The first, and probably best, defense against rabbit damage to gardens is
physical exclusion. Gardens should be fenced with wire mesh at least 30
inches above ground and buried at least 3 inches below ground with the
bottom turned outward. Mesh size should not be greater than 1 inch. Woven
or net wire works best -- poultry net will exclude rabbits but larger
animals will destroy it more easily than the stronger woven type fencing.
Remember to construct sturdy, close fitting gates with buried fencing below
sills under each gate. (as pointed out in the movie "Phenomenon" - don't
fence the rabbits *in*) In some situations, it may be more practical to
protect individual plants rather than fencing an entire area. Individual
plants and young trees can be protected by constructing a woven wire
cylinder, at least 18 inches high around the plant and 2-3 inches below the
ground surface. Fencing should be inspected regularly for damage.
Altering rabbit habitat in the vicinity of the garden can do much to
alleviate the problem. Remove brush piles, control weeds and in general
control debris and other places that offer cover and nesting sights. Clean
up fallen seed from bird feeders.
There are several commercial repellents that discourage rabbits. Many of
these repellents contain the fungicide "Thriam". Many chemical repellent
are not to be used on plants or plant parts destined for human consumption.
ALWAYS exactly follow label directions for any chemical repellent.
There are no toxicants registered, in Arizona, for use on rabbits in the
Trapping (See legal status below)
Live trapping can be an effective way to remove cottontail rabbits.
Jackrabbits are very difficult to live trap because they are reluctant to
enter small entrances. Wire type live traps are available at most hardware
and feed stores. Traps may also be available for rent from local county
animal control or commercial pest control companies. Traps should be placed
were the rabbits are feeding or resting and close to cover. Traps may be
more effective when covered with a tarp, blanket, feed sacks, etc. to make
the entrance look more like a dark hole. Bait traps with food similar to
what the rabbits are eating. Some good baits are rolled up cabbage leaves,
alfalfa, carrots and other fresh green vegetables. It is best to set traps
in the evening and check them in the morning. Be sure to check traps often,
at least every day.
Trapped rabbits should be released several miles from where they were
trapped and in a rural area where they will not create a problem for someone
else. (See legal status below)
There are several commercial products available such as inflatable owls,
snakes and eyespot balloons to frighten a variety of pest species. These
may work for a short time but in most cases the animal habituate to the
product and they are no longer effective.
There are many "home remedies" for rabbit control that some people "swear
to" and others swear at these include short pieces of garden hose placed on
the ground to resemble snakes or large clear glass containers filled with
water placed about to terrify rabbits by their own distorted reflection.
Another popular method is placing net bags (or panty hose) filled with human
hair (or other predator such as dog, cat, coyote, etc.) on the ground or
tied to short posts around the garden.
Shooting (See legal status below)
Shooting can be an effective means of rabbit control. However, make sure
local laws permit shooting and that it is done safely. In Arizona it is
unlawful to discharge a firearm within 1/4 mile of an occupied dwelling or
building without the permission of the owner or resident. It is generally
unlawful to discharge a firearm within city (or other incorporated areas)
limits. Some local ordinances also prohibit the use of air guns, BB guns,
slingshots and bows.
Cottontail rabbits are classified as small game animals and the open season
is year-round. A class F,G or H hunting license is required to shoot
cottontails. In a case where cottontails are causing damage they may be
"taken" by live trapping or lethal removal without a hunting license if a
depredation permit is obtained from the local Arizona Game and Fish (AGF)
Regional Office. Before relocating a live-trapped rabbit, AGF should be
contacted for an approved release site. Private persons and some pest
control companies hold "Wildlife Service Permits" issued by AGF. These
people will pick up and trap nuisance rabbit, usually for a fee.
Jack rabbits are classified as nongame animals, but a class F,G or H hunting
license is required to take them. The season on jackrabbits is year-round.
Live trapping of jackrabbits is unlikely to be successful.
Plants which are less attractive to rabbits in the low desert
References on Wildlife Pest Management
Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage, by Hygnstrom, S., Timm R. M., Larson, G.(1994), Lincoln: University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension, USDA_APHIS-Wildlife Services Animal Damage Control, and Great Plains Agricultural Council. Sample chapter on
cottontail rabbits in pdf format. (Slow to load but worth the wait.)