If you’ve been holding off on hunting rabbits because you’re worried about tularemia, it’s time to get the .22 out of the gun safe. The disease, which is also known as “rabbit fever,” stops being a problem when the weather gets cold enough to kill off the biting insects.
Grant Frost, a biologist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, told me we had some outbreaks of tularemia during the summer and fall. When the rabbit populations get big, the disease can spread more quickly, and it knocks down the bunny numbers. It’s spread by biting insects, like fleas. But when the temperature drops, and we get a good, long cold spell, the fleas disappear, and so does the disease.
Frost said tularemia works pretty quickly. He said if the rabbit you’re drawing a bead on looks healthy, it’s probably not infected. Generally, the disease kills the rabbit pretty fast. Once the bugs that transmit the disease go to ground, the outbreaks stop, too.
Frost said you should still take precautions, though. He recommends wearing gloves when you handle the rabbits you kill. Take a good look at the rabbit’s fur, and check it for fleas and ticks. You shouldn’t find any this time of year. Also, you can examine the rabbit’s liver. If it has yellow or white spots on it, the rabbit might have had tularemia.
But chances are, there isn’t any tularemia floating around out there right now. It’s simply too cold for it to be an issue.
So get out there and bag some bunnies while you can. Once the weather warms up again, we’ll probably see another outbreak.