I’ve been asked several times recently, “What is the best gun for rabbit hunting?” I will attempt to answer that question, but will begin by saying, I don’t believe there is a single “best gun” for hunting rabbits. If you asked a half-dozen serious rabbit hunters this question I can guarantee you will get several different answers!
Traits I look for in a Rabbit Gun
Gauge – one of the great things about rabbit hunting is that you can hunt with just about any shotgun in your closet or gun safe at home. I have hunted rabbits with everything from a single shot .410 to a semi-automatic 12-gauge. I only rabbit hunt over dogs so I will rule out .22 rifles. They certainly have their place for stalk and jump rabbit hunters, but they are too dangerous when dogs and other hunters are involved.
The goal in choosing any hunting gun is to match the gauge or caliber of the gun to the game animal and terrain you will be hunting. In my opinion the 20-gauge matches up very well for cottontail, snowshoe hare and swamp rabbits. Additionally, the shells are readily available and priced affordably.
The .410 is a great choice for young hunters and those looking for a bit more of a challenge (and don’t mind missing a few shots). The 12-gauge, used by many is certainly a fine rabbit gun, but I would speculate for most it would not be their first choice. However, the 12-gauge should not be regarded as “too much gun.” When shooting low brass field load there is really not much difference between the 20-gauge, 16-gauge and 12-gauge. The next time you are buying shells compare the amount of lead and velocity statistics on each box and you will see they are fairly comparable.
Any shotgun will work, but if I were buying a new rabbit gun I would pick a 20-gauge.
Lightweight – rabbit hunts often mean spending the better part of the day in the field on your feet carrying a gun. I want a light gun that is enjoyable to carry for hours at a time. I often have my hands full as I manage the hounds – the last thing I want is a heavy shotgun adding to the load.
Compact – not only do I want a light shotgun, I want one that is compact and able to be shot quickly – not bulky and slow to the shoulder. Barrels in the 22″ – 26″ range are preferred, 28″ and longer barrels are better suited for hunting other game.
Workhorse – leave your pretty, shiny shotguns in the display cabinet. When rabbit hunting I often find myself in the middle of thickets and briars and don’t want to worry about putting a scratch on my gun.
Adjustable Chokes – with the exception of the .410, which should stay with a full choke, I want to be able to change chokes to match the terrain I’m hunting.
Action – single shots have certainly been responsible for adding many rabbits to the game bag, but I personally prefer to have a follow-up shot! Pumps and auto loaders are fine choices, but I like the ease and speed of loading and unloading double barrels. I typically leave my gun unloaded until a rabbit is jumped and running. Throughout the hunt, I unload and reload my gun numerous times. I also like double barrels because I am able to use two different chokes – one barrel set-up for close range shots and one for extended range.
My rabbit gun of choice is a side-by-side 20-gauge with adjustable chokes. It is light and compact with 24″ barrels. I typically, have one barrel with a I.C. choke for closer shots and a Mod. choke in the other barrel to extend my range. I typically shoot low brass #6 shot shells and occasionally use a high brass shell in my Mod. barrel if I am hunting an area with long shot opportunities. I prefer the side-by-side to the over-and-under because they are typically lighter and more compact…and I just like the look and feel of a “granny gun.”
If you only have one shotgun, and it’s bulky, heavy and has a fixed choke, take it and don’t feel bad about using it! The main thing is that you get out in the field, enjoy yourself and be safe! My grandfather exclusively used this single shot 12-gauge with a 30″ barrel! It wouldn’t be my first choice for a small game gun, but he knew how to shoot it and he was able to keep his game bag filled!
pictures and post by Peter