As you wander across the deserts or scrublands of the western United States, one of the most common inhabitants is the jackrabbit. Throughout most of its range, there is either no season or a very long one with generous limits. I’ve pursued them in California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Texas with a variety of air rifles over the years, and count them as one of my favorite airgun quarries.
The long-eared desert hare is overlooked by many varmint hunters, and this has always been a mystery. The reason they rate so highly with me as a quarry is quite simple. Hunting a jackrabbit in the open desert with an airgun requires careful stalking (inside of 40-50 yards) and demands precise shot placement, making it both fun and challenging. Unlike shooting with a shotgun, the airgunner can’t rely on flushing the jack and taking a running shot as he bounds away. Neither can he glass the rabbit from far away and take a long distance shot. With an airgun, you must spot them from far away, pick a line of approach, and move carefully and quietly into shooting range. Once in range, the shot must often be lined up through scrub brush, and the pellet delivered precisely to the head or chest.
There are two productive methods for jacks. The first is to drive back roads glassing the sparse landscape, then set up a stalk. Try to keep the sun behind the area being glassed when possible. Jackrabbits like to lie at the base of cactus and scrub brush in scrapes with their ears up listening for approaching danger, and the sunlight passing through these upright ears gives off an amber glow that can be spotted from quite a distance. Once spotted, find a landmark to pinpoint the rabbit’s location, then start the stalk, threading quietly along using the available brush for cover. Once you close the distance, use cover and take the shot.
The second method is to simply locate an area of scrub brush that looks like it might hold rabbits, and very slowly still hunt. The trick is to get into shooting position before the rabbit explodes out of the bush for distant parts. Jacks often pause for a moment for a quick look back while making their escape, and I’ve taken many with my rimfire or centerfire rifles this way, but for the airgunner this momentary pause is usually out of range. Sometimes a rabbit will slowly start to sneak away, and might even try to work its way behind the hunter, reminiscent of an old whitetail buck when being trailed.
Jackrabbits are not particularly hard to kill at the appropriate range, and just about any caliber will work. As with all airgun hunting, it’s about closing to appropriate range and delivering exact shot placement with adequate power, but accuracy is paramount! I use spring piston airguns in .177 and .22, while most of my pre-charged pneumatics are .22 caliber (or larger). The springers are capable of delivering better than 1” groups at 40 yards, and generate at least 14 fpe at the muzzle.
One of the guns that I’ve been shooting quite a bit of late is the Gamo Varmint Hunter with their Raptor pellet. This gun produces over a 1,000 fps with standard ammunition, but with the Raptors jumps to approximately 1,250 fps while offering good mid-range accuracy and very good penetration. There are also several PCPs that I carry in the field, and most can get consistent ½” groups out to 70 yards. I’ve been shooting the Logun S-16 multishot on several recent hunts and think it fits the bill as a first rate rabbit gun. It is light, easy to carry, comfortable to shoot offhand, has power, accuracy, and 16 shots on tap for fast follow up shots.
Airguns tend to have distinct preferences as to which pellets they shoot the best. It’s hard to go wrong with a quality round nose, as you can usually find one that offers good accuracy out of most guns, and the terminal performance is effective. However, there are three hunting specific pellets I’ve been using which have proven effective: Polymags, Raptors, and Exterminators. Polymag is Predators name for their polymer tipped hunting pellet. It has phenomenal terminal performance on light bodied game such as rabbit. The Raptor is a new pellet offered by Gamo, manufactured from a lead free alloy resulting in a light, hard pellet with impressive penetration. This pellet is advertised to increase velocities 20 to 25% in many guns, and having fed them through a dozen different rifles I can say this claim is on the money. The last is the Exterminator, a long, waistless design manufactured of a heavy tin/lead alloy. These shoot particularly well in more powerful PCPs, and are a devastating long range round.
If you want to have a go on jackrabbit, find an open space in the desert, arid brush, or scrublands. Get a gun like those described, find a pellet it likes, then apply the methods discussed. I’m going to bet you will agree – jackrabbits offer some of the best airgun hunting available!