosts "Good Fishing" and "Outdoor Secrets," the most-watched fishing and hunting programs on television. Tune in on NBC Sports Network, Destination America, Velocity, Time Warner Sports Texas & New York, and many local broadcast channels. Visit Winkelman.com for airtimes and more information. Follow Babe Winkelman on Facebook and Twitter.

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