Bob Ford’s new cookbook Rabbit worry about your soul it tells me three things. First, the hunting, writing, field-testing pastor created 20 delicious recipes for making four types of cottontails, three types of rabbits, and one rabbit. Second, the book told me that to find all those recipes, he has to hunt a hell of a lot of bunnies. And third, if you want to make any of those meals, you should pay attention to a rabbit super slam.
“My goal was never to shoot a crash,” says Ford. “I just like to run dogs and hunt rabbits. Extending my season and exposing my dogs to different pursuits and terrain has always been my goal. Most of my hunting is in my home state of Pennsylvania, with regular trips to New York and New England. But every year I pack up my truck and go for a drive. Getting into a collision happened along the way.”
Ford has harvested seven of the following nine American species listed below. “By the grace of God, many of my parishes allowed me to hunt their properties,” he says. “When I’m on the road, I often find places to hunt among church members and their extended families. I’m also not against long distance driving. My longest trip was hunting mountain cottontails in Montana. I went out to attend a writer’s conference, but stopped on the way to hunt. If you’re looking for a slam, this is where to look.”
North American species for a rabbit Super Slam
- Eastern cottontail
- Appalachian Cottontail
- New England Cottontail
- Mountain cottontail
- Different rabbit
- Swamp Hare
- Swamp Hare
- The white-tailed rabbit
- Tail of the desert
Eastern Cottontail Range
Eastern and south-central United States.
Eastern Cottontail Diet
- bark and buds, especially from trees bearing hard or soft mast
“Bird hunters are a rabbit hunter’s best friend,” says Ford. “We all like the same ground. I look for eastern cottontails in young forests that chickens and turkeys prefer. Logging from 15 to 30 years ago provides primary and secondary growth, and there are usually open pine fields nearby. The combination of new and old woods and fields makes for a great chase, with eastern cottontails circling up to 300 yards. I’ll usually see chickens, turkeys, and pheasant outfitted while rabbit hunting, so it makes for an even better mixed bag hunt. Beagles are great mountain bird dogs, with the exception of my dog Duke. When he was younger, my dog Duke would point at the birds, most of the time with one paw raised. His tail set was fair, but he was as stylish as my friend’s putters.”
Appalachian Cottontail Range
Eastern United States.
Appalachian Cottontail Diet
- bark and twigs of red maple, aspen, hickory, apple and black cherry trees
“Pennsylvania and West Virginia have good numbers of Appalachian cottontails,” says Ford. “The old timers call them forest rabbits. They are slightly smaller than the eastern ones, but run larger, usually rolling in 400 to 500 yards. Sometimes the dogs are so far away that I can’t hear them leaving. Tracking collars are a must, and I use a SportDOG Tek 2 to go along with them. Wood rabbits like the same type of primary and secondary growth as eastern cottontails.
New England Cottontail
The New England Cottontail range
New England, from Southern Maine to Southern New York.
Cottontail diet in New England
- Herbs and leaves of goldenrod, bones and smart herbs
- leaves and shoots from woody plants such as blackberry, raspberry and rose multiflora
- Saplings and shoots from maple, aspen, cherry and oak.
“The New England cottontail is a subset of the Eastern cottontail,” says Ford. “I will go to the coastal areas to hunt them. They like the brambles and thickets of Barrens Pines, which are a mix of warm-weather grasses, white, black, and scrub oaks, and bittersweet. My friend Jason Wiseman and I hunted them along Cape Cod’s Bay Side, and then packed our guns and dogs to hop on the Nantucket Ferry. It was a riot to see people wearing navy blazers, Nantucket slacks, and penny loafers in the same seating areas as the dog boxes and gun boxes. Once on the island we stayed with Viagra Dan, the island pharmacist. Not many people hunt there, so there were a lot of bunnies.”
Upland Cottontail Range
Eastern Rocky Mountains through the eastern slope of the Cascade-Sierra Nevada range
Upland Cottontail Diet
- Wheat grass
- sage brush
- salt bush
- rabbit brush
“The mountain cottontail is only found on rocks,” says Ford. “It is a big country, with many prairies, mountain ranges and rivers. When looking for places to hunt, it’s best to abandon the rule of thumb that 80 percent of the rabbits are found in 20 percent of the cover. Look at the natural color of the rabbits and then look for herbs that match their color. Low prairie grasses provide tasty growth and by matching the color of the food and cover to the rabbit, you will find them very easily. Mountain cottontails like safe and sheltered areas so they can feed in peace.”
The different range of the rabbit
Northern parts of the United States
Different rabbit diet
- Green grass
- pine needles, and bark
“Unlike cottontails that get water from their food, Varying rabbits, also known as snow rabbits, have to drink water directly,” says Ford. “As a result, I find them in cedar swamps surrounded by hemlock and other coniferous species. I also find them along rivers, streams, streams and ponds. Look for areas that were aggressively logged several years ago, especially if the harvested trees are conifers. New branches provide protection from bird predators and low growth provides grasses and clover to eat. The common hare is a big runner, usually in the 500 to 700 yard range, so pack your tracking collars.
Range of swamp hares
South-central United States and along the Gulf Coast
The diet of the swamp hare
- Herbs and seeds that grow in moist soil,
- aquatic plants
- cane stalk,
- twigs and bark from hazelnuts, nuts, berries and spices
“Sweet Home Alabama is a great state to look for Swamp Rabbits,” says Ford. “So are Mississippi and Louisiana. Swamp hares run as big as a rabbit, and because they are known to swim, they make it very difficult for hounds to follow. I remember shooting one swimming in a stream with only its nose sticking out. Until it came ashore I thought it was a beaver.”
Swamp Hare Range
Coastal regions of the Eastern and Southern United States
The diet of the swamp hare
- duck potatoes
- water hyacinth
- the bark of the tree
“Swamp rabbits are known to swim as well, mainly to avoid predators,” says Ford. “They’re small and run that way, usually about 200 yards or so. If you are in areas with small swamps, they are a lot of fun to hunt. I remember finding many in Southern Virginia near the North Carolina border. I would have stayed longer, but I had to go back to church.”
The white-tailed rabbit
Whitetail Jacket Range
Western United States
The diet of the white-tailed rabbit
- sage brush
“The whitetail rabbit is the one that saved me,” says Ford. “I found some in North Dakota and saw it in the dance. The only thing is, unlike other rabbits I’ve killed, the Whitetail Yak never circled. I have heard that some hounds hunt on horseback as they need to cover ground. Their dogs are also different, and they prefer hounds with longer legs to standard scent hounds. Those dogs are much bigger.”
Tail of the desert
Desert Tail Range
Western United States
Desert tail diet
- leaves, fruits and seeds of other plants
“I’ve never chased a desert cottontail,” says Ford. “They live in the dry grasslands, near the desert in the Southwest and even as far east as Montana. On windy days they never come out of their holes because the wind makes it difficult for them to hear approaching predators. On hot days they roost around noon, digging holes with their front paws to get cooler soil to lower their temperature.”
Pastor Ford’s Rabbit Hunting Gear
“Any shotgun will do, but I like side-by-side,” says Ford. “Because they balance well with the weight in the front, they are the best weapon in the game. My gauges range from 16 to .410. The straight stocks keep the weight down, which is a good thing because I wear them all day. Less metal work also lightens the load and they are very responsive.
“The reverbs on my bigger gauges have been modified and modified improved,” he says. “I like tighter light chokes on my smaller gauges, so when I go down to a 28 gauge or a .410 bore, I tighten up to Modified and Full. Most of my shot sizes are 6 but when I shoot 28 gauge or .410 I like numbers 4 and 5. I load the 4 larger shots in the right barrel and the smaller 5 in the left barrel. This way I have more impact on the first shot and better spread on the second shot.
Read further: How to skin rabbits and squirrels
“Regular brush equipment is important for hunting in primary and secondary growth,” says Ford. “Caps or pods, gloves, a vest with a belt, that’s really all I use. The important part is the collars for my dogs. When they are hitting and moving out of sound range, GPS tracking collars help me know where they are. This is useful when they are circling, so I can position myself in an open area to land a kill shot. Boots are important. If you are hunting cottontails, then regular tall boots are fine. Rubber boots are best if you are running in swamps or wet areas.