West Texas is a very arid region of the country, primarily scrub brush and cactus. It’s been said that everything in the Texas brushland wants to sting, stab, or bite you, and there’s some truth to that folksy adage. There is cactus everywhere; from jumping Cholla cactus, to creeping vines of beehive cactus, to clumps of prickly pears. Don’t even get me started on the animals; ants that can leave welts, scorpions that can lay you low with cramps, and rattlesnakes that will at the very least send you to the hospital for a few days. I don’t mean to imply your life is at risk every when you step into this desert-scape, however these all serve as incentives not to sit, kneel, or put your hands on the ground. I did a few times last week and am still pulling thorns out of my hands, my knees, my…….. well you get the picture.
This landscape is home to both jackrabbit and cottontail rabbits and Texas is overrun with them . Both are viewed as pest species, which means there are no limits and no seasons. In the daylight hours they tend to lay up in scrapes, depressions scraped out under clumps of cactus or brush, though cottontails will rarely hijack another animals burrow when trying to escape danger. Considering the possibility of running into a badger, fox, or rattlesnake when dropping down a strange hole, it’s understandable that evolution seems to have led them away from a subterranean life. Besides these threats, rabbits out here are on the menu for bobcats, mountain lion, hawks, owls, and eagles, though coyotes are probably their main predator.
Cottontail rabbits rely mostly on their camouflage, tucking in tight to brush or deep in tangles of paddle shaped prickly pear cactus, they will hold tight allowing a hunter to step right over them without moving, then scurry away once danger has passed. They will run when pressed, often moving in a large circle while looking for new hiding places along the way. Jack rabbits will often sit and watch the hunter approach through the brush. When their safety zone is breeched, they may bound away in long strides. Or they may start a chess game in which they move around and behind the hunter, slowly walking and watching as they maneuver away from the source of danger. When they choose to bolt, they have a habit of stopping at a short distance for a look back before kicking it into high gear. It’s unfortunate for the rabbit, but an opportunity for the hunter!
The most productive way to hunt these desert rabbits is still hunting: slowly walking (with frequent stops along the way) while searching the base of brush and looking into the patches of cactus and desert grasses. Cottontails will tuck themselves in, while jacks will often sit with their ears held erect listening for danger. As a matter of fact, it can be hard to see a jackrabbit sitting 40 yards away watching you through the branches of mesquite, but if the sun is behind them their ears may take on an amber glow as the light passes through. The real challenge, and key to success, is spotting the rabbit before you push them. Cottontails may eventually circle back but, spook a jackrabbit and he’ll be a mile away before you know what happened.
I’d say that most of my shots at cottontails in this region take place between 8-40 yards. If they are holding tight, the main problem is not getting close, but rather finding a clear shooting lane. I’ll often step lightly on the periphery of the cover, not too aggressively or loudly, but enough that they start to think about sprinting off. When this happens, the rabbit will step to the offside of the bush or cactus in preparation of taking flight, and this may be the hunters only chance at a clean shot.
Jackrabbits tend to be taken with shots that are longer, in the 40-70-yard range. They may let you inside of 50 yards, but once spooked they usually stand and watch momentarily before taking off in rapid bounds. This brief hesitation is the best shot opportunity, however as mentioned earlier jackrabbits will often run a short distance and pause to look back, and this is typically the last chance for a shot before they are gone for good.
Had a great time hunting them with the FX Wildcat, I find this a compact and ergonomic field gun, and while bullpups aren’t my favorite style of gun in general, I do appreciate a well designed on and this is one of my favorites. I shoot it well from any field position, can cycle it very quickly, and the power and accuracy are top rate. My Wildcats are both .25 caliber, and it is a truly impressive small game getter.
On another topic: I’ll be posting information on our annual prairie dogs shoot in South Dakota in the coming days. Working out some of the final details, but the dates will be May 16 arrival, 17&18 shooting, and departure on the 19th. We’ve had a blast every year and expecting the same again!