Whoa daddy, the hunting season isn't over yet. Now is the perfect time for some quality small-game hunting and for squirrel or rabbit hunters to dominate the woods and fields. Right now through the end of February, small-game hunters can capitalize on the best hunting conditions of the entire season. This is especially true for rabbit hunting across the Magnolia State.

Yep, in the northern section of the state - zone one - the whitetail hunters are all gone home now. In the southeastern deer zone two, they will be back at the house hugging their reclining chairs by mid-February. This clears the woods of orange-clad buck busters trying to connect on one last freezer stocking supply of venison. Now the gate is wide open for the bunny chasers.

"I could never wait with much patience until deer season was over so I could unleash my pack of rabbit hounds for a good chase," Jack Batte of Mount Olive used to say around the office at Pearl River Community College. Batte was one of the best organized rabbit hunters in the area, and had the beagle pack to back up his bragging.

By the second month of the New Year, a series of heavy frosts through January has reduced most of the briars and thickest tangles to a little more manageable mesh of natural wire fencing. A good beagle dog pack can slip through these tunnels nearly as fast as the cottontail quarry they are chasing.

The only issue here is enough adept speed with eye-hand coordination to follow a flash of fleeting fur well enough to connect on a good, sound shot. If you have never hunted rabbits with a good dog and a pack of multiples, then you are truly missing one of life's real pleasures. Of course, you don't have to have a dog to find enjoyment in rabbit hunting.

"When I was a kid, my dad would hand me one of the old shotguns from the gun cabinet, count out a dozen or so precious shotgun shells, and send me out the back door to plunder the fields to search for game of opportunity," says Cecil Burt of Brooklyn. "That almost always meant the chase ended up jumping rabbits out of the corn field corners or the edge of a woods line that had grown up in high weeds.

"We also climbed the piles of stacked brush from woodland cutovers jumping on the trash limbs like a trampoline trying to bust a bunny out the other side. There was no better fun than strolling along in the outdoors waiting for a cottontail to split from cover."

If you can locate a good overgrown grass field, abandoned farm house yard or barn lot, all it takes is a pocket full of shells and some boot leather to kick up a good rabbit hunt. Keeping the gun at the ready is a must, because hunting alone or with a partner or two still means there won't be any advance warning when a rabbit takes to flight.

For safety's sake, watch that muzzle at all times, and really it is a grand idea to keep wearing that hunter orange from deer season even if it is only a cap. It is amazing how hidden another hunter can become in a head-high field of weeds. That hunter orange hat can be spotted like a beacon. Keep that gun safety on until the very last second. That click won't spook a rabbit.

If ever there was a po' man's type of hunting, rabbit chasing would rank pretty high on the list. This suggestion only means it doesn't take any special gear, as most hunters will have everything they need at the house already. A few added items just increases the comfort level.

The bare essentials include a good smoothbore shotgun of a gauge and choke suitable for confidence in hitting the target for clean kills. I'm old school here, and still carry a 12-gauge for maximum thicket penetration. I use a full choke for close-quarter shooting, but often carry a tube tool and a modified choke for hunting open fields, trails or woods roads. I also tote a couple boxes of No. 6 shot.

Beyond this, all one really needs is enough proper clothes to hold up to the task. This starts with a comfortable, sturdy pair of boots. Dress for the cold and wind, but be mindful some of the mornings can start cold, but end up making you sweat in the chase for Bigfoot bunnies. Dress in layers.

Briar-busting pants are a nicety for certain. You can always hunt in blue jeans, but I suspect after a scarring from a day in the briars, these will be your next purchase. Thin, leather shooting-type gloves are a good bet, too.

After a spin around the fields with or without dogs, a good lunch break can help generate new energy for another go. Hunters tend to push themselves too hard without drinking or eating enough to sustain the effort. That is a mistake.

The nice thing about rabbit hunting is that the pace can be set to suit the hunters. Taking a break is not an issue. Pack plenty of water, fruit juices or carbohydrate drinks for energy. Lay out a cold-cut buffet on the tailgate, or dine on simple canned meats and a box of crackers. Though rabbit hunting is certainly a thrill of its own, a lunch break around camp is when the real fun starts. So, even if it is February, don't pack away the hunting gear just yet.