"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Dryshin (Rabbit) Hunting on State Properties 
Copyright © 2002 by Bill Scifres

One of the best-kept hunting secrets in Hoosierland revolves around rabbit hunting.

Everyone seems to think the general rabbit season, which slides into a niche under “Upland Game,” opens November 8. And so it does.

However, if you have a yearning for a big platter of fried rabbit (with trimmin's, including hot homemade biscuits and gravy), you can collect the prime ingredient (namely a fat Mr. Bun Bun) any time after October 1 at 15 state fish and wildlife areas and seven reservoir properties that are well distributed around the state.

Like the general rabbit season, the hunting on these state-owned or operated properties extends through January 31, 2003. But you don’t have to wait until November 8 to bag a fat dryshin (rabbit in Southern Indiana).

(If you are curious about the origin of that term, my unofficial and unscientific research in a lifetime of hunting rabbits, indicates that it was an endearing term coined by “old geezers” who knew that rabbits characteristically prefer keeping their shins dry while sitting in a form. A “form,” of course, is a slight depression in the earth--roughly the length and width of the rabbit--preferably surrounded by weeds, dry leaves or in some other thick cover.)

Public lands that will be legal for rabbits as of October 1 will be Atterbury, Brush Creek, Crosley, Glendale, Hillenbrand, Minnehaha, and Sugar Ridge state fish and wildlife areas, all in the south, and Jasper-Pulaski, Kingsbury, LaSalle, Pigeon River, Tri-County, Wilbur Wright (Henry County), Willow Slough, and Winamac in the north. 

Reservoir properties open to rabbit hunting October 1 are Brookville, Hardy, Huntington, Mississinewa, Monroe, Patoka, and Salamonie.

Recognizing that the list of properties above constitutes a heap of hunting area, we checked with Mike Ellis, of the Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), and Jim Gerbracht, of the Division of Reservoir, to narrow the search down somewhat for those looking for a good place to hunt.

The best indicator seemed to be the number of rabbits bagged at these properties last year. We must, of course, point out that not all of the rabbits were taken before the general season opened in November. But we must also point out that good harvest figures carry meaning.

Glendale Area, with more than 1,000 rabbits harvested in each of the last two years, was by far the most productive of the fish and wildlife areas. The rabbit harvest topped 300 the last two years at Atterbury and Pigeon River, and Jasper-Pulaski Area was over or approaching 200.

Huntington and Mississinewa counted more than 1,000 rabbits harvested last year, and Salamonie was just shy of that figure. Brookville was next down the line with more than 500.

Ellis and Gerbracht say, however, that any of the other state properties could produce some good rabbit hunting, and that there may be other state areas using salt to enhance rabbit numbers without their knowledge.

So where should you try your luck? A cursory look at the figures above leave little doubt--it must be Glendale SFWA in the south, Brookville Reservoir or Atterbury SFWA in the central part of the state, or Huntington, Mississinewa or Salamonie reservoirs in the north.

Of course the next question revolves around what makes Glendale and the three northern reservoirs so much better for rabbits--and consequently rabbit hunting--than the other public lands of the state.

Any biologist (or rabbit hunter) worth his salt would know it is sodium. All of those four properties are using sodium to fight intestinal parasites in rabbits and keep them kicking through the warm months (until it is time to get shot).

Some 30 or 40 years ago Dr. Harmon P. Weeks, a Purdue University wildlife professor who is undoubtedly one of the best Indiana has to offer, was commissioned by the DFW to conduct a study on the sodium needs of rabbits through the warm months.

After two years of testing and making liquid sodium available to rabbits on Atterbury, Dr. Weeks concluded that sodium deficiencies in rabbits made it possible for parasites to thrive, which was a pretty good answer to the question on why we had so many cottontails in the summer, but considerably fewer come November.

The study cost the DFW somewhere between $40,000 and $60,000, we were told at the time. And what do you think happened to Dr. Weeks’ report?

The last time I saw it, it was perched on a shelf with some books, apparently gathering dust.

Why wasn’t it used?

I have heard several versions of that excuse over the years, but my favorites revolved around the notion that the study was not conclusive enough, or that putting out salt in the warm months might be construed as baiting on the part of those who hunt deer in the fall. Harrumph!

Failure to use sodium to help rabbits get through the warm months certainly cannot be blamed on the cost of salt or labor to distribute it to "rabbity" places. The state properties that use it simply throw a salt block or two in the bed of a pickup truck and swat them a few times with a sledgehammer (I guess a hefty ball-peen would work).

Someone then drives through those rabbity places while someone else flings chunks of salt into good cover. Not so scientific, as wildlife management projects are wont to be . . . but it apparently works.

Of course, with fall in the air, we may have passed the time when the distribution of salt would be beneficial to rabbits. But it could be that such projects--even on the part of private land owners--could help build future rabbit populations to the point where we will have almost as many bunnies as deer. 


All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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