Hunting swamp rabbits with beagles in February is a thrilling social adventure for many Louisiana hunters. In fact, the latest hunting surveys conducted by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries show there are 22,100 rabbit hunters taking an estimated 180,100 rabbits.
And St. Landry’s Anthony Sharp is one of those Louisiana beaglers, and he’s part of at least three generations that have made running rabbits with hounds a family tradition.
“I have been rabbit hunting with beagles all my life,” the 34-year-old hunter said. “My grandfather hunted rabbits with beagles, as well as my father and uncles.”
Sharp’s kennels are home to 10 beagles, a combination of Weir Creek and Gay Baker hounds. Together with members of his family and friends, Sharp hunts Central Louisiana and parts of the Atchafalaya Basin every year.
Sharp recounted one special rabbit hunt in the Indian Bayou Area located in portions of St. Landry and St. Martin parishes within the Atchafalaya Basin.
“We had a large group of us, including my uncles and guys from work,” Sharp said. “We were running eight dogs that day.
“When we got into the woods, one of the dogs jumped a deer. I put my dogs down a little farther down the trail, and they jumped rabbits immediately.”
Sharp said the hunters spread out as the rabbits made a couple of rounds in patches of grass and briars.
“Finally, a swamp rabbit runs out and my brother-in-law, Cody Campbell, kills it,” Sharp said.
But in the distance, one of the other beagles was braying loudly.
“That dog had never stopped running with the others because he was on another rabbit,” Sharp said.
The group of hunters spread out again in anticipation, as the other beagles joined in the hunt quickly.
The dogs held onto the trail of the rabbit pretty well — until a shot rang out.
“My son, Alex, killed that rabbit, and it was his first,” he said.
The morning continued as the beagles sounded off continuously. And on several occasions the hounds split up to trail different rabbits.
At the end, there were 37 rabbits taken, and it cemented that area as a regular stop for the Sharp family hunting itinerary.
“Rabbit hunting is so good at Indian Bayou that we now plan at least one trip there every year,” Sharp said. “The habitat there is just great for holding rabbits.”
Louisiana’s swamp rabbits can be found in good numbers in the floodplains of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers, bottomland swamp fringes and even in marshes.
Targeting these hoppers is a matter of narrowing down the possible hiding places.
“What we look for is the thickest, nastiest-looking place you can find to let loose the dogs,” Sharp said.
And, especially on the fringes of the great swamps, cutovers with their associated briar thickets and grass patches hold bunnies in great numbers.
Following are some great options for public-land rabbit hunts.
Indian Bayou Area
Sharp’s favorite public area for rabbit hunting is the Indian Bayou Area.
“It holds really good concentrations of swamp rabbits, and there is easy access for hunters,” he said. “There are also well-maintained parking lots very close to where most of the hunting takes place. Also, the park managers and deputies with the sheriff’s office often patrol the area, so there is the element of safety and confidence when hunting on the area.”
“But the No. 1 reason is the habitat, — lots of thick briar and grass patches hold a lot of rabbits here.”
And he said there’s no shortage of this rabbit-holding habitat.
“In the regenerated forested areas in Indian Bayou, there are vast stands of briars, as well as grass patches with some wheat in certain areas,” Sharp said. “And there will be a lot of water — especially with the rains in the winter. And we’ll kill rabbits swimming in the water; we’ll see just their noses sticking up as they are swimming to escape the beagles.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Indian Bayou Area encompasses 28,500 acres and sits north of Interstate 10 and south of U.S. Highway 190 between Lafayette and Baton Rouge. Its accessible lands for hunting are located on the west side of the Atchafalaya River.
The area was established in 1995 with a two-fold mission of providing both public access and environmental protection in the Atachafalaya Basin.
“There is excellent swamp rabbit habitat here,” Corps of Enginners Park Manager Barton Rogers said. “We have seen many rabbits on the area, and we expect a good hunting season here for 2014.”
Although Rogers admitted his agency doesn’t collect much data on rabbit hunting efforts and success, the area remains popular with hunters running beagles for rabbits.
The Indian Bayou Area season allows rabbit hunting with beagles after the deer gun hunts end in January.
The Indian Bayou hunting season runs Jan. 20 to Feb. 28.
“Most of the rabbit-hunting activity occurs where we have some regeneration areas, which provide the best habitat,” Rogers said. “Of course, it’s all swamp rabbits. We never see cottontails.”
Rogers also said hunters must wear at least a hunter’s orange cap. Also, a 2013-14 Indian Bayou Hunting Permit, which must be signed before the hunt begins, must be carried by every hunter, regardless of age. Also, hunters 16 years of age or older must have photo identification.
There are several permit stations on the area, or a copy of the permit can be downloaded online at www.mvn.usace.army.mil/Portals/56/docs/Recreation/Atch/2013-2014Hunting-Guide.pdf.
Access from I-10 on the western side is via the Henderson Exit and along the west protection levee north. From Highway 190 on the northern end, exit at Louisiana Highway 105 South at Krotz Springs and follow the west protection levee south.
Call 337-585-0853 for more information about Indian Bayou.
Sherburne WMA Complex
Across the Atchafalaya River sits the Sherburne WMA, the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge and adjacent USACOE lands that combine to provide about 44,000 acres of bottomland swamps, sloughs and wetlands for hunting.
Collectively, these lands in Pointe Coupee, St. Martin and Iberville parishes are known as the Sherburne Complex.
And there is plenty of rabbit-hunting potential.
“The prime areas for swamp rabbits in the Sherburne Complex are cutovers with a thick understory,” Biologist Manager Tony Vidrine said. “The rabbit population is very good here, and we have a lot of participation by hunters on the area.”
The rabbit season with dogs runs from Jan. 20 through Feb. 28 on the area.
“The South Farm area of Sherburne is an excellent area to hunt rabbits if it’s not flooded,” Vidrine said. “But hunters are only allowed to hunt rabbits here after the waterfowl season since we have scheduled duck hunts on the area.”
Travel to the Sherburne Complex from the north by taking state Highway 975, which connects with Highway 190 at Krotz Springs. From I-10, take the Whiskey Bay exit.
Call the LDWF’s Opelousas Headquarters at 337-948-0255 for more information.
Attakapas Island Wildlife Management Area
Another basin WMA with good rabbit hunting is Attakapas Island WMA, which features 27,962 acres in St. Mary, St. Martin and Iberia parishes.
As the name suggests, Attakapas Island WMA is an island, and access is via boat by launching from the ramps around the Basin:
• Millet Point — St. Mary Parish Road 123 off Highway 87
• North-northeast of Charenton off Highway 326
• Above Morgan City on Highway 70
• Bayou Pigeon Landing
This WMA is mainly swampland and subject to flooding, but there are loads of briars, weeds and grasses that accent the cypress/tupelo understory in many places.
The rabbit season with beagles here differs from Indian Bayou and the Sherburne Complex in that it starts Feb. 1 and runs through Feb. 28.
Contact the LDWF at 337-948-0255 for more information.