Another one of those species I love to hunt with an airgun are rabbits, which from a global perspective are probably the most pursued quarry taken with airrifles. The Brits are fanatical bunny hunters, and even though we have a many more small game and pest species available here, we’re not too far behind! The great thing about rabbits is that, with the exception of jackrabbits, they make for really good table fare. Even jacks can be made palatable…. I have a buddy that can do a fine jackrabbit chili.
I hunt cottontail and jackrabbits both; cottontails are true rabbits found in almost every corner of the country in one form or another, while jackrabbit are hares with a territory restricted to the western states. There are eight species of cottontails found in the USA, that on average weigh a couple pounds though there are some smaller and some larger. Jackrabbits can go up to 12 pound, though in my experience most weigh around 8 pounds. I did shoot a female jack a few years ago that was a monster, tipping the scales a tad over 13 pounds.
Cottontails are not hard to kill, I used to joke that if you shot close to one it would roll over dead from a heart attack, but shot placement is still the key. I do prefer headshots because there is less meat damage, and if you are around burrows or dense thickets a chest shot might let them get enough distance to be lost. However, when hunting in the sparse desert I have no problem taking the chest shot, especially when using higher power and larger caliber guns. A .177 or .22 doing around 12 – 18 fpe is about perfect for 40 yards, though if you get to know your gun you can reach out a bit further. If you step up the power to a 30-40 fpe gun you can reach out a lot further, but for me part of the fun is working in close to my quarry. If you are going to shoot at longer distances make sure to practice with the gun/pellet combo you intend to use, with the objective of dropping the pellet into a 1” kill zone with each and every pull of the trigger. Practice off sticks and from the positions you’ll be using in the field, rather than off a bench.
Jackrabbits are much bigger than cottontails, and the same guns are applicable, though I do prefer a .22 or .25. I’ll actually use my.30 caliber predator guns, as they work great and let me keep my field shooting sharp under the same conditions encountered when coyote hunting ….. I’ve actually shot coyotes when I’d started out for jackrabbits on occasion. I like to spot and stalk jackrabbits looking for the tell tale sign of their huge ears before closing in. These big desert hares will sometimes try to sneak around behind you like a smart old whitetail buck, which makes it seem more like a big game hunt at times!
Some of the guns I’ve been using on my rabbit hunts this year include the FX Gladiator .22, FX Verminator .22, the Weihrauch HW 100 in .22, the Benjamin Discovery in .22, the Daystate Huntsman Classic .22 and the Daystate Wolverine .303…. but over the years I’ve used literally hundreds of springers and pcps and almost any accurate airgun over 10 fpe will work if you make the appropriate shot selection.
Before setting off on a rabbit hunt, check the local regulations; in almost every state the cottontail is a game animal with limits and a season, though in most of it’s range jackrabbits are considered a varmint in most of their range …. However a license is typically (but not always) required anyways.