Rabbit Hunting with a Recurve

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Get into traditional bowhunting by stalking bunnies

Rabbits

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1 | Rabbits

Rabbits are one of the most underrated small game animals to pursue with a bow. Sure, there are other little critters, like squirrels, that are fun to chase with a stick and string, but squirrels like to climb trees and are neurotic. That means the shots are often at elevated targets, where arrows whack limbs or sail away altogether. Good cedar arrows are dang hard to come by and they don’t just give away Zwickey Judo points. 

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Patterns

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2 | Patterns

Therefore, I stick to rabbits. Their patterns are predictable, they are challenging to stalk, and they make for a fine meal. When you hunt them with a recurve, you are not only honing your skills for big game, but connecting to the essence of the sport.​

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What You

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3 | What You'll Need

Modern compound bows have achieved new heights in accuracy and consistency so long as the shooter does his part. Modern gear still provides an adequate challenge, but upping the ante with a recurve or longbow will bring any true bowhunter back to his roots. Traditional archery forces the shooter to learn his or her equipment, aiming from instinct and truly melding mind, body and bow into one.

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Bow and Broadhead

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4 | Bow and Broadhead

A bow with 40 pounds of draw weight is more than enough for rabbits, but I like something in the 50- to 55-pound range simply because I shoot that weight comfortably and accurately. Younger archers, as well as those who cannot draw heavier bows, are not handicapped by lighter weight with rabbits, but broadhead choice should be considered. Heavier draw weights lend themselves to Zwickey Judo points or blunt heads. Both make the arrow easier to recover after a miss, and fly with the accuracy of a field point. Head shots are challenging and preferred for clean kills with this type of small game head. I personally prefer blunt tips fashioned from empty rifle casings, which I trim to fit around the shaft and glue into place.

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Draw Weight

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5 | Draw Weight

For 45-pound and lighter bows, you’re going to need something to make up for the lack of penetration and shock. Any of the small-game heads offered by the popular manufacturers are great for lighter-weight bows, as are fixed-blade broadheads such as Zwickey Black Diamond. A fixed-blade head is capable of being sharpened after skipping off a rock or burying deep in the sand after an inevitable miss. Don’t even think about shooting mechanical heads with traditional gear unless you want to look like the guy who wears white pants after Labor Day.

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Shafts

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6 | Shafts

Cedar shafts fletched with turkey feathers are my favorite for big game, but it is hard to argue against the durability of carbon arrows for rabbit work. You’ll shoot far more in two days of rabbit hunting than you will in a season of chasing deer, so durability shot after shot does have merit. Gold Tip, Easton and Traditional Only all make durable carbon arrows designed for use with traditional bows. They even paint the shafts to look like cedar so you can fool judgmental purists who skulk around in buckskins and funny looking hats.

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Spot

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7 | Spot

Locating a rabbit to stalk is not rocket science, and since they are in abundance throughout most of the country, odds are you’re going to get action in short order. Where I live in Georgia, cottontails tend to favor edges of grassy openings and old logging roads where fresh grass can be found. Walking field edges or roadbeds will usually present the hunter with opportunities to begin a stalk. Cottontails will often hold their ground at the sight of a distant hunter approaching, but once their cone of safety is penetrated, it’s off into the briars they go.

 

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Stalk

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8 | Stalk

If a rabbit spots you before you see it, back away until you’re out of sight and wait a few minutes. Then start a "fresh" stalk, moving carefully to not alert the rabbit to your presence. If the bunny doesn’t know you’re around from the get-go, you are less likely to watch it hop off into the thorny abyss as you close in for the final stage. Ordinarily a rabbit will feed down a road, so if they’re facing you and slowly feeding in your direction, you’re better off staying put until the search for sweet forage brings them to your feet.

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Shoot

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9 | Shoot

With a rabbit, you only need to worry with their eyes and ears. No carbon-infused clothing, no scent killers, no fussing about wind direction. You can go for a leisurely walk in the woods, along an old road, or around a field edge. The hunt can be as serious or freewheeling as you desire. It is a great opportunity to take a young hunter because the pressure and anxiety so often associated with pursuing big game is absent. Youngsters can see what it is like to be on the ground, stalking an animal instead of sitting in a stand or blind waiting for something to walk by. It ups the level of excitement and expectation since chances are you will cross paths with your quarry multiple times during a hunt.

In a world that has begun taking itself far too seriously, perhaps the lowly rabbit will be the voice of undemanding reason. But you’d best hurry. I hear the National Wild Rabbit Federation is coming to town and after that, who knows where this thing will go.

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The twig snapped under my boot and I froze. Motionless, I stood there until my quarry relaxed and began feeding once again on the tender clover. I crept closer, metering my steps in predatory tempo, inching forward until the animal was within range. My bow, made by a company that has fallen from the pages of modern archery lore, is every bit as accurate and deadly as it was during the Nixon era. It had been my father’s, and passed down to me when I was a young man.

I was taught to snap-shoot a recurve. It's a fading art, drawing the bow until the string and finger touch the anchor point and immediately releasing the arrow. The entire process takes a second; maybe a blink or two more. The shooting style I learned as a kid has always served me well. This time my aim was spot-on, and I was soon admiring a big buck cottontail that would go nicely with the pair I already had laying at the base of a big white oak.

[Editor's note: Please click through this photo gallery for more tips on rabbit hunting with a recurve.]