The swamp rabbit is a popular game rabbit in the southern wetlands of the United States. This rabbit is a sizable cottontail, among the grandest of its kind with a weight ranging between 3-6 pounds. Brown in color and adorned with a traditional whitish tail, the swamp rabbit calls the bayou its home. Here it feasts on marsh grasses and plants, nesting in small above ground dens, running quickly and swimming to survive predation as necessary.
Photo: Otter Side
It is the swimming ability of this rabbit that makes hunting it an interesting endeavor. In 1979, a swimming swamp rabbit from Georgia was able to get the drop on Jimmy Carter by swimming towards him aggressively and trying to board his boat. It is this same tenacity that can get you into trouble when hunting swamp rabbits in the bayous of the southern states, as they will not hesitate to jump into the water, with you and your dogs following to potentially face unknown dangers.
When pursuing a brazen rabbit that will gladly lead you on the chase of a lifetime through mud and muck aplenty, there are a plethora of perils for which you must prepare. While the swamp can be a calming place, it can also be a dangerous one. Being removed from the hustle and bustle of regular life and instead immersing yourself in a marshy environment with the ballad of the bayou playing in the background may sound like a placid adventure. Just as the song of the swamp appeals to you, let it be known that it appeals to other creatures as well, many of which are a danger to both you and your rabbit dogs.
The most well-known face of the marshland is the American Alligator. This reptile is one of which you should be wary, and for good reason. While its teeth have gaps between them and may not look terribly sharp, the alligator has a good 80 or so in his mouth with which he will not hesitate to use on you or your rabbit dogs. Of utmost concern is the bite pressure exerted by an alligator's jaws, which is to the tune of well over 2,000lbs. They are sabotage predators, often lunging from beneath the surface of water where they lay fully submerged and invisible to the naked eye. Once they grab their prey, alligators drag it under the water and roll to tear its flesh. Alligators do stop eating during the colder winter months, but that does not necessarily mean they stop biting, so proceed through alligator infested swamps with caution.
Photo: Gina Sanders
Slithering in the swamp you will also find snakes, and plenty of them! Some are harmless while others pack a lethal bite. Snakes such as rattlesnakes, copperheads, cotton mouths/water moccasins, and other venomous specimens embrace the bayou as their home. These animals are very well camouflaged, allowing them to blend easily in their natural surroundings. In addition to being willing and able to bite you or your dog, some species, such as the water moccasin, are extremely aggressive and have been known to give chase. Be sure to familiarize yourself with snakes that are native to the swamps in which you plan to hunt and have plans to handle a bite emergency in place.
Spiders reside in the wetlands as well, creating webs that span large distances. These webs may be directly in your path or suspended in the trees above you, which means you may be unpleasantly surprised when a large spider drops from the sky and down into the collar of your shirt. Some of these spiders are poisonous while others are not. A common species is the Arigope, which includes spiders by many names, such as the golden orb weaver, black-and-yellow argiope, golden writing spider, golden garden spider or, as the locals call it, the banana spider. The females are large and colorful while the males are small and not similarly marked. It may be possible to spot the trademark zigzag pattern on their webs before walking into them. Agitated spiders are also known to 'bounce' on their webs to intimidate and discourage would-be predators, so watch for unusual motion in the swamp and maybe you will see such spiders in time to avoid them. Here is an example of one that made her home on our barn:
Photo: Gina Sanders
Photo: Gina Sanders
Bouncing Arigope in a threat display:
While it is very well possible to partake in a successful, safe swamp rabbit hunt, it is imperative that you be aware of the dangers that exist. In the wetlands, knowledge is power, and that knowledge is what will make it a worthwhile hunt for you and your rabbit dogs. When preparing for marshland hunts, take some extra time to familiarize yourself with possible scenarios you may encounter, and beef up your first aid kit accordingly.
Have you participated in a swamp hunt? Are there any words of wisdom you have to share with others? Let us know in the comments!