Rabbit hunting is the third most popular type of hunting activity in the U.S., behind wild turkey and deer hunting. Few people take advantage of it in Oregon, but they should—rabbits and hares are abundant and there is no closed season or bag limit. And, they taste good!
You need a valid hunting license to hunt rabbit on public or private land. No other tag or validation is needed. If you are hunting on your own property or as the agent of a landowner, no hunting license, tag or validation is required.
There is no specific statewide season for hunting rabbit, so they can legally be hunted at any time of year in many places. Check your hunting area for any date restrictions or season closures. If hunting with dogs, keep in mind that dogs may not be trained or permitted to run at large in game bird nesting habitat from April to July 31 every year.
Early spring is one of the best times to hunt rabbits, as grasses and forbs are growing and rabbits are on the move. Hunting anytime after the first frost (or late fall) is also ideal because unhealthy rabbits won’t have survived the colder temperatures. Hunters with dogs find early morning is an ideal time to hunt; rabbits move around at night and dogs can easily find scent in the morning.
With a dog: Beagles are a popular rabbit hunting dog because they are small and can get through brambles and brush. A dog will force a rabbit out of the brush and then follow it by scent. Rabbits generally travel in circles, usually counter-clockwise, and will attempt to return to the same spot. Position yourself to cut the circle off.
Without a dog: Try hunting with one or more partners—one or two beat the brush while the other watches from a good vantage point for the rabbit to run and for the opportunity to take a shot. Also try hunting in snow—look for tracks to identify high-use areas or follow fresh tracks. Or, quietly still-hunt and look for rabbits before they bolt. This method is challenging, but a rabbit holding still can offer the opportunity for a clean shot with a .22, thus preserving the meat for the table.
Rabbits can harm crops so you may find a landowner willing to grant you access; remember you must ask permission to hunt on private land.
Eastern Oregon: Hunt around alfalfa circles on private land and sage-brush covered BLM lands. Find cottontails in rimrock and boulder areas in sage-brush country. Jackrabbits are more often found in sage-brush and greasewood flats.
Western Oregon: Rabbits like thick cover (Himalayan blackberry, snowberry, wild rose bushes) and forage (mowed grass, legumes). Look for areas that have these two in close proximity. The edges of working farmland are often good spots to work in the spring; mowed crops and grasses will provide the fresh green-up rabbits like. ODFW’s EE Wilson Wildlife Area (near Corvallis) is a popular public hunting area for rabbits and is open from Nov. 1 through the last day of February each year. Sometimes rabbits and hares can also be found on national forest and BLM lands in western Oregon.
Hunters can pursue three species of rabbits and two species of hare in Oregon: brush rabbit (westside Ore.), Nuttal’s cottontail (eastside Ore.) and eastern cottontail (Willamette Valley), snowshoe hare (found at high elevations), black-tailed jackrabbit (found everywhere especially central and southeastern Ore.).
Protected species: Due to their low abundance, the white-tailed jackrabbit (eastern Ore.) and the pygmy rabbit (southeast Ore.) cannot be hunted. The white-tailed jackrabbit can be identified by its entirely white tail; it tends to live in grassland habitat. The pygmy rabbit is small (it usually weighs less than a pound), appears to lack a tail or has a uniform colored tail (usually buffy brown) and lacks the white undertail of most other rabbits.
Shotguns are often used for rabbit and hare hunting, because one rarely sees the animal before it is off and running. Rabbits are generally considered to be “thin skinned” so the smaller shot sizes of #6 to #8 can be effective. Open chokes such as improved cylinder are good choices in the brushy areas where rabbits and hares are often found. Any shotgun can be used; 12 and 20 gauge are the most popular. Open chokes, and #6-#8 shot in lead, or #4-#6 in steel The shooting distance will depend on your choice of weapon and shot, but generally do not take a shot beyond 35 yards. Marksman can use a .22 rimfire long rifle. When using a rifle, aim for the head so as not to spoil the meat.
Rabbit is truly great table fare if handled properly in the field. Field dress (e.g. remove the guts) immediately after killing it. This will help keep the meat safe and is easier to do before the animal gets cold. Also, remember to keep the rabbit clean. Don’t use dirty water and keep the carcass away from mud, dirt and leaves. Use a clean knife and wear latex or rubber gloves. Steps to field-dressyour rabbit:
- Remove the head, then cut at the ankles to remove the feet of the rabbit.
- Holding the back skin of the rabbit with your fingers, make a cut through the skin and over the back (not into the meat).
- Peel back the skin/hide of the rabbit in both directions with your fingers. Take care not to let the fur side of the hide touch the carcass.
- Remove the complete skin of the rabbit, includingthe tail.
- Remove the complete entrails. Insert an appropriately sized knife blade at the bottom of the sternum and make a cut all the way to the tail. Then insert the knife blade just under the bottom edge of the sternum and make a cut up to the rabbit’s neck. Be careful not to insert the knife so far into the body cavity that you puncture any of the organs. You only want to “unzip” the rabbit at this point.
- Inspect the liver for any spotting which is a sign of Tularemia or “rabbit fever.” See side bar.
- Grasp the back feet in one hand and the chest above the incision in your other hand. Lift the rabbit to about your shoulders, and thrust it downward quickly to release the innards. They may still be attached at the front and back so you’ll need to carefully pull the organs out with your hands. To prevent contamination, be careful not to smash or break anything.
- Put your rabbit in a cooler or a game meat bag to keep it cool until you get home and refrigerate or freeze it.
- Be sure to thoroughly cook your rabbit to at least 165 degrees F; use a meat thermometer to ensure the inside of the meat reaches that temperature. This is important to kill any bacteria still in the meat. Some people dip the carcass in boiling water before cooking it.
Rabbit fever, or tularemia, is not commonly seen in Oregon but it does occur in rabbits and rodents. It can be spread from infected animals to people through tick bites, handling an infected animal, eating or drinking infected material, and even through inhalation. Tularemia is identified through inspection of an infected animal’s internal organs, so when field dressing your animal look for any light spotting on the liver. If you even suspect you see white, yellow or any other liver spotting, place the animal in a plastic bag, thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer, and contact an ODFW office. State veterinarians will run tests on the liver to determine if the animal was infected. Do not consume meat.
Always know the location of your fellow hunters, including your dog, and follow these safety precautions when hunting:
- Keep your firearm’s muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
- Keep your finger outside of the trigger guard until ready to shoot.
- Treat every firearm as if it were loaded.
- Be sure of your target and what is in front of it and beyond it.
- Wear blaze orange.