Don't put away that shotgun just yet. There is still time to get into some late-season marshland rabbit hunting action.

By stepping out onto those same canal banks you're planning to sac-a-lait fish in February, you'll be surprised to find the makings for some foot-stomping fun.

This type of hunting is a big change of pace from the duck blinds and deer stands that you've grown accustomed to over the past several months. Essentially, they are pretty much sedentary when compared to rabbit hunting.

Rest assured, this action is going to leave you with charlie-horses in the evening, no matter what kind of shape you're in.

Just ask my bunny-busting partner, Jimmy Wilson, of Centerville. Wilson loves to make at least two of these hunts each year following the duck season. Since neither one of us owns beagles, we try to put certain strategies into motion to achieve a positive outcome.on't put away that shotgun just yet. There is still time to get into some late-season marshland rabbit hunting action.

By stepping out onto those same canal banks you're planning to sac-a-lait fish in February, you'll be surprised to find the makings for some foot-stomping fun.

This type of hunting is a big change of pace from the duck blinds and deer stands that you've grown accustomed to over the past several months. Essentially, they are pretty much sedentary when compared to rabbit hunting.

Rest assured, this action is going to leave you with charlie-horses in the evening, no matter what kind of shape you're in.

Just ask my bunny-busting partner, Jimmy Wilson, of Centerville. Wilson loves to make at least two of these hunts each year following the duck season. Since neither one of us owns beagles, we try to put certain strategies into motion to achieve a positive outcome.

One of those strategies is to watch the weather and the tides. Over the past decade, we have seen a number of mild winters up north. Early snow melt and rain typically cause a moderate early rise in the Atchafalaya River. Ultimately, this leads to a high-water condition, when combined with a hard southerly wind.

With the marsh basically already flat from winter frost accumulations, the remaining vegetation that provides prime cover for rabbits is slim to none. As the water rises over the marsh, the big swamp rabbits take to the thickest cover (typically briars) on the higher canal spoil banks, in order to keep their cottontails dry.

Wilson hits these thick canal bank briars hard, often sacrificing his body, in an effort to push the rabbits out of Mother Nature's ready-made sanctuary. I, on the other hand, have been the beneficiary of his sacrifice. Though I have tried to reciprocate, my efforts have often fallen way short of his.

This naturally occurring combination of winter frost, water rise and hard southerly wind has made the beginnings of many successful late-season hunts.

Another strategy we try to employ is to not be in a hurry. Before busting any cover, again, typically briars, we squat down low and scan the interior of the thicket. On more than one occasion, this tactic has led to the use of a .22 rim-fire single-action side arm. The bonus to this of course is zero meat damage if the critter holds still, like they typically do if they feel they haven't been spotted.

Whenever we can, we try to invite several naïve people to join us. Our sons have long ago figured out that dog-less fathers are looking for human beagles. Now that they have reached college age, they have learned the art of begging out.

What additional hunters help us to employ is the tactic of blocking off long canal banks into manageable sections. Depending on how wide the canal bank is, we normally drop off two hunters who will walk up the rabbits first. One hunter will walk the marsh side and the other the water side.

The other hunters then take the boat down the canal, usually no more than 50 yards, and get out to block off the short section. The blockers employ the same positional strategy, where one hunter blocks the canal side and the other the marsh side. Obviously, the idea and goal is to cut off any rabbits that may run down the canal bank ahead of those pushing the cover.

Blaze orange is an essential safety element. Often, the briars and underbrush will be quite tall and can obstruct the view of gunners. Moreover, loud communication is also high on the list of safety.

We don't worry about excessive talking. Its function serves two purposes. One, it lets hunters know the exact whereabouts of each other. Two, it also helps to unnerve sitting rabbits that might otherwise hold too tight.

On more than one occurrence, the short section canal drive was over, and while we were standing around talking, a rabbit busted out next to us.

We often have repeated the whole process over again, along the same short canal section where tall roseaus were abundant and the rabbit sign plentiful. The rabbits were there, they simply needed some additional massaging in order to encourage them to come out of the thick cover, where one of us could offer a clear shot.

Of course for the avid rabbit-hunting enthusiast, nothing is better than hunting marsh canal banks with a pack of well-trained beagles.

I first met Jim Bodin, of Morgan City, when he managed the Atchafalaya Health Club. Bodin is an affable individual and an avid outdoorsman who enjoys all types of hunting. He now is content in what he refers to as his dream job as the manager of Avoca Island Hunting Club.

Bodin has more than 40 years' experience hunting rabbits with well-trained beagles. Moreover, he is known nationally for his exceptional handling of a pack, while guiding clients to numerous successful outings. A couple of those clients worth mentioning are former Gov. Mike Foster and President George Bush. Bodin told me it wasn't him they were interested in — it was his dogs.

What makes Bodin successful as a rabbit guide are the strategies and skills that he has honed from those 40 years.

"I try to go out to an area I am going to hunt at least a week in advance to do some scouting," he said. "I get out on the canal banks and look for fresh droppings and certain conditions they must have. Rabbits need cover, feed and an escape route in order to survive."

Once Bodin determines an area is holding a population that shows the makings to provide a good hunt, he preps the area by creating shooting lanes for clients by both burning and cutting.

"Without the scouting and preparation that goes with being successful, I can put my dogs down and you'll hear them, but you won't shoot," he said. "I'll enjoy it, but you won't."

According to Bodin, one of the essentials of a successful rabbit hunt is organization. He considers himself what he refers to as the "Hunt Master."

"I have to have dogs that I can control," Bodin said. "I want to keep the action in front of you. One of the reasons for me keeping my cardiovascular system in shape is because I do a lot of running during the course of the hunt. I am out in the marsh catching the dogs and keeping the action out front of the hunters who are typically not in shape or used to this type of hunting."

The effort that Bodin puts in scouting and creating shooting lanes allows the hunters clear shots at rabbits and not at his dogs.

When I asked Bodin what tactics he would employ if he didn't have dogs, he indicated that he would have to condition the area the same way he would if he used dogs by creating shooting lanes.

But because the rabbits will make a break for it unannounced, hunters have to stand always at the ready.

"You run the chance of more butt shots rather than the clear shots that beagles would offer," he warned.

February weather in Louisiana is nothing if not unpredictable. What might start out as a chilly morning with a light frost over the marsh by noon may bring temperatures hovering close to 70 degrees.

This makes layered clothing the best bet. Nothing is worse than working up a sweat that leaves your undershirt wet. The ensuing boat ride to the next location leaves you chilled to the bone.

Along with warm temperatures come slick-skinned, belly-crawling creatures that are, putting it mildly, not the quarry you are after.

Though the vast majority of snakes that make Louisiana their home are not poisonous, non-poisonous species seem to have the same effect on people. Moreover, many a hunt has been ruined by non-poisonous snakes simply because the hunter no longer had his mind on hunting rabbits, but snakes instead.

Selecting the right firearm for rabbits, basically, boils down to what works best for you. Nine times out of 10, if you're comfortable with your shotgun and consistently take game with it, the right choice should be easy.

However, if the ubiquitous 12 gauge is your canal bank weapon of choice, a good bet would be low-brass No. 6s for ammo. Swamp cottontails, though larger than their eastern cottontail cousins, don't take a lot of killing.

What's more, in February, the spoil banks are simply not as dirty as early in the rabbit season, having succumbed to winter's wrath.

I know several hunters who only hunt rabbits with a .22 rifle. On one canal bank hunt a friend of mine and I were on, he proceeded to demonstrate his knack for hitting not one, but two rabbits on the run with his .22 in less than four shots.

Taking a sitting rabbit consistently with a .22 sidearm or rifle is one thing — on the run is another. My quick-handling, versatile Remington 11/87, will do just fine.

Whatever your choice, be it a .410, 20 gauge, 16 gauge or 12 gauge, you simply can't go wrong with a load of 6s for rabbits on the run.

Finally, for tablefare, there are few things that rival a serving of well-seasoned, smothered swamp cottontail rabbit. Cooked until mega tender in an iron deep-dish pot, just add a side dish of white beans and rice, and you truly have Louisiana Cajun cuisine at its finest.

Come February, I am hoping to convince my hunting partner not to retire from foot-stomping, canal-bank bunny busting just yet. Perhaps this is the year I can manage to reciprocate with efforts showing him how much I appreciated his sacrifice.