Are rabbit’s feet lucky and what is the connection between rabbits and pregnant women?
These are a couple of questions that may – or may not – come to mind at this time of year as some area hunters turn their hunting efforts to the pursuit of cottontails. Missouri’s rabbit season runs from October 1 to February 15, but this is the point of the season when rabbit hunting begins to increase for a couple of reasons:
1) The winding down of other hunting opportunities (deer, turkey, etc.) turns the fall outdoorsman’s thoughts to chasing cottontails.
2) The traditional arrival of good old-fashioned cold weather that occurs at about this time greatly reduces the chance of harvesting a rabbit infected with the bacterial disease tularemia. This disease tends to disappear in rabbits when cold weather arrives because the cold temperatures kill the fleas and ticks that carry the disease.
Rabbit hunting in Missouri isn’t at the popularity levels it was in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s; but it’s still an outdoors tradition that has a long and cherished tradition to many Ozarkers. The bag limit for Missouri’s is six and the possession limit is 12.
But enough about that: What area cottontail hunters really want to know is that, in addition to getting a little variety for the dinner table, can a successful rabbit hunt produce a good luck charm for the hunter? There may be no definitive answer to that question, but the concept does have an interesting history.
The idea of a rabbit’s foot being a source of good luck has roots in several ancient cultures. In the United States, the concept of the “lucky rabbit’s foot” can probably be traced to an old form of folk magic called “hoodoo.” Hoodoo had its roots in Africa and was introduced to the New World through slaves that were brought here. Its beliefs did, indeed, include the idea of a lucky rabbit’s foot, but it seems that not just any foot would do. Some sources say it had to be the left hind foot of a rabbit that had been killed in a cemetery. Some versions had additional stipulations stating the rabbit had to be taken in a certain phase of the moon or a specific day of the week.
Moving from folklore to fact, we come to the rabbit pregnancy test, commonly known as “the rabbit test.” This pregnancy test (also called the “Friedman Test” after one of its developers, Maurice Harold Friedman), was developed in the 1930s and used for several decades. Without going into a lot of science, the basics of the test involved injecting a female rabbit with the urine of a woman who was potentially pregnant. If the woman was pregnant, the rabbit’s ovaries would undergo changes which could occur when they were affected by a hormone found only in pregnant women. If these changes were observed in the rabbit’s ovaries when they were examined a few days later, it was a sure sign the woman was pregnant.
That brings us to a misconception (no pun intended) about the well-known pregnancy-indicator phrase “the rabbit died” that was associated with the rabbit pregnancy test. Since the ovaries had to be removed from the rabbit, the rabbit always died regardless of whether the woman was pregnant or not.
Moving from quirky stories back to rabbit hunting, in addition to adding putting game meat on the table, this sport has been a good way to introduce young people to the pastime of hunting. Part of the reason for this is because of the sport’s simplicity. No decoys, game calls or high-tech gadgetry are needed for rabbit hunting. It’s this same simplicity that lends the sport to be a teaching tool to educate young hunters about firearms safety, wildlife characteristics and other hunting basics.
Even if you’re not going to hunt rabbits until the latter part of the season, you can prepare for those future hunts now by making brush piles. Because rabbits are constantly hunted by other predators, they readily adapt to cover provided brush piles, particularly if they’re placed near or in areas that have permanent cover (heavy vegetation, brush, etc.) Building brush piles now can lead to some cottontail “honey holes” by the time those cold snaps in late January arrive or it can provide good habitat for next winter’s hunts. Landowners interested in improving wildlife habitat on their property can contact their nearest Department of Conservation office if they have questions. Habitat information for rabbits and other wildlife can also be found at http://www.missouriconservation.org