Rabbit hunters are a diverse lot with many approaches to the pursuit.
For decades, area habitat supported abundant populations of cottontail rabbits in numbers that did not require a dog’s nose to sniff out bunny presence. As a longtime solo brush buster, many an idle hour was spent just getting some good walking exercise on long jaunts along and across field edges and around brush piles.
An occasional outing included hunters with rabbit hounds and these trips were rewarded with a few bunnies and golden times afield. Then rabbit numbers dropped off a few years back, but now they are staging a comeback, especially for hunters working good dogs.
Among hound-keeping hunters Rick Giermata at Smokes Creek Kennels in Lackawanna ranks high in training his dogs and field time with his band of beagles.
In mid January he, a longtime partner Frank Giacobbe of Snyder and I met on Grand Island for a rabbit hunt. Giermata and Giacobbe each brought two beagles to see how they run.
Giermata ran Prop, age 5, and Max, a solid 12-year old; Giacobbe headed out with Gunner, a 4-year-old and Striker an impressive youth at age two.
Unlike deer and turkey hunts, the pursuit of rabbits does not call for early rising. “The hunting often gets better as the day goes on,” Giermata said of the large plot he chose with two sides – a patch of heavy brush to the east and a more open area that was supposed to be the better fields to the west.
Hearing those hounds work a rabbit around a circle is another major draw on these outings. Most times, the dogs pick up a scent in one field and it might take another field or two before the on-scent howl is heard again. On this outing, the four dogs kept up a continuous howl for nearly every minute of a six-hour stalk.
Just a few steps into the rough, tall brush the dogs sent me a standing shot before the three of us were set up for the hunt. “One rabbit holed up, but the rest are running,” Giermata said as he and Giacobbe each put a rabbit in the bag.
Giacobbe, a businessman and major sponsor of Giermata’s annual rabbit derby, shoots a Remington 1100 and wants to make sure of his kills. Most of his running shots are 3 or 4 rounds at a time. During the Jan. 25 derby awards presentation, Giacobbe received a donor’s award for his support. Giermata announced him as Frank “machine gun” Giacobbe.
As the day progressed the rabbits continued circling with machine gun rapidity. “Generally, the bunnies are about 100 yards ahead of the dogs,” Giacobbe said. They were.
Modern electronic gear makes locating dogs and gauging rabbit runs. Giermata has a Garmin unit some five years old that monitors GPS positions on the dogs’ collars and shows either a map area or distance coordinates for each dog.
Some bunnies ran wider circles, Eight passed near me, but only three were open for a shot, and I finished with a rare three-for-three shot take that day.
Giermata took three and Giacobbe bagged two for a respectable finish at about 4 p.m. As we crossed from the dense to the open fields Giermata said, “I could come out and hunt almost every day and not hurt the rabbit population here.”
The rabbit presence was so good that the dogs were still baying when leashed up and our guns unloaded for the walk back to the trucks. On the way the beagles put up a rabbit in the lane on which we were leaving. Rabbits seemed everywhere.
The rabbit season remains open until Feb. 28 with a daily bag limit of six. Few hunters bag a limit most days out, but all can have fun afield. Bagging a bunny or two for dinner is rewarding, Hearing hounds work a bunny circle continuously while afield adds to the enjoyment, whatever the final bag count.
Teams bagged nice numbers during Giermata’s derby.
Hunters braved cold winds but still weighed in rabbits taken at sites as far away as Ohio and Ontario during the Seventh Annual Frank Privitere Memorial International Rabbit Hunting Derby and Awards Dinner held Jan. 25 at American Legion Post No. 63 in Lackawanna.
Last year’s competition was dominated by Canadian teams who brought in impressive bunnies from Ontario. This year, a Canadian team took second place, but the first and third slots went to Western New York teams that hunted locally.
All winners donated their prize money, including the 50-50 drawing winner, to the Kaely’s Kindness Foundation, adding to proceeds from the derby. The foundation provides resources for teenage girls living with cancer.
Teams registered 46 hunters who weighed in a total of 123 rabbits when the competition ended. All rabbits were processed and presented to the needy for consumption. “Not a one was wasted,” Giermata told the more than 300 who attended the awards dinner and presentations.
Teams varied in sizes and could weigh in as many rabbits as they could take, with the single heaviest entry as the team score.
In cold, 25- to 35-mph, winds and a light snowfall the teams found impressive sizes and numbers. “We don’t ask where the hunters hunted, but they did well from all directions,” Giermata said of the entrants.
Team G/Dawg, the Privatera family team from Eden, took first place, bringing in 14 rabbits with the heaviest weighing 3.62 pounds. The Father, Charlie Privatera, led members Charles Jr., Scott and Anthony along with Zach Robson, Mike Lobur, and Marty Foit. For their efforts they received the Golden Rabbit Trophy and a cash prize.
Team Canada won the derby in 2013 and the same members entered and finished in second place this year. The team of Sam, Dan and Matt Duhaine, Matt Christopher, and Matt Seburn weighed in five rabbits. Their top entry went 3.6 pounds. As they did last year, Team Canada donated its cash winning to this year’s designated cause.
The Attica Team of Aaron and Noah Teijeira and Adam Steck finished in third place. They weighed in 10 rabbits and their heaviest weighed 3.55 pounds.
Other awards included a Pathfinder Award for the farthest entry in the derby, which went to a team that brought in four rabbits from Coshocton in east central Ohio.
William Bratek Jr., 18, of Woodlawn received the Smallest Bunny Award.
Each year an Award of Courage is presented to a member of the benefitted organization. Last year’s recipient, cancer survivor Michael Stranz, 14, of Orchard Park, presented the award to Destiny Ruhlman, 15, of Cheektowaga.
On Thursday, Giermata presented the Kaely’s Kindness Foundation a check for $5,000 gained from the dinner proceeds, basket raffles, corporate funds and donations from all awards winners.
Each year the derby attracts more attendees and volunteers. The eighth annual derby is already in its planning stages. To contact Giermata for details on this event, call 602-5017 or email: RJGwoof@aol.com.