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Hunting / By Will Elliott: Rabbit derby yields bountiful results

If derby doings are any yardstick of this season’s cottontail rabbit resource, February could be bunny bountiful.

Entrants in the Eighth Annual Frank Privitere Memorial International Rabbit Hunting Derby held Jan. 24 and recreational hunters working dogs or just brush stomping have had happy harvests. Hunters able to get afield this month can look forward to fruitful outings up to the Feb. 28 end to rabbit season.

More than 50 hunters entered the Privitere Derby in varying team numbers; a seasoned Canadian team emerged on top with the same members that won the 2013 contest.

Derby coordinator Rick Giermata explained that a trophy-sized cottontail would be anything weighing more than three pounds in this derby that awards the top weight of one rabbit submitted by each team. “On average, the winning weight is 3.7 pounds, and the previous heaviest entry was 3.92 pounds during seven years of derby competition,” Giermata said.

This year, the team of Matt Christopher, Sam, Dan and Matt Duhaime, Krista Gaverluk and Matt Seburn brought in the biggest bunny, which moved the scale to exactly 4 pounds, an all-time rabbit record for this derby and akin to a 12-point buck or a 30-pound salmon.

The winning team each year receives a cash award, individual medallions and gets to hold the Golden Rabbit Trophy for the year. The Canadian Team commented that the trophy is now being returned to “the homeland” while the three members in attendance bit their medallions as a symbol of gold purity.

Fun and traditions prevailed in this derby; all team contestants donated their cash winnings to the two chosen charities this year. And all rabbits harvested that day and brought in for weighing were either taken home by entrants or given to recipients who would use them.

Giermata has the final fundraising figures at close to $10,000, which will go to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) Research and to two families with teenage children fighting cancer: Sydney Frost, 13, and brother Jack Frost, 10; and 17-year-old Christine Benedyk.

Team Mardino from Eden, composed of Sam and Mason Mardino, Nick and Garrett Schmitt and Nate Hoelscher, took second place with a 3.64-pound cottontail.

The third-place Polish Rifles team from Hamburg, which included Mike Jacobik and Vinny and Jimmy Costello, weighed in a 3.54-pound entry.

The G Dawgs team, 2014 derby winners, could not bring in that one big bunny, but they topped all teams’ total takes with 22 bunnies bagged by the end of the day from fields in and around Eden.

Hunter-contestants working areas in Southern Ontario and Western New York considered this day ideal for hunting. First light and sunup was overcast and dank, but the rabbits were up, out of their holes and circled more than holed up when first kicked out of cover, an advantage for both dog runners and brush busters.

Despite a freezing drizzle by midday the hunters still put out bunnies that stayed above ground, holding in all kinds of cover. This accounted for the high harvest for this year’s derby. Hunters weighed in a total of 146 rabbits, averaging just shy of three cottontails per entrant.

For Giermata, the biggest winners in each year’s derby are the contests’ charity recipients in an event that has expanded every year. He continually seeks sponsors and donations for the annual event. For support and donation information, check with Giermata at 602-5017 or email:

Hunters who missed the Privitere Derby or who want to improve their entries can register for the Eden-North Collins Gun Club’s Sixth Annual Rabbit Hunting Derby set for Saturday.

A $15 fee per hunter covers pre-registration costs; a $20 is charged on the day of the hunt. Youth hunters enter free. All cash and trophy prizes go by weight; first and second places go to the top singles. Third place goes to the highest combined weight for three rabbits.

For registration details, check with Sam Mardino at 597-8184 or the gun club at 337-0308.