Early winter rabbit hunting provides some great opportunities
Cool days, cold nights, and a covering of snow on the ground create perfect conditions for cottontail rabbit hunting, and this year should be better than most.
"This year is a great year to hunt", said Boyde Blackwell, northeastern regional wildlife manager for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. "There are cottontail rabbits everywhere. The cottontail rabbit population here in the Northeastern Region is as high as it's ever been. If you can't find rabbits, it's because you didn't look, they're everywhere," he said.
In fact rabbit hunting across the entire state is fairly good.
Blackwell has some helpful tips for hunting cottontails.
"Late fall is a great time to hunt cottontail rabbits. Having a bit of snow on the ground helps with tracking, it's easier to see if rabbits have been in the area." Blackwell said.
Besides providing good tracking conditions, cold weather has other benefits.
"Cold weather is also good because most of the ticks, fleas and other small critters that may be found on rabbits during the warmer months have dropped off," noted Blackwell.
Wearing rubber gloves is also recommended just in case there are fleas or ticks still on the rabbits. Gloves also help prevent exposure to Tularemia and other common diseases in rabbits. He also advises hunters to be careful when cleaning any animal to avoid getting cut or pricking a finger on a sharp bone.
Blackwell said rabbit hunting is generally done one of two ways; walking along through a dry, brushy wash with a shotgun or scanning with binoculars and shooting at a longer distance with a 22-caliber rifle.
There are two species of cottontail rabbits found in Utah: desert cottontail and mountain cottontail. Quick glances at their distribution maps show they can be found almost everywhere, except on the tallest of peaks and in the most arid of the desert salt flats. In general, mountain cottontails are the species most likely found in the foothills above 6,000 feet.
Desert cottontails are found in the foothills and desert country below 6,000 feet.
Both species of cottontails are quite abundant and provide excellent hunting opportunities, not to mention outstanding table fare. Cottontail rabbits prefer brushy habitats, and hunting seems to be best along steam courses and dry washes. Keep an eye out for rabbits sunning along rocky slopes with a south facing exposure.
There also exists a very small and nearly look-alike rabbit to cottontails in the western half of the state. It's known as the pygmy rabbit, and it is a separate species from the two cottontails.
The pygmy rabbit is protected from hunting and considered a sensitive species in Utah; so please, don't shoot it. Pygmy rabbits lack a white bushy tail, and are notably smaller than cottontails: pygmy rabbits are nine to 11 inches long as compared to 12 to 14 inches long for cottontails. Pygmy rabbits are often mistaken as juveniles for the cottontails, but typically, cottontail juveniles are full-sized by the time of the hunt. Pygmy rabbits are not very abundant and prefer habitats with older stands of sagebrush. Pygmy rabbit that are spotted should be reported to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.