- Associated Press - Saturday, February 8, 2014

KEMMERER, Wyo. (AP) - Crouched low and walking slowly, bow and arrow in hand, Mark Zornes whispered to his young hunting companion.

“Do you see him?” Zornes asked.

“Yeah, he’s over there,” said Garrett Short, 7, pointing to a cottontail rabbit.

“He is a nice big one, too.”

Zornes stopped several yards from the rabbit, pulled back his bow and let an arrow fly. He missed. The rabbit darted away. Zornes and Garrett kept searching. There would be more.

Some people call the activity bowhunting for cottontail rabbits. Zornes calls it losing arrows in the sage brush.

“This is what bunny hunting is like,” he said. “We rarely see people doing this, and this is the most fun kind of hunting. It’s also a great kid activity.”

Zornes, the Green River wildlife coordinator for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, spent several hours shooting arrows into the prairie recently with Kemmerer game warden Chris Baird and wildlife biologist Jeff Short and his son Garrett and daughter Anna Jo, 9.

Bowhunting for rabbits offers hunters something to chase in the winter when most other seasons have closed. And cottontail populations are growing in the state, which means the coming winters could give hunters even more chances to shoot rascally rabbits.

Cottontail, pigmy, jackrabbits and snowshoe hare populations all naturally cycle, something biologists know but don’t quite understand. Predator numbers follow the same cycles, Zornes said.

“In Wyoming, for instance, when cottontail populations are high, the following year bobcat populations tend to be high,” he said. “The same thing with snowshoe hairs and Canadian lynx, and the same thing for lemmings and snowy owls.”

Scientists speculate the cause could be habitat or weather. Whatever the reason, numbers in Wyoming tend to peak every eight to 10 years, and right now, the Cowboy State is on an upswing.

Zornes and his friends didn’t hunt with compound bows commonly used on deer, elk or antelope. They carried traditional long bows or recurve bows, ones that hunters carried and shot for thousands of years before the gun.

Traditional bows require more practice to shoot accurately than compound bows.

“I’ve been shooting this bow for eight years, and if I don’t use it every day, I lose what I have,” Baird said. “It is a perishable skill.”

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