Published January 14, 2011, 08:28 AM

Rabbits a great place to start

There are indeed people like the late author and columnist Robert Ruark, who leap headlong into hunting by pursuing African game or North American wild sheep, although, mercifully, in my experience, hunters of this type are not numerous.

By: Bernie Kuntz, Outdoors, The Jamestown Sun

There are indeed people like the late author and columnist Robert Ruark, who leap headlong into hunting by pursuing African game or North American wild sheep, although, mercifully, in my experience, hunters of this type are not numerous.

I did meet one in the mid ‘70s, though, and still see his name occasionally in big game hunting circles. A colleague of mine named Doug took me to this fellow’s palatial log home, built on the side of a mountain in Wyoming where he had a glacier bear and several Asian wild sheep mounted in a trophy room that was bigger than my entire house.

What struck me was the hunter’s gun cabinet. It contained a Model 700 Remington in 7mm magnum and as I remember, a Remington pump shotgun. The absence of .22 rifles astounded me, and when I asked about it, the reply was, “I have never shot a single rabbit. I went right into big game hunting.”

I learned later that this hunter received about $10,000 a month in oil royalties in addition to whatever he earned as an attorney. (At the time, my annual income was $10,000 before taxes!)

Of course I envied this man’s financial ability to hunt just about anywhere he wished, but even to this day I think there is something obscene about hunting Marco Polo sheep before you’ve hunted cottontail rabbits.

I’ve been a rabbit hunter since about the time I learned to read, and that includes cottontails and white-tailed jackrabbits. In North Dakota I’d stalk the river hills above the James and Pipestem rivers for cottontails, and walk the plowed fields frozen like iron for the big white-tailed jacks.

In those days you could sell a jackrabbit carcass for 50 or 55 cents to local fur buyers, so a jackrabbit in the bag translated into a 50-cartridge box of .22 rimfire ammunition. Jackrabbit carcasses went to mink farms, but then sometime in the 1970s, mink farms started using commercial feed so the market for jackrabbit carcasses dried up.

That didn’t keep me from hunting them, however. Before I was discharged from the Marine Corps 40 years ago, I bought a Belgian-made Browning .22 rimfire semi-auto and mounted a 3X Weaver scope on it. That rifle was perfect for running jackrabbits, and I took many with it over the years, as well as cottontails. I still have the Browning .22 in my collection.

I had some good rabbit hunting in North Dakota, but when I moved to Wyoming in 1975 it was like entering a rabbit hunter’s heaven! North of Laramie was an old dinosaur dig that was alive with jackrabbits and cottontails. I spent many Sunday afternoons climbing around in the digs and shooting both species.

Many times I hunted the greasewood and sage country around Medicine Bow, and even traveled across the state to the Farson area, which was crawling with jacks and bunnies. It often was possible with a .22 rifle or handgun to shoot five cottontails without moving out of your tracks!

My favorite spot for cottontails was the Sweetwater Rocks in the central part of Wyoming. I hunted the Vantage Rock on the Dumbell Ranch and even Independence Rock itself on the Oregon Trail. This is where pioneers chiseled their names into the granite on their way to California and Oregon in the 1840s.

A dozen years ago I hunted pronghorn antelope in Wyoming with a couple friends, and on my way back to Montana I swung through the Sweetwater country to show one of my partners from Alaska the places where I hunted bunnies. Imagine my horror to see an enormous State of Wyoming visitor center built right next to Independence Rock! I hesitated to hunt cottontails there for fear of being arrested.

My guess is the administrators in Wyoming’s Division of Tourism, just like the hunter with the Asian sheep, aren’t cottontail rabbit hunters!

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