Don't let deer, rabbit season overshadow rabbit hunts

Alfred Guidry

Hunting season is a special time of the year for people who enjoy the outdoors. Often times, deer and duck hunting overshadow some of the small game available in our area. Although hunting habitat is decreasing for the swamp rabbit, there is still plenty joy in getting up early in the morning and gathering the beagles for a good morning hunt. Since rabbit season is one of the first things to open and one of the latest things to close, it offers around five months of hunting. Many of the deer and duck hunters will get together after those season’s close in January for a good old rabbit hunt.

Although maybe not as well known as its close relative the eastern cottontail, the swamp rabbit actually inhabits a wider range within our state. The area along our extreme southern coast generally provides better habit for swamp rabbits. Other common names for the swamp rabbit include marsh rabbit and cane-cutter. The common name, along with the species names ‘aquaticus’ (meaning found in water), are suitable names for a species with a strong preference for wet situations and will take to the water and swim. Swamp rabbits are appreciably larger and darker than eastern cottontails. Their sides, rump, tail and feet are much more brownish, along with a pinkish-cinnamon eye-ring as opposed to the whitish eye-ring in eastern cottontails.

Swamp rabbits generally are found in heavily wooded areas and coastal marshes. They are replaced by cottontails in dry upland cultivated areas of Louisiana. Ideal swamp rabbit habitat within hardwood bottomland swamps consist of canal banks and wooded ridges that provide an abundance of cover. In coastal marshes, swamp rabbits are found in dense stands of giant Roseau cane, bulrush and other marsh plants. As with all rabbits, cover is the key habitat component in managing for swamp rabbits. Even though their swimming abilities lack the speed to escape a pack of hunting dogs, swamp rabbits elude pursuers by lying still in the water surrounded by brush or plant debris with only their nose visible.

Young swamp rabbits are born almost any month of the year, but the greatest reproductive activity is from late January to the end of September , with a peak between February and May, when an abundance of vegetation is available. Females have a 40-day gestation period and produce from one to six individuals. The nest in which the young are born consist of a slight depression in the earth that is filled with grasses mixed with rabbit hair.

Rival males will often engage in aggressive encounters that sometimes become violent enough to kill one of the combatants. When fighting, males will stand on their hind legs and use their teeth and claws to inflict wounds on their opponent. They will also jump from the ground and strike with the sharp claws on the hind feet.

Swamp rabbits consume aquatic and succulent herbaceous vegetation such as grasses, sedges and cane. They feed mainly at night but rain showers will often cause them to feed during daytime as well.

The Louisiana rabbit hunting season does not differentiate between cottontail or swamp rabbits. The season normally opens the first Saturday of October. Daily bag limits cannot exceed eight with a possession limit of 16.

For more information, contact Alfred Guidry, county agent, St. Martin Parish, at 332-2181.


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