If you like to go hunting in the summer months, and prefer to hunt wild rabbits, you may wonder whether you can eat rabbits in the summer and whether it is safe to do so. And what about domestic rabbits bred specifically for meat?
You can eat rabbits in the summer. It’s more likely the rabbit meat ordered from the butcher or exotic meat online shop and butchered backyard meat rabbits are safe. However, be careful when hunting and eating wild rabbit meat because of tularemia, warbles, flukes, and parasites.
Rabbit meat has a lot of benefits since it’s high in protein and minerals and vitamins, and low in calories, fat, and sodium. But when eating the meat of a wild rabbit or hare, it’s best to be safe.
Here’s everything you need to know about eating rabbits safely in the summer months.
What Months Can You Kill and Eat Rabbits?
The months you can hunt and kill wild rabbits depend on the state you live in. Most of the dates you can hunt wild rabbits are during fall and winter, from October to February the following year.
Here are general dates for some states you can hunt and kill wild rabbits:
- Indiana (for cottontail rabbits) – November 1 to February 28
- Massachusetts (for cottontail rabbits) – October 15 to February 28 (for Zones 1-12) and November 15 to February 28 (for Zones 13-14)
- Massachusetts (for snowshoe hare) – October 15 to February 28 (for Zones 1-4), October 15 to February 4 (for Zones 5-12), and November 15 to February 4 (for Zones 13-14)
- Missouri (swamp rabbits and eastern cottontail rabbits) – October 1 to February 15
- Georgia – November 16 – February 28
- South Dakota (cottontail rabbits) – September 1 to February 28
- New York State (for cottontail rabbits) – October 1 to February 28
Before you go rabbit hunting, check your state’s small game hunting regulations in terms of:
- Where and when (date and time) hunting is permitted
- What kind of rabbits you can and can’t hunt
- Whether you need a license or permit
- What equipment or ammunition restrictions apply, if any
- The hunting clothing regulations
Is Rabbit Safe to Eat During Summer?
There’s a lot of debate about whether or not it’s safe to eat wild rabbits during summer.
Those in favor of eating wild rabbits and hare-like the cottontail rabbit and jackrabbit say that these rabbits have ticks, fleas, and mites during summer and winter, posing an equal threat to people.
And these insects carry serious diseases that can be transmitted to humans.
Those against eating wild rabbit meat during the warmer months say that rabbits should only be killed after the first frost since this is when most of the mites, ticks, and fleas will die because of the cold.
And consequently, there’s a lower chance the rabbit you are hunting and planning on eating will carry a serious disease, like rabbit fever.
Risks of Eating Rabbits During Summer
There are various risks to eating wild rabbits during summer:
Tularemia, or rabbit fever, is caused by bacteria called Francisella tularensis.
When an infected deer fly or tick bites a rabbit, they pass the disease onto the rabbit. And when a person hunts, kills and eats an infected rabbit, they can be infected too.
Rabbit fever is present in the blood and meat of the wild rabbit. But a person is also exposed to the disease by inhaling any airborne bacteria.
Before hunting a rabbit, there isn’t really any indication of whether the rabbit has tularemia. The rabbit may be uncoordinated and lethargic, or not.
It’s only during the field dressing stage when you inspect the rabbit’s spleen and liver that you may see signs of tularemia. There will be white/yellow spots on these organs, and they may be swollen too. By then, it’s too late as you may have already been exposed.
Warbles are abscesses beneath an animal’s skin because of the larvae of warbles or hot flies that have hatched there.
When hunting a rabbit with warbles, you’ll see raised lumps on the rabbit’s skin. These are easy to remove with a sharp knife.
The rabbit meat is still edible, whether the warbles are removed or not. Simply ensure the rabbit meat is cooked well to kill the larvae.
Intestinal Worms or Parasites
Common intestinal worms wild and domestic rabbits can have are protozoa, tapeworms, and roundworms.
These worms can only be passed onto the hunter if the rabbit’s intestines are consumed. But who would eat a rabbit that’s full of worms? (Yuck.)
External Parasites and Ringworm
Ringworms and external parasites like lice, ticks, and fleas can be transmitted to hunters, especially during summer when these parasites are more active.
What Are the Best Months to Eat Rabbit?
As the hunting community says, only eat wild rabbits during the months that have an R in their name.
But when you eat wild rabbits depends on whether you are permitted to hunt these animals in your state.
However, you can eat wild rabbit meat any time of the year. Practice these best practices to make sure you are safe:
- Wear gloves and a mask when handling the rabbit after it’s been shot, so while you field dress it and prepare the meat for cooking.
- Check the rabbit’s liver and spleen for signs of rabbit fever. If you see these signs, properly dispose of the rabbit (not by eating it!).
- Don’t eat rabbit guts, as this is the only way you’ll get sick if the rabbit has intestinal worms.
- Especially during the warmer months, collect and store the rabbit meat as quickly as possible because meat spoils faster when it’s hot.
- Cook the rabbit meat properly, until its internal temperature is 160-165℉ to ensure any bacteria and worms are killed.
My Last Bunny Thoughts
Eating domesticated rabbits that have been bred for meat production is safe, provided the facility where the rabbits are kept looks at the rabbits well.
And that’s why online stores that sell rabbit meat like D’Artagnan, igourmet.com, Nicky USA, Marx Foods, and Prairie Harvest Specialty Foods take care to only source the highest quality rabbit meat.
But when hunting and eating wild rabbits, you need to take care that you don’t eat a rabbit that has tularemia and cook wild rabbit meat to ensure any parasites and bacteria are killed.