Evaluation of intensified rabbit management procedures on public hunting area in southcentral Virginia

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Virginia Tech

This study, concerned with evaluation of Cottontail Rabbit management techniques, was conducted at Camp Pickett, Virginia, a 47,000-acre deactivated military reservation. This public hunting area is managed cooperatively by the U. S. Second Army and the Virginia Commission of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Cottontail Rabbit population fluctuations were measured by roadside counts during the summer months. It was found that a precipitous drop in the rabbit population occurred in mid-August. The suspected etiology of this population drop was disease, although no research data were collected to substantiate this theory.

Land-cultural treatments were calculated by means of pellet counts and live-trapping. The treatments extant on Camp Pickett are installation of annual game bird mix and clover-small grain food patches, seeding of firelanes in fescue and clover-fescue combination, burning and mowing.

Summer pellet counts showed the rabbit to be utilizing the annual mix food patches more than any other treatment type. The clover-small grain food patch was next in preference. Utilization of the remaining treatment types, which were mostly located in forested area, was rather low.

Fall trapping data revealed a switch to the clover-small grain management unit, with the annual mix running second. Utilization of the other treatment types was again low.

Winter trapping data showed an even greater preference for the clover-small grain than was found in the fall.

Spring pellet count data resembled that obtained in the previous summer, with the exception of the burned areas, which received substantial usage by the rabbit. Differences between spring pellet count data and winter trapping data are believed due to an accumulation of older pellets. A pellet durability study showed winter loss of pellets to be minimal.

An attempt to evaluate various population estimation formulae by live-trapping a known cottontail population in a five-acre enclosure met with failure when deer knocked down the fence, hunters poached, and rabbits were lost from various other causes, often unknown.

A record was kept of all parasites, disease and injury encountered in the rabbit population. Forty-two per cent of all rabbits handled either were or presented evidence of having been infested with bot fly larvae. An incidence of 2.2 per cent of Shope's fibroma was found.

A record was kept of all cottontail deaths known to have been caused by motor vehicles. The number of deaths per mile of highway traveled became progressively higher through the months of July to April, even though the rabbit population became progressively lower. This increasing highway kill was apparently due to the increased movement required of the rabbit in the winter months when food and cover are scarce, and the increased movement that occurs among the rabbit population when the spring breeding season arrives.