Archery World November 1976

Here He Comes..There He Goes.. – by Keith Schuyler

The Cottontail Challenge Gives you a low batting average, but nothing beats it for action

by Keith Schuyler

THERE WAS A TIME when I used to
get plenty of invitations to go rabbit
hunting. Not any more. Because I do
most of my rabbit hunting with the bow
and arrow.
“Most.” For if I want some rabbit to
eat, I grab the shotgun and go get some.
Well, usually. As a matter of fact, since I
do hunt with the bow, although I don’t
get many with the bow, I learn where
the rabbits hang out. About every other
year or so, if I get hungry for a good
mess of fried rabbit, I fill a couple
pockets with shells and go gun hunting.
Most of the ones I found with the bow
are still there.

Why don’t more so-called bowhunters
go for rabbits with the bow? Could it be
because one doesn’t get very many
rabbits that way? Could it be for the
same reason that, even where bowhunting
is permitted, so-called bowhunters
drop the bow and grab the rifle when
the deer gunning season comes in? I
don’t know.

You hear a lot of talk about a shortage
of rabbits in many areas. They’re not too
scarce where I hunt. Because I’m one of
the world’s greatest conservationists, my
wife says. But, then she spoils it by
adding, “He didn’t plan it that way.”
But rabbit hunting with the bow and
arrow can build up to some real thrills.
It’s sort of like when I go bowling, every
other year or so. When all the pins some-
times stumble over on my first ball, it is a
cause of real rejoicing. The fact that
they keep blasting down with fair regularity
on the lanes either side of mine
isn’t important. When it happens to me
twice and even three times, well . . .l

Would you believe it? One time, a
number of years ago, I took my full day’s
limit of four rabbits with the bowl I’ve
done that quite a number of times with
the gun, and it never excited me too
much. But I did it with the bow, once.
And that was a mighty big day.
There was another big day in my
hunting life. That was the time I nailed
my first cottontail on the run with an
arrow. We even taped the distance:
eighty—three feet! Running full tilt over
the snow; right through the heart. Like
my wife says, “He didn’t plan it that
way.” But that old bunny flipped and
never moved a muscle. I was still so
excited some years later that I dedicated
my first book on archery to that rabbit.
(Archery, From Colds to Big Game) It
was one of the greatest thrills I have ever
had in hunting, and that covers some.
Since then I’ve shot two more rabbits
at full gallop. Three rabbits shot
running for many years of hunting them
with the bow doesn’t sound like much—
until you try it. I may never get another,
but of one thing you can be sure: I’ll
keep trying as long as I can.

Now don’t get me too far wrong. I’ve
taken a great many rabbits with the
bow. But most of them were sitting in
their resting places for the day or were
out hopping around in early morning or
late afternoon.

In Pennsylvania, we say that a sitting
rabbit is in its nest. This is not really
correct since the true nest of a rabbit,
where it drops its young, wouldn’t hold
one adult rabbit.
It is an unwritten rule of sportsmanship
in our area that one doesn’t shoot a
rabbit in the nest with a shotgun.
Because the cottontail will sit tight,
thinking it is safe, and it is actually
sometimes possible to grab one with the
hand. However, when hunting with the
bow, such a shot is considered sporting
for a number of reasons.

First, because the chance of dropping
a rabbit on the run with an arrow is so
slight, it is a rare occasion when anyone
scores. This doesn’t discourage shooting
at them when they take off, because it is
possible to drop one on the move.

Secondly, a rabbit is a small target to
start with, and the positive killing area is
even smaller. It takes close shooting. just
finding one is sport in itself.

Strangely enough, the fact that some
shots are presented quite close is actually
a handicap. Few archers practice very
much at the very short distances; they
can usually hit easier at ten yards than at
ten feet. Cottontails will sometimes sit so
tightly that you bumble upon them
within inches of your boots. Trying to
get an arrow off without taking a toe
along with it can challenge your dexterity
more than your shooting ability
under such circumstances.

I suppose I must confess to a certain
amount of luck on my few successful
running shots. One of them was first
missed at a distance of perhaps two feet.
The cottontail, a big one, was first
spotted about eighteen inches from my
right foot. Being right-handed, it required
some real body contortions to
half draw and try to aim down the shaft.
All the arrow brought was a couple
hairs, but it was that close. The cottontail
took off. A few moments later
another rabbit about the same size went
scooting off to my left and to the rear. I
cut loose an arrow and surprised both of
us by connecting. This was a ninety-degree shot,
probably the toughest
successful one ever for me.
Right after dumping my first running
rabbit. I missed one at about ten feet
sitting quietly and minding its own
business!
Since I rank somewhere above the
bottom among the world’s better bow-
hunters, those who claim frequent
success on running rabbits are truly great
shots, or they are truly great liars.
Western cottontails do more hopping
around than our eastern variety. With
all that big country to run in, they seem
more disposed to just move to the next
clump of sage or hide behind a rock

where rocks are available. Although the
eastern animals depend upon camouflage
to protect them as much as possible,
when they take off, they go! Usually it is
to the nearest woodchuck hole or a briar
patch so thick that a worm couldn’t
crawl through unscathed without wearing chaps.
This is usually more likely on
a day of bad weather or when bad
weather threatens.

However, on a reasonably clear day,
alarmed cottontails in my neck of the
woods will simply run to a position of
reasonable safety and wait for hunters to
move on. This is where a good little
beagle comes in handy. I suggest little
since the bigger ones move the rabbits
too fast for those like me of limited
ability with the bow. Further, if a rabbit
is pushed too fast by the dog, it will hole.
If the dog only keeps the cottontail loose,
it is more apt to just hop far enough
ahead of the beagle to feel fairly safe.
By stationing yourself at a probable
crossing, you have a good chance to get
a hopping shot. Or you might get a stationary
target. When cottontails aren’t
being pushed too hard, they will frequently
stop at an opening before again
taking to the brush. They will usually
circle back to the immediate area from
which they were bounced. And on the
way they will often follow old roads and
well-worn game trails. They will stop
from time to time to locate the pursuing
dog by sound.

Take plenty of arrows when you go
hunting for rabbits. Because, if you play
it right, you often will get several shots
at the same rabbit. Lost arrows are frequent.
Knowing how arrows can hide
themselves in a freshly mowed lawn
should be a clue as to what you might
expect under field conditions.

That brings us to what equipment is
best for rabbits. The best bow is the one
with which you can hit something at distances
from roughly five to 50 feet. Of
course, the heaviest bow you can handle
well is the best for any kind of hunting,
and hunting rabbits is no exception. A
light target bow of thirty pounds will do
fine on sitting shots, but it isn’t adequate
for the longer or the running shots. You
have to make too many mental calculations
at unknown distances for the
tougher tries. Sometimes, if I just go out
for an early morning try for deer when ~
rabbits are in season, I may stop off for a
try at cottontails on the way home. The
only thing I change is my arrows.

Aside from the fact that aluminum,
broadhead—loaded shafts are too expensive
to fling around the south forty, they
aren’t necessary. A properly spined
wooden arrow will do a good job. And,
you don’t want broadheads.

It might seem strange to discourage
the use of broadheads that will bring
down an elephant as inadequate for
rabbits. But, they don’t work well. The
reason is not their lack of killing power;
it is their lack of holding power. A
proper broadhead will zip through an
animal as small as a rabbit and go
careening off into the brush or across the
field. The rabbit will continue on as
though nothing happened until it finds
its favorite groundhog hole. If it makes
it.

Whether it makes it or not, it is a dead
rabbit after being thrust through by a
broadhead-loaded shaft. And, although
the rabbit is not generally credited with
special tenacity to life, it is still a wild
creature with the normal complement of
adrenalin which will carry it far beyond
what might be expected.

The best load for cottontails, in my
experience, is a good wooden shaft
tipped with the normal field point. The
combination is economical enough for
the average bowhunter. And, it will do a
proper job. On a stationary target, it
will pin the animal so that it can be re-
covered. On a moving shot, the shaft
will almost always stay in the rabbit to
make recovery possible before it escapes
and becomes a wasted creature.
True, the broadhead may be a bit
more efficient as a dispatcher, but the
field point will normally do a proper job
and also retain the carcass for the table.
Blunts will kill, but they lack the penetrating
power to bury the shaft in the
earth so that the rabbit cannot escape.

In the many years that I have hunted
rabbits with the bow and arrow, I have
had but two losses. One was a forty-yard
shot some years ago that quickly turned
elation into disenchantment when the
cottontail made it to a woodchuck hole
with the arrow. Last year I had my
second loss when a high hit failed to hold
the rabbit.
These experiences taught me two
things to improve my approach to rabbit
hunting with the bow. Long shots may
stimulate one’s ego if they are succesful,
but the flat angle of the arrow
reduces the likelihood that the animal
will be pinned for easy recovery. Shooting
at a rabbit without knowing exactly
how it is sitting in its nest may produce a
hit that will not be sufficient to hold the
animal for immediate recovery.

As in big—game hunting, there is an
individual responsibility to exert every
effort to recover game that is hit. Any
good hit is likely to cause almost immediate
death. But it only takes seconds for
a rabbit to waste itself by running to
cover in a briar patch or a woodchuck
hole. Nevertheless, the sportsman will
follow up on suspected or observed hits
to recover the quarry.
Hunting of any small game with the
bow and arrow offers a challenge that
lifts one’s sights above the need or desire
for meat, a fair return on the consider-
able investment that is entailed in any
type of hunting. But when we venture
afield with a primitive arm to collect a
quarry made available to us, we accept
a new responsibility to give it the best we
can offer.

If hunting rabbits with the bow
appeals to you, you might try the approach
suggested here. You may find
that there are some big thrills available
in hunting this small game.

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