It might as well have been a serrated steak knife dragged across my wrist the way it felt as my son and I made our way through a thick patch of briers in search of swamp rabbits this past weekend.
The canal bank we were on was teeming with the tangled mess, causing me to think that clearly the inventor of concertina wire was a bayou state swamp rabbit hunter at some point in his life.
Only someone who did a little bayou boogie mashing grass, briers and mixtures of ferns and bull tongue along canals banks could be so sadistic. But, that boogie is what it takes if you are going to be successful killing rabbits in February without a good pack of beagles.
My son and I are not the lucky ones who own a pack of dogs. Instead, we’re the pack. And it’s how he and I pack using our human legs and feet that determines how successful we are. There are a few tricks to everything.
Rabbit hunting has a long-standing tradition in Louisiana. And around these parts right after duck season is the time of year it’s done. Take any weekend in late January through the month of February and you’ll see plumes of smoke rising skyward where the marsh is burning somewhere.
In the years gone by, the old marsh-men would burn the marsh to trap muskrats. Tall patches of cane roseaus would pop, crackle and sizzle as the flame would lap over acres upon acres of land, leaving the terrain sooty black and flat with nothing but the rat hills showing.
During cold nights rats would become more active, according to lore, and the next morning a frost would greet the trapper running his trap line.
Today, the rats are gone, but the practice of burning the marsh still exists and is still allowed by some land companies along the coast. But, in these cases, it’s more to condition the ground to hunt rabbits, making it easier for both dogs and hunters.
Where it’s not allowed, it means fighting the understory. What’s more, the chances of harvesting a limit of rabbits are drastically diminished and now comes down to your ability to jump them out of their protective cover.
One of the things that I’ve taught three sons and numerous friends is to slow down and don’t be in a hurry when coming to a patch of briers that you know holds a rabbit or two. It’s not about covering lots of ground as much as it is covering what you’re hunting more thoroughly. The trick is to get that rabbit to move out of the cover and expose itself where a shot can be made.
The best method in hunting rabbits if you’re dog-less is to zigzag, stop often, bay like a beagle or talk loud and start over if nothing comes out of the patch. All of these techniques assume there is rabbit sign present. If not, all bets are off, and you’re just wasting time.
This technique has never failed me in scoring a swamp rabbit, and I’ve proven it time and again. Quite often, I’ve approached a patch of briars so thick you can’t see through them and talking out loud said to my sons or friends, “This patch will have a rabbit in it — trust me.” Or, “There’s got to be a rabbit in here.” Invariably, either they or myself, using the bayou boogie technique, scored a swamp rabbit.
My overall harvest numbers pale by comparison to dog hunting. But, who cares. I’ve never been much into limits, particularly the older I get.
I challenge anyone to completely clean a limit of eight swamp rabbits. Completely means taking the glands out of their legs, the shot and hair out of the pellet holes and not just chopping off the hind quarters. Then see if they really care about a limit afterwards. Besides, one big swamp rabbit will go a long way in providing a family meal.
Rabbit meat is some of the most delicious meat you can harvest from a game animal. And most people claim they don’t care for the gamey taste. But, what I’ve found quite often is it’s all in the handling. When cleaned and cooked properly, rabbit is not strong — especially swamp rabbits.
After whining about my wrist and talking my son through the terrain we were hunting, it was in the middle of the object lesson a swamp rabbit burst from cover. My son, with his youthful cat-like reflexes, shot as the rabbit reluctantly held to the outside edge of the brier patch where I was doing the boogie inside.
It took a few minutes to dig the rabbit out from the briers that were kind enough to deposit a few more thorns deep into my skin. No matter, it’s just part of the hazard when boogying in the coastal marsh.
And no doubt, come late June when some of the few remaining brier thorns fester and are rejected by my skin, I’ll smile in anticipation of next year’s rabbit season as I pluck them out with the tweezers.
Rabbit season runs through February. The best time to hunt for rabbits is during a hard south wind. With marsh grasses flat from winter frosts and weather, high water often pushes rabbits to higher spoil banks along canals, providing hunters with better opportunities.
If you wish to make a comment or have an anecdote, recipe or story to share, you can contact John K. Flores at 985-395-5586 or firstname.lastname@example.org.