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