Rabbit Hunting – Shotgun or .22?
Back before the missus and I got hitched–during, it seems, the McKinley Administration–I took her rabbit hunting. Yes, it was a test, of sorts. My friend Danny also brought a young lady he was dating; and while we hunted cottontails out of an alfalfa field, the two women walked along. Until we actually killed a rabbit. At that point, Danny’s friend marched back to car on the farm road and got inside, slamming the door. My future wife continued on, even helping with the carrying of the game. At the end of the day, as we skinned the rabbits, she was there, assisting as she could, not knowing how to skin, but wanting to learn. We were married the next year. Son is a college graduate. Danny has remained single to this day.
All right, I know how antediluvian all that may sound. And no offense intended to those of some current political persuasion. Problem is, the story has the virtue, or deficiency, of being true. It’s just to say that rabbit hunting has always held a special place for me.
It also raises the question: Shotgun or .22? As well as: Dogs or stalking?
To start with the second first, it all depends. For the best hunting with dogs, a cover of snow and a pack of beagles is demanded. Beagles are great dogs. Beagles chasing rabbits are perfect dogs. (The late President Johnson, infamous for lifting one of his dogs up by its ears, had three–Him, Her, and Edgar.) Something about that baying and chasing those rabbits into a circle back to the hunter makes for a elegant figure of geometry. And as for taking rabbits on the run, a shotgun would, indeed, seem in order. But which gauge?
Whatever you shoot the best is what to carry. Saying that, there’s much to be said for the lighter gauges. Smaller gauge, easier to carry on those walks in the snow, following the dogs. A case can be made for the 28 gauge or even the .410, though I think I would incline toward the 20 gauge, such as the Browning BPS Upland Special at under seven pounds. It doesn’t take much to roll up a cottontail, so 7½ shot is plenty, such as that in Browning BPT Sporting Clays 20 gauge. (The purpose of sporting clays is to train for game, so why not hunt with what you practice with?) Or if you’re looking for an even lighter (sub-six pound) classic choice, there is the Browning A5 Sweet Sixteen with Browning 16 gauge BPT with 8 shot. As far as chokes, Browning Invector-DS™ in IC (“Improved Cylinder”) is about all you need. Again, hunt with what you practice with, so don’t over choke. If you are hunting big jacks, then you might want Browning 12 gauge BXD Extra Distance loads for upland game, in No. 6s or 5s.
A .22 is not only a good choice for still-hunting both cottontails and jacks but was made for it. Rabbits will freeze up in the shadows, or hunker down in the grass at the approach of a hunter, and probably won’t run before the hunter is well within .22 range, meaning with a sharp eye you can spot them in time to get a precise aim. Browning’s BPR Performance Rimfire .22 LR in 40-grain hollow point will make clean kills on either species. If you are extremely pernickety about any meat damage, then the pick would be the 40-grain round-nose bullets, coated with black oxide for smooth feeding in the Browning semi-auto SA-22. Which makes them just fine for the straight-pull T-Bolt .22 with its Double Helix™ 10-shot magazine, and a spare one in the butt stock of the composite rifles, for good measure.
Scope or no scope? I think I could offer an argument for even a red-dot sight on my shotgun for rabbits, but I cannot think of a single reason for not scoping a bolt-action .22 with something like an economic Leupold FX-1 Rimfire 4x28mm. If you think a scope on a .22 is a crutch, then what about power steering in a car, or the internet you are looking at as we speak? A scope is no more than a fast, accurate, and reliable instrument for acquiring a target and conserving wildlife. It is, literally, nothing at which to look askance.
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