Mississippi's rabbit hunting season opens Saturday


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GULFPORT, Mississippi — Rabbit hunting season in Mississippi starts Saturday.

The season closes on Feb. 28. The bag limit is eight per day, regardless of species.

Rabbits can be found on any area throughout the state, especially with plenty of grasses, legumes, other broadleaf plants, and low brushy covers.

Mississippi has two kinds of rabbits: cottontail and swamp. Cottontail is sometimes called a hillbilly and swamp are often called cane-cutter. Cottontails are probably the most widely distributed.

Cottontails prefer brushy cover for protection in upland agricultural fields and grasslands, and reach their highest populations in areas that provide a patchwork of several usable habitat types. Swamp rabbits are associated with wet areas, preferring moist lowlands and brushy cover along streams and ditch banks.

The summer rainfall has provided good vegetation conditions for food and cover resources to produce a strong crop of rabbits.

"We expect rabbits to be mostly abundant where cover is suitable, but there will always be some areas where numbers may be lower due to unavoidable population cycles," Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks Small Game Program Biologist Rick Hamrick said.

"Observations through the summer indicate good numbers of rabbits going into the season. This summer has generally been mild and not too dry which should have resulted in good rabbit production this year."

Scouting is a key to successful rabbit hunt. Cottontail rabbits are highly active at dawn and dusk, usually when most rabbits can be seen.

It is also recommended to use a shotgun with an improved cylinder choke and No. 6 or 7 shot. Because shot distance is limited in heavy cover, close shots are usually taken quickly where a wide pattern with heavy shot works. Some hunters prefer to use a modified or full choke when hunting with dogs to make sure no stray shot brushes a dog. A tighter choke with heavier shot such as No. 4 will allow for longer shots.

Cold, damp days provide the best days for rabbit hunting. Rabbits often take shelter somewhere hidden from the cold and the wind with easy access to open areas to absorb the sun. The first warm day after a cold snap often provides good hunting. Hunters are advised to cover their human scent and stay downwind of the rabbit.

Low humidity and dry ground could cause a poor hunt. Dry air tends to dry the dogs' noses, making them less likely to absorb scent particles, and dry ground doesn't hold scent well either. Strong winds also discourage rabbit movement and may make them harder to find. Hunting after a few good frosts will increase visibility and reduce rabbit cover.

"We encourage rabbit hunters to make safe firearms handling and shooting a priority teaching point for hunters of all ages," MDWFP Small Game Program Coordinator Dave Goodwin said.

Information from: The Sun Herald, http://www.sunherald.com

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