This section is from the book "The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation", by George Abbey. Also available from Amazon: The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation.
As well known, rabbits live in small colonies, each of which consists of one or more families. These colonies are broken up in winter, preparatory to the breeding season, and are afterwards re-formed by the does that were in the colony before the winter, each family remaining near its birthplace, and thus the colony is reinstated in its old quarters; but if fresh members, and thus becoming over-populated, they migrate, and then only in part, to some more suitable spot.
In the spring time rabbits lie almost exclusively in coverts, hedges, and banks, always feeding close to them, the females only leaving them for a time, when they make "nests" separate from the burrows, either in open fields or in coverts, and as soon as the young are old enough they are removed to hedges or other sheltering places. In summer rabbits spend much of their time in the open air making "seats," but always near their burrows, and delight in coverts and open copses and brakes. In autumn their days are spent in hedges, plantations, stubbles, furzy and grassy places, as well as woods with tussocks and undergrowth relatively open. In winter rabbits occupy the warmest burrows existing or that may be made, usually in a bank and at the roots of trees, when they generally live in pairs or threes, commonly a buck and one or two does, or else all does, or a single buck.
Spring is the real breeding time of rabbits, and unless then doing serious damage to growing crops, they are not destroyed, as this would mean a great sacrifice of human food. But when the rabbits have their abodes round a field of corn, or other crop liable to be eaten right away, there is nothing for it but to either exclude them by netting or kill them. This is best done by trapping, but very often this is difficult to carry out, as the hedge and bank may belong to the covert, the neighbouring landowner or tenant. The rabbit taking up its abode in a hedge commences to burrow, scratching out the earth close to the ground, and on this heap is the place to set a trap. If rabbits are in the hedge there will be a track up the small bank of earth, and the droppings about, chiefly inside the hole, indicate by their freshness present occupation, and the most used of such tracks is that on which to set. There will also be a run leading to the hole, and along this a number of patches more trodden on, the rest at intervals of about 9 in. corresponding with the beats or jumps of the rabbit, and it is on these patches the traps are to be set, because the animal puts its feet there.
Fig. 129. - Lane's Registered Dorset Rabbit Trap set in Corn for Rabbit.
Having chosen the spot most likely to effect a catch, place the trap with the plate end at right angles to the run; extend the chain and drive in the stake, straight, and the top below the surface, with about 1 in. play. Then with the "Gamekeeper's Friend" (Burgess & Co., Malvern Wells), or hammer, dig out the place for the trap, making it the proper form and size and deep enough so as to admit of covering the spring about ½-in. Set the trap, try it in the dish and fitting properly, neither too shallow nor too deep, as the jaws and plate must only just be covered up, and flattening the soil in the square for the jaws, the trap being removed for the purpose, replace it, and taking a small piece of wood or twig, hold it over the jaw and under the plate, touching each on the opposite side to the flap in order to prevent the trap springing while being set. Commence covering up by the spring and chain, then cover the plate and jaws with earth by means of the riddle or sieve just hiding all; and smoothing and making as like the surrounding parts as possible, withdraw the stick, fill up the little hole, and the trap is set.
In case of the runs leading up over the grass, the covering should be done by picking short, not long, grass, and sprinkling it over till the trap is covered, pressing gently down. The spring and chain can be covered by raising a flap of turf, hollowing out the soil to admit them and gently turning the flap of turf back again. The traps should be seen to soon after nine in the morning and again about five in the afternoon during the spring, gradually getting earlier in the morning and later in the evening as the season advances. If the weather be rainy the traps will require frequent re-setting or re-covering, but in the ordinary way the traps will not need to be moved or re-set until the third or fourth day.
As the summer advances and the first batch of young are able to take care of themselves, the old rabbits begin to lie out more, and by June all will be seeking suitable places for their seats, but with a distinct run from the burrows. In these grass runs the patches are much more distinct than on bare ground, and the traps must be set in these or at playholes at right angles to the run. Sometimes rabbits make numerous horse-shoe shaped places as if having commenced to burrow and "rued"; trapping at such spots should be in the middle of the place and at right angles to the run leading up to it. These sham-seats or burrows are not uncommon in stubble fields, and the runs leading into small expanses of brake are good places wherein to set traps.
The real trapping season commences in September and October, according to locality, and continues for three or four months, and may be practised in runs, hedges and burrows, the latter being the general procedure, and almost invariably by what is known as underground trapping, i.e., the trap is placed so far in the mouth of the burrow as to be out-of-the-way of pheasant-feet or creatures other than the rabbits. The traps are seen to early in the morning and late in the afternoon, though in some cases the traps are set in the afternoon and seen to in the morning: the traps being re-set either at that time or in the afternoon as most convenient.