How to Hunt Winter Rabbits without Dogs

You can bag a few bunnies just by walking through the woods with a shotgun. But here’s a better plan

A cottontail rabbit ventures along a field edge after a dusting of snow.
A cottontail rabbit ventures along a field edge after a dusting of snow.Deposit Photos

When you have no dog, you have to be the dog. You must stomp every brush pile and rattle every blowdown. Leave no briar patch untouched. But beyond that, there are strategies to up your no-beagle bunny game. Without dogs, simply moving through the woods in a linear fashion wastes time and energy. Instead, pull up a satellite image of your cover, and hatch a battle plan that works high-value habitats hard and passes by marginal covers, such as open woods and cutovers too thick for two-legged hunters to roam. Here’s your dawn-to-dusk, step-by-step plan.

Step 1: Snipe rabbits at dawn.

At first light, use a small lightweight binocular to glass new timber cuts, patches of recently burned woods, or the edges or fields and food plots. Winter rabbits need high-quality forage, and saplings and twigs in regenerating areas and green growth in burns or plots will keep bunnies feeding for the first hour of daylight. Stalk any rabbits that have ventured into the open. It’s not a bad idea to pack a scoped .22 rifle in your vehicle, along with a shotgun. You can swap out firearms after the first-light sniper work.

A scoped Ruger 10-.22 rifle
Keep a scoped .22 rifle handy for spotting and stalking rabbits at first and last light.Ruger

Step 2: Work the edges after sunup.

Rabbits will retreat to nearby cover once the sun has been up for a bit. So grab a shotgun and work over every tangle of hedgerow brush and field-edge bramble, and stomp on every pile of timber slash. Rabbits will use these as safe havens, but you’ll have an open shot when you push them out of the thickets.

Step 3: Hit the high ground for loafing bunnies.

Next, move to dense cover where rabbits retreat to while away the midday hours. High ground along creeks and swamps are a good bet. Brambles and thickets flourish in the increased sunlight along waterways, giving rabbits good cover close to accessible drinking water. The going will be tough and briary, but rabbits dislodged from these hideaways are hemmed in by the water and have fewer options for escape. Post shooters upstream and downstream of the thickest cover on the creek, and send in whomever is wearing the toughest pants.

Step 4: Hunt hunkered-down rabbits near home.

Old homesteads, barns, and equipment junkyards are often abandoned and ignored for years, and the dense cover along with hidey holes under rotting floors and rusting tractors can be bunny heaven. Don’t pass them up, especially if these covers are set in the middle of fields or pastures. Post up gunners 20 yards from the corners of barns and sheds, and send the beaters in. Rabbits will race along the edges of old houses and barns, then jet away from the ruckus into easy shotgun range.

Step 5: Stage mini-drives for woods bunnies.

Once you’ve worked fields and creeks, hit the woods. Two hunters moving slowly about 30 yards apart is standard practice for jumping and shooting rabbits without a beagle pack, but there’s a better way. Have one hunter move quietly forward through the woods for 30 to 40 yards, then post up and stay still, gun at the ready. The other hunter then moves forward in a zigzag pattern while looping out to one side and then back to the stander, shaking brambles and stomping blowdowns to kick game forward to the other gunner. Repeat as necessary.

A hunter-orange hat and vest.
Always wear a hunter-orange hat and vest when hunting bunnies with friends.Amazon

Step 6: Take a stand for last-light rabbits.

As the light fades in late afternoon, make your way back to a food plot, recent burn, or new cutover. Rabbits will start to move into these open areas to feed again, so it’s time again to glass and stalk as shooting light winds down. If you follow the plan above, you should end the day where you began—close to the truck where your rimfire awaits. And while you might have lost a pound or three in sweat and blood, a bunny-filled game bag should more than even the score.

Rabbit Hunting Safety Tips

Bunny hunting is more effective and fun with a buddy or two. But whenever you have multiple hunters working together in tight spaces, you need to be extra careful. Here are three good things to remember.

  • Be seen. Everyone in the group should wear both a hunter-orange vest and hat. You want to be able to see each other even in the thickest cover. This will help.
  • Be heard. Whenever cover or terrain prevents you from seeing one another, keep in constant contact by whistling or talking back and forth. When you jump a rabbit, give a yell. It tells your buddies to get ready to shoot, and it lets them know exactly where you are.
  • Be smart. Any time you make a plan, for a new section of woods or patch of cover, make sure you discuss and nail down safe shooting lanes. Saying it aloud will help cement it in everyone’s head. Now go kick up some bunnies.