We’re Goin’ Rabbit Hunting

We’re Goin’ Rabbit Hunting

Sami Windle Treasures From The Collection

The Dust Bowl and the Great Depression hit Western Kansas farmers hard.  Not only were the dust storms, lack of rain, and the fight to put food on the table bad, but so were the jackrabbits.  The jackrabbits migrated across Western Kansas and ate green plants and their roots.  This meant that the farmer’s crops were being inconvienently eaten by rabbits when they needed the crop to provide food and money for themselves and their family.

In 1935 the Wichita Beacon estimated that in thirty Western Kansas counties there were 8,000,000 rabbits!  This was a lot of rabbits eating crops that took food from the table and the cattle needing the feed.  Rabbits who could reproduce every thirty-two days, with three to eight babies made for even more rabbits.  Due to the hot weather and lack of rainfall many of the things that would naturally kill the rabbits were gone, so it was up to the people of Western Kansas to do something. 

At first counties offered bounties for the rabbits at one to four cents for every rabbit.  However when 44,000 rabbits were brought in the counties could no longer afford to pay for them.  Farmers then tried shooting them, but that wasted the ammunition which might be needed later.  What these counties eventually did were have rabbit drives

High Plains Museum |
Rabbit Drive in Western Kansas
From the Parker Collection

These drives would take place during the winter or early spring months and were advertised in neighboring counties.  Not only were these to help with the population of the rabbits and help the farmers out, it was also a sport.  It was something that provided entertainment during hard times.  Rabbit drives started by people lining up every twenty to thirty feet in a square and making noise as they walked by blowing horns, banging pans and other ways to get the rabbits out of their hiding places and in front of the people.  From here the goal was to drive the rabbits into an enclosed area between the sizes of seventy feet and forty acres.  When the rabbits were in the enclosed area the people surrounded them to prevent the rabbits from escaping and the people would kill the rabbits.  Usually this was done with clubs as guns might harm the people surrounding the rabbits or each other.  The picture to the left shows a rabbit drive being held in Western Kansas, and you can see the crowd holding the rabbits in the pen.   

Once the rabbits had been killed they were not eaten because of fear of rabbit fever, but some pelts were sold for roughly three cents each.  When stories about rabbit drives started to appear in paper across the country, people were angry and could not understand why this would be a sport.  Farmers offered to ship live rabbits to Ohio to save them, but Ohio soon discovered the reason for the rabbit drives; jackrabbits were destructive and ruined everything in their path and soon rabbits were not shipped to Ohio anymore.

Ranchers estimated that these rabbit drives saved feed for 200,000 cattle, as well as preventing the farmers crops from being destroyed by the rabbits.  While these rabbit drives might seem cruel now, during the Dust Bowl when food was scarce and the land being blown away the rabbits were destroying the life of the humans.  With the Great Depression as in full swing it was hard for people to put food on the table and make a living.  The 1930’s were hard times and these rabbit drives were needed to help keep people alive.