Gauge, choke, ammo, and action

by Steve Galea | February 19, 2014

gauge - shot shells on a counter

Asking a group of hunters to describe the perfect rabbit gun is like asking a group of drivers to describe the perfect truck. There are going to be strong differences of opinion based on brand loyalty, aesthetics, and personal experiences.

But there will be some agreement, too.

For instance, most hunters would prefer a lightweight gun and one that is capable of at least 2 quick shots.

Gauge your needs
Dissention begins when gauge is discussed.

Some hunters prefer the 12-gauge. It’s ideal for jackrabbits. Varying hare hunters like it too, especially if hares are being pushed ahead of hounds or flushed in open woods or in very tight cover.

With light loads and the right choke, a 12-gauge can even be tamed for up-close cottontails, which makes it the most versatile rabbit gun.
The downside is these guns can devastate game meat when shots are too close and the choke is too tight.

The 20-gauge also has its proponents because the gun is lightweight, quick handling, and more than enough for snowshoe hares and cottontails. With the right loads and choke it can also be used for jacks, although it’s not ideal.

Another traditional favourite, the .410, does well on cottontails and snowshoe hares. It’s typically a pleasure to carry but limited in range and arguably unsuitable for jacks.

Some .410 fans claim its effectiveness at longer distances, but most agree that the .410 is best suited for shots under 25 yards or less through brushy cover. Within that range, the little shotgun does just fine. However, keep in mind that shotshells are expensive.

Choosing a choke
When it comes to chokes, choosing is pretty straightforward.

For close-up work, like kicking brush piles for cottontails or stalking varying hares in tight cover, most rabbit hunters would agree that a cylinder or improved cylinder choke is the way to go. They’re ideally suited to intercept a bunny when it first takes flight.

Likewise, no one questions the wisdom of using a full choke for jacks across open fields. And, those who hunt hares in front of hounds typically agree that modified or full chokes are good choices.

On double-barreled guns, an improved cylinder/modified choke combo is ideal for cottontails and varying hares, and a modified/full combo is perfect for jacks. When using a .410, a full or modified choke is best.

Shotshell specifics
A 2 ¾-inch shotshell with a light load of lead No. 7 ½ is standard fare for cottontails throughout the season. They also work nicely for the closer shots you can get on varying hares in the early season. Later, or when hunting for hares over hounds, a shotshell with heavier loads of lead No. 6 is a better bet.

Jacks always require heavy loads. These big, tough hares are often shot at longer ranges, so 3-inch magnums, loaded with lead BBs or No. 2 are standard fare.

Arguable actions
When it comes to actions, the debate really heats up.

Some rabbit hunters see a side-by-side or over-and-under as the classic tool. Hinge-actions, they say, can be easily unloaded for obstacle crossings or inspected for barrel obstructions, like snow. Better yet, the hunter has 2 chokes to choose from in every encounter.

While these are all valid points, none are likely to convince a die-hard semi-auto or pump enthusiast to forsake that quick third shot.

You need to choose what personally appeals to you most and fits properly when wearing hunting clothes. You’ll never consistently hit your quarry if your gun constantly hangs up on your coat when you bring it to shoulder.

Your choice might not be perfect for everyone, but the rabbits won’t care.

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  • hare_kllr

    …and some don’t choose a shotgun at all.

  • Rylo_Swann

    Can’t forget using a trusted .22. Makes for a more challenging hunt.

  • Graeme

    16 gauge?

  • ccr

    what the forgotten 28 gauge great for cottontails or hares

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