Normally, I’m enjoying some of my best ice fishing in late February, but the sudden warm temperatures and wildly fluctuating water levels on one of my favorite ice-fishing lakes have brought an unexpected end to my hard water fishing. In the meantime, my buddy George called and asked me to join him on a late-season rabbit hunt, and we quickly made plans for the following week. The late season runs until February 28; we were heading out on the 21st, usually a cold, snowy hunt, but that was hardly the case this season. Temperatures were in the 60s, and there was no snow anywhere to be found when I met up with George, and we headed to some of his favorite spots.
As soon as we got to our first hunting location, I quickly shed my sweatshirt and got down to my t-shirt and my sleeveless hunting vest; I still worked up a sweat as we worked through the brush. We both wondered what kind of hunt this would be; after all, we were both accustomed to several inches of snow providing a white background to better see fleeing rabbits and certainly cold February temperatures.
It wasn’t long into the hunt when the older dog, Bandit, started sounding off indicating he was hot on the trail of a rabbit. I was only 20 yards from Bandit when he sounded the alarm. As I moved a bit closer to the howling beagle, suddenly a rabbit bolted from only a few feet from the dog; I had just enough time to squeeze off a quick shot with my Ithaca 20-gage pump. George saw the rabbit roll when I fired — one rabbit down and hopefully more to go.
A couple of hours into the hunt we both began to theorize, however, that this warm, pleasant day hardly meant that lots of rabbits were out feeding and romping around. If anything, it soon became apparent that we were going to have to work for the bunnies — they were sitting tight and very reluctant to move. On a couple of occasions, we walked through some hedgerows and thickets that the dogs had already been through only to be surprised by a fleeing rabbit.
A bit later in the day, we were working a side hill full of great rabbit cover. After George and the dogs worked through a portion of the hillside I saw George suddenly turn back from where he just came, “There goes one!” he yelled. The 410 barked and the rabbit was down. We flushed at least eight rabbits that day, but one thing was apparent — they were not at all anxious to move, but our perseverance with some help from the dogs resulted in a couple of downed rabbits — a good hunt for a February day with temperatures in the 60s.
I guess the lesson learned from this February hunt is even though we may want to go out and frolic in the unusual late winter weather, it doesn’t mean the rabbits will be all that cooperative. Oh well, in the meantime I have to look up a couple of rabbit recipes — I’m planning a meal of “surf and turf” next week — rabbits and bluegills.