It is going to be a spell until the frost flies to ripen rabbits, but
the things we are seeing and hearing now point to some pretty fair country
bunny hunting when it does--the frost flies, that is.
This kind of thinking got its start here in my front-yard jungle when,
earlier in the spring, I started seeing unusually large numbers of young
rabbits. They come out of the jungle early in the morning and late in the
afternoon to munch the Dutch clover along the driveway.
This, of course, was exciting stuff for a reprobate rabbit hunter, so
one day while visiting with one of the Boone County farmers who tolerates
me during the hunting seasons, he volunteered that his back 40 was loaded
with young rabbits.
“Never saw so many young rabbits,” he said, and I think my ears must
have wiggled more than a little. This, of course, is music to the ears
of a frustrated rabbit hunter.
To give the notion that Hoosierdom is blessed with a goodly number of
young rabbits this year, I started doing some checking by telephone.
Cary Schuyler, manager of Atterbury State Fish and Wildlife Area, said
he could not substantiate this thinking with hard-and-fast numbers, but
that he (and other employees at the Johnson-Bartholomew County facility)
are seeing more young rabbits than usual this year.
Mike Schoonveld, assistant manager of Willow Slough State Fish And Wildlife
Area (the far northwest) dittoed this thinking.
Schuyler and Schoonveld believe the dry spring may have had much to
do with this resurgence of cottontails. They also agree that rabbit populations
suffer in late summer with a die off that has been scientifically credited,
at least partially, to a lack of sodium in their bodies.
Thus, if you are seeing more than normal numbers of young rabbits in
your favorite patch now, it could be a temporary thing unless you help
the bunnies along life’s path to November with some plain old salt.
The thinking was/is that intestinal parasites kill many rabbits in late
summer because of a deficiency of sodium in rabbits’ bodies.
Dr. Harmon P. Weeks, the Purdue wildlife professor whom we consider
“top-of-the-line,” conducted experiments with artificially-administered
sodium (liquid form in baby-type bottles) many years ago. Although Weeks’
experiments pointed to the fact that sodium kept more rabbits alive until
the hunting started, the Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), and other
land-holding divisions of the Department of Natural Resources, for many
years did not use sodium to combat the parasites.
One of the reasons sodium was not administered artificially on state
properties seemed to hinge on the fact that all species of wildlife seem
to be attracted to salt. Thus, if salt were made available to game species
during hunting seasons, the practice could be considered “baiting,” a no-no
in fair-chase and legal thinking.
However, in recent years some of the state properties have used salt
at this time of year in ways that give the sodium ample time to dissipate
before hunting seasons arrive. Moreover, areas administering salt artificially
appears to have more rabbits during the hunting seasons.
Wildlife management folks on state properties have found administering
salt on state-owned or operated properties is one of the simplest management
tools. They simply place a block of salt in the back of a pickup truck,
whack it a few times with a sledgehammer, and drive through areas that
have good habitat while the baseball-size pieces at thrown out.
With 50-pound salt blocks going at $6.00 or so, the practice also is
one of the least expensive wildlife management procedures. And baseball-size
chunks of salt are almost certain to be gone long before hunting seasons