Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

January 5, 2013

MARTINO: Cottontail capers offer return to your roots

By John Martino
Tribune columnist

— The briars ripped at my coveralls as we made our way through the overgrown thicket of shin tangle. January can be the perfect time to get out and do a little rabbit hunting. Our recent snow even made conditions better.

For many of us, it can be a trip back to our early outdoor roots and simpler times. For others, it can be an introduction to something you’ve been missing. There is no hunting activity that is more suited for youngsters. It’s a chance to get back into the field and find some bonus hunting and excitement.

This is just what hunting cottontails is all about. There is no sitting motionless waiting for deer, ducks or turkeys. Rabbit hunting lets you take the hunt to the game, while getting refreshing exercise in crisp winter air.

Hunting cottontails isn’t rocket science, but it’s not a stroll through the woods either, literally. Rabbits love dense cover that grows close to the ground, something of which mature woods are void. My friend Rob Stedry calls perfect habitat “rabbitat.” He says if you can throw your hat three times in any direction and it never hits the ground you are in the right spot. He looks for thickets, groves of raspberries, bushes, brush and brush piles. Overgrown fencerows with wild or forgotten corners are also good spots. Rabbits, like most wild game, love edges of various types of thick cover.

In today’s age, most folks don’t have beagles or hounds and they are not a necessity by any means. The best approach is to line up with your hunting partners and work the cover. Bunnies are easily flushed by rooting around, walking through or kicking likely hiding spots. After a few flushes you quickly learn the kinds of places rabbits like to hide in. On this particular day it appeared the rabbits preferred downed tree tops where grass and weeds had grown around and through it.

Although methods may differ from hunter to hunter there are several standards that can get a rabbit to forsake its tight-sitting cover. Like many well-camouflaged critters, a rabbit can’t stand to be out-waited. Pausing can make them a nervous wreck, it kind of works like this. Enter a good location and begin walking very slowly picking at thick cover. After 15 or 20 steps, stop for a minute, then repeat the process. The sound of your approach may flush some rabbits, but often it is the silence that does the trick. Apparently the rabbit thinks its been spotted and decides to make a run for it. Forget about that hippity-hop stuff. A fleeing cottontail can hug the ground like the finest sports car banking a tight curve.

When hunting with others, it’s best to line up about 50 feet apart walking abreast. Move in a staggered succession. One hunter moves up about 20 feet and waits while the other hunter then moves up and waits, alternating until the cover is worked.

The shooting can be fun as well. Shotguns are by far the best and any gauge will work but most prefer a 20 gauge. Most important is the choke. Improved cylinder or modified are tops since most of your shots will be close range especially in thick cover. I do know of people who prefer using a .22 rifle and take more of a still hunting approach. However, scatterguns and busting brush are by far the most popular method.

Although Indiana does have a few places open to the public, 97 percent of Indiana is privately owned. As far as most hunting endeavors are concerned, you shouldn’t have much trouble finding a place. Landowners are fairly receptive if all you want to do is chase a few rabbits. Bring a child with you and you have just upped your odds dramatically on gaining permission. Indiana’s rabbit hunting season runs until Feb. 15 with a daily bag limit of five.

There is no doubt chasing rabbits is a fantastic winter time activity, not to mention their quality table fare. Few wild game are as delicious or versatile as rabbit. The meat is lean, delicate and white. It can be cooked in every conceivable way from simply pan fried to baked, stewed, roasted or placed casseroles. The taste is comparable to — wait for it — chicken, and recipes for the two are nearly interchangeable.

Sure, it may lack the sudden explosiveness of hunting upland game birds or the mesmerism of a duck hunt at dawn, but it does have an allure all its own. The real magic of rabbit hunting is its simplicity. It does take some work but not near as much as other types of hunting. There is no need to build blinds or stands. It is not imperative to be out at daylight either and high-dollar equipment can be left at home. Just find an area with adequate cover and the fun will come naturally.

TV Show Hosts Kids Fishing Clinic

Over the past several years, Michigan’s Kim and Danny Stricker graciously made guest appearances at our community’s Jim “Moose” Carden Kokomo Kids Fishing Clinic. The Strickers produce one of the nations’s most watched angling programs, appropriately titled “Hook and Look.” Besides fishing clips, the program also incorporates underwater footage unlike other television broadcasts.

While on their visit to Kokomo the Strickers provide participants of our Kids Fishing Clinic with a captivating and informative presentation. Last summer they also filmed the closing for one of their shows featuring clinic students and parents.

The Strickers have informed me the show’s “sign-off” featuring local talent will air Saturday, Jan. 19 and Sunday, Jan. 20. “Hook and Look” is featured on the Outdoor Channel. Air times will be 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Jan. 19 and 7 a.m. on Jan. 20. Be sure to tune in and see if you recognize any familiar faces.

John Martino is the Tribune’s outdoors columnist. He may be reached by email at jmartinooutdoors@att.net.