Dillon Hall and Jake Huggins pose with two beagles and the results of a day of rabbit hunting.
By Jonathan Bowman
If you’ve never been hunting before, a rabbit hunt might be the best species to start with. They are easy to clean, versatile in the kitchen, and abundant in every part of Virginia.
The general idea of rabbit hunting is that you have specially trained dogs that love nothing more in the world than to chase after the scent of a rabbit. Typically a few experienced hunters will accompany the dog handler into the thickets where the rabbits like to spend most of their time during the day. The rest of the hunting party will then line up along a road or field where they have a greater field of view to shoot the rabbit when it runs out of the thicket.
If you want to find rabbits, look for the thickest, nastiest patch of briars on the property and start there. The dogs (typically beagles) will wiggle their little butts into the thicket without hesitation, and when they find the scent of the first rabbit, they will alert everyone around with a loud and authoritative howl. The other dogs will run over in a (mostly) single file line to join in the howling. They then continue to wind through the thickets and forests following the rabbit’s path. It’s both amusing and impressive to observe.
This past February, I was able to join my good friend and seasoned rabbit hunter, Jake Huggins. Jake and his wife Casey reside in Powhatan with their newborn girl, Claire, nine rabbit-hunting beagles, and one goldendoodle house dog named Mila. I chatted with Jake about rabbit hunting:
When did you start rabbit hunting and who invited you/took you?
I started going rabbit hunting when I was 5 years old. My dad’s best friend had rabbit dogs and we would go with him every weekend after deer season ended. I’m 25 now and have been hooked ever since that first time my dad took me.
What about rabbit hunting made you so committed that you have nine dedicated rabbit dogs?
I love the action that rabbit hunting provides. You’re up in the briars with the dogs, and it feels like you’re part of a big team working together to try to get that chase going. I love working with the dogs and watching them work together. Each dog’s strength takes care of another dog’s weakness. They pay attention to each other and listen to each other and it’s a really cool thing watching how each dog reacts to one another.
Not only is it fun watching the dogs but it’s a great time trying to get in front of the dogs to harvest the rabbit. A lot of people don’t understand the enjoyment of rabbit hunting, but there is nothing in this world that runs like a rabbit. They’re slick. They’ll run up under old barns or sheds and come hauling out of the other side while the dogs are all right there and then the chase is on again. Rabbits will make you look bad, no matter how good of a shot you think you are, and it’s a great opportunity to get friends and family together in the outdoors to have some fun and trash talk a little bit.
What breed of dogs do you use and why?
All my dogs are short-legged beagles around 13″ tall. I feel this size is perfect for me with the type of terrain I hunt. They’re small enough to get up under the thickest briars, but not too small to where the rabbit gets way out in front of them. I consider my dogs to run an upper medium speed which is fast enough to keep pressure on the rabbit and keep him moving but not too fast to where they will catch the rabbit.
What’s your favorite way to cook a rabbit? My favorite way to cook rabbit meat is to fry it. I will debone the rabbit and cut the rabbit meat into big chicken nugget-sized pieces. I’ll beat it with a meat hammer a couple times on each side, dip it in some whipped up eggs, coat it in a House Autry seafood breading mixed with some other seasonings and put it in the frying pan and cook until it’s golden- brown color.
How do you recommend someone gets started with rabbit hunting if they’ve never done it before?
If you’ve never rabbit hunted before I definitely recommend trying it at least for the experience. There are a lot of good videos online of people rabbit hunting and having a good time while doing it. I personally won’t rabbit hunt without dogs, so if you know someone with rabbit dogs, ask if they will bring you out. It’s not like sitting in a tree stand and having to be quiet (although that’s also very enjoyable). It’s a different type of hunting. You’re moving around and talking with your friends most of the time, but while the dogs are running it’s best to stay still and quiet to put yourself in a position to get a shot. I typically hunt with five to 10 people. We always know where each other are so we can be as safe as possible, in addition to wearing blaze orange. There’s never a dull moment in the woods, and you definitely see something new every time you go out.
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Jonathan Bowman lives in Amelia County, where he spends as much time as possible hunting, fishing, and cooking. Jonathan loves sharing his passions with others, and is determined to one day convince his wife to join him on a turkey hunt.