Wildlife Watch: Cottontail hunting

Published: Feb. 28, 2023 at 6:55 PM EST
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FERRISBURGH, Vt. (WCAX) - Did you know that the cottontail rabbit you see in Vermont is not native to the Geen Mountain State? In this week’s Wildlife Watch, Ike Bendavid joins a cotton tail hunt to learn more about the quick critters.

Vermonter Dan Lovell loves being outdoors. It’s something he’s always done. “I grew up hunting, " he said.

We first introduced you to the Vermont Fish & Wildlife volunteer educator last month when he was collecting bait fish.

But on this day he brought his family to the Little Otter Creek Wildlife Management Area in Ferrisburgh. for a cotton tail rabbit hunt. “This is school vacation week for these guys so we have been looking for activities to do,” Lovell said.

His son, Jackson, is leading the hunt with coaching from Lovell, help from their beagle, and cheering support from his sister. It’s something the 10-year-old says he enjoys. “Just to spend time with family and friends,” Jackson said.

Lovell says that since they got their hunting dog, they’ve been out into the woods more often. “When he first takes off, we try to think about what the lay of the land is and try to sort of judge what we think the rabbit might do for a loop because oftentimes they will come back where we started them up at. So, we try to think about if it’s going to loop left or going to loop right and try to be someplace where we will see it when it comes back. And we certainly have to be quiet so we don’t spook it and it goes another direction,” he said.

John Gobeille, a Fish & Wildlife biologist, says a dog is not needed when you hunt, but some are bred to hunt rabbits and go through the tough terrain that you might find yourself in. “We call it early successional forest, which is just a fancy term for young forest. They are a forest edge species that thrives in the transition area between open farm and wood lot,” he said.

The cottontail season in Vermont goes from September to mid-March. In most of the state, the bag limit is three per hunt. “It has almost no impact on the population because rabbits are so prolific,” Gobeille said.

He says the eastern cottontail was brought to Vermont in the late 1800s and drove out the native New England cottontail. “They have done very well over the last century and a half,” he said. With that steady population, Gobeille adds that they make for a good addition to those who enjoy wild game. “One of the best animals as table fare.”

And that’s one of the reasons Lovell says he heads out to hunt. “We can put another source of food on the table,” he said. “Hunting small game, we can be far more successful than hunting large game because there is a lot more rabbit in the landscape. So, when we go out, we are much more likely to put sustainably harvested meat on the table.”

The Lovell family doesn’t have luck on this day. But for them -- and others who may not enjoy hunting -- learning about the successional forest habitat is well worth the visit.