With Mississippi’s statewide rabbit season opening on Saturday (Oct. 17), a lot of hunters are wondering how drought affects rabbits and the art of hunting them.

Most of the state is experiencing drought conditions, with the central region rated as severe.

The answer is that drought is detrimental to rabbits, and the more severe the conditions the worse it impacts the cane cutters and hillbillies.

Biologists say rabbits depend heavily on tender succulent green vegetation for food, and most areas of Mississippi didn’t provide that resource for most of the long, dry summer.

Biologists say that puts rabbits, including the swamp rabbits (a.k.a. cane cutters and smaller cottontails (a.k.a. hillbillies), in serious peril. Rabbits have to move more often to find food sources, making them more vulnerable to what is already heavy predation.

“It can be an advantage for hunters, this drought,” said Rick Harris of Brandon, an avid rabbit hunter and dog owner. “If the place you can hunt has any greenery at all on the ground, just turn your dogs loose there. The rabbits are going to find anything green that they can.”

It has been estimated that a rabbit population has about an 80 percent annual mortality rate, due to heavy predation. Of course, we all know about the high reproductive rates the species is known for, so it balances out. Without that high predation, we’d be overrun with rabbits.

Predation increases as food supplies dwindle, so this could be an off year in many areas of the state, especially the dry central areas.

“Might be a good year to travel to the Delta or down south below Hattiesburg,” said Gene Davidson of Yazoo City. “My friends in the North Delta where I hunt every year said they’ve had plenty of rain and they always have plenty of rabbits, too.

“And South Mississippi has had more rain. If you got friends in either the extreme north or south, that’s who I’d be calling about setting up rabbit hunts.”

Many of Mississippi’s open public lands and wildlife management areas offer some rabbit hunting opportunities. Anyone planning to hunt public land should read the regulations before they hunt. Some areas may have season dates and rules that differ from general statewide regulations.

Rabbit season runs through Feb. 28. The daily bag limit is 8.

Rabbit season

Dates: Oct. 17 through Feb. 28.

Limit: 8 per person per day.