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Here comes lil' Peter

OUTDOOR TALES:

June 27, 2002

Cottontail …

By AL KALIN, Staff Columnist

You can start hunting those wascally wabbits as cottontail rabbit season kicks off the 2002-2003 hunting season Monday. The season runs for seven long months, closing the last Sunday in January.

The Imperial Valley probably has more cottontail rabbits per square mile than anywhere else in the state, yet few hunters go afield in pursuit of this fine eating game animal. It's a shame, too, because cottontail rabbits, which love to eat alfalfa, account for more crop damage in the Imperial Valley than all the other birds and mammals combined.

Last year's license expires Sunday so you need a new one. They cost $31 this year. While you're at it, I suggest you go ahead and buy the upland gamebird stamp so when dove season rolls around you'll be set.

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Licenses are available at Zendejas True Value Hardware in Calipatria, Westmorland Hardware, Imperial Stores in Brawley and Holtville, Wal-Mart in Calexico and El Centro and Big 5 Sporting Goods in El Centro.

I'm not sure if Kmart still sells licenses. I quit shopping there when they removed all ammo and guns from their shelves because of 9-11.

You can hunt cottontails from a half hour before sunup until a half hour after sunset. This differs from bird hunting, where you have to stop when the sun goes down. Early in the morning and late in the afternoon are the best times to hunt.

Five cottontails are allowed per day and you can have 10 in possession after opening day. The rules also say you can hunt these critters with just about anything including any gauge shotgun up to and including 10 gauge. The shotgun must be plugged so it only holds two shells in the magazine and one in the barrel for a total of three shells. BB shot is the largest size of shot that can be used. In addition muzzle-loading shotguns are legal to use, just like Elmer Fudd's gun.

In addition to shotguns, rabbits can be taken with both centerfire and rimfire rifles and pistols of any caliber as well as pellet guns. Some of the new pellet guns on the market are almost as powerful as a .22 rimfire and even more accurate. Certain types of European models make no noise at all. Matter of fact, they are so silent the loudest noise is the sound of the pellet hitting the target.

Bow and arrows, including crossbows, also are legal. Hunting rabbits with a bow is excellent practice if you want to participate in any of the numerous big-game archery hunts held in the state. For hunting rabbits I used to make my own arrows using the cheaper wood shafts. An empty .38 special or .357 magnum pistol case fit perfectly over the end of the shaft and served as the blunt tip. Any rabbit hit with this set-up died instantly.

I've yet to see a hunter in the Valley use one, but trained falcons also are legal.

Cottontail rabbits can be found anywhere there is food, preferably alfalfa, with brushy areas nearby. Weedy drain ditchbanks next to lush fields are a prime spot, particularly if there are haystacks nearby. Rabbits love to make their home in haystacks. Thousands of rabbits live in the brush along the Alamo and New rivers and feed in the adjoining fields.

The easiest way to hunt cottontails is to go early or late in the day and sit near a likely spot and wait quietly and patiently. Within a few minutes the rabbits will begin to emerge from the brush and work their way into the lush fields to feed. A .22 rifle is excellent for this type of hunting.

Rabbits, like any wild game, taste the best when cleaned as quickly as possible and cooled, especially this time of the year. Rabbits are much easier to clean than game birds. It's a simple matter to gut and skin the rabbits as you shoot them and place them on ice so they can cool. Cottontails are prone to many diseases, the most notable being tularemia. Cooking the meat thoroughly eliminates the germ, making the food safe for human consumption.

To prevent infection, hunters who kill rabbits for food should wear rubber gloves when skinning and dressing the animals.

My grandmother's favorite recipe for rabbit was:

Rabbit and rice

1 rabbit, cut in serving pieces

Salt, black pepper to taste

1/2 cup flour

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 (10.5-oz.) can cream of mushroom soup

1 package dry onion soup mix

1 cup uncooked white rice

2 cups water

Season rabbit with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour. Brown in a skillet with heated vegetable oil and set aside. Combine mushroom soup, onion soup mix, rice and water. Pour into a glass baking dish. Top with browned rabbit. Cover and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 to 45 minutes.

Prepared this way, you may make rabbit a big part of your diet.

>> Outdoor Tales writer Al Kalin can be reached on the internet at akalin@quix.net

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