With the small game season coming to a close next Saturday, February 26 (where did the winter go?) there’s one week remaining for a final rabbit hunt or two.

This point in the season is most challenging for several reasons, the primary being bunny numbers are at their lowest ebb. This is compounded by the critter’s stratospheric sense of alert as it’s the favorite quarry of, among other predators, foxes, owls, and red-tailed hawks. Then there are the late February capricious weather patterns, namely high winds, rains, maybe some snow, and temperatures ranging from near balmy to below freezing.

And if that’s not enough, the rabbits will be sticking to the thickest cover possible, exposing themselves to danger only briefly when venturing into more open areas to feed.

All this makes for the most challenging hunt of the long season.

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Sure, you can bust the brush and hope for a snapshot as the bunny busts from cover, offering but a few seconds glance before once again disappearing into the heavy stuff. You might get a shot, maybe even bag one, but no doubt you’ll end the day looking as if you’ve been through a meat grinder.

The services of a beagle goes beyond a long way in improving the odds, especially when working the thick coverts or swampland edges where “swampers” a cottontail subspecies that is nearly twice the size, call home. These are unbelievably canny and will test, and test again, the trailing ability of the hound. Indeed, some runs can last up to an hour or longer as the dog unwinds the tricky, oftentimes confounding trails left by these late-season survivors who have no qualms about taking to water to throw off the pursuer. Shots are generally few and far between, but it’s a bunny hunt like no other.

Capt. Al Crudele III
Capt. Al Crudele III
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Capt. Al Crudele III from Sea Isle, a longtime veteran of south Jersey rabbit hunting, and his tough ‘n tenacious beagle SandiGirl turned yours truly on to the swamper experience in the mushy, messy areas of the Tuckahoe Wildlife Management Area. The cover was thick, rife with instep-grabbing briars and “rabbit wire”, but SandiGirl, a veteran of the bunny’s bag of tricks, put a few by the guns. No thanks to me, there would be rabbit stew that evening.

The daily limit is four rabbits, and hunting hours are sunrise to a half-hour after sunset.

*****

The Ocean City Sportsman’s Club’s Annual Squirrel Hunting Tournament is next Saturday, February 26. Registration is tomorrow between 4pm-9pm at the club facility, 206 North Maple Ave. in Tuckerton. One and two-person teams ($25 a person), a $5 lunker entry, and the bushytails can be harvested by any means legal in New Jersey (shotgun, bow, pellet rifle). Rules and other particulars will be distributed at registration.

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Spring turkey hunting applications are due by 11:59pm next Tuesday, February 22. These are available ($2 non-refundable fee) at license issuing agents or at njfishandwildlife.com.

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