The conditions that dogged farmers and ranchers in the region during the "Dirty 30's" were ideal for one of their nemeses: Lepus californicus melanotis or the black-tailed jackrabbit.
The record warm and dry weather which lead to the drought eliminated the natural enemies of jackrabbits.
In the early years, jackrabbits had been a blessing as a source of protein to the settlers. In the 1890's they were hunted for sport as well as for their meat and pelts.
However, as early as 1900, drives were underway to control the rabbit population.
Then came the Depression along with the Dust Bowl. It was hard to grow crops with the topsoil blown away and no water.
Furthermore, prices were low which decreased the value of what little farmers could harvest.
To add insult to injury rabbits, whose females could produce three to eight offspring every 32 days, often ate what plants would grow. And they ate feed intended for livestock.
Many blamed President Herbert Hoover for the Depression and called the rabbits "Hoover hogs" because, like a swarm of locusts, they ate everything in their path.
One rabbit could inflict $10 damage which is $187.50 in 2019 dollars. In today's money, the estimated 8,000,000 in western Kansas in the 1930's could cause a staggering $1.5 billion dollars damage!
In response to this threat to the livelihood to farmers and ranchers, counties offered bounties of one to four cents per rabbit. But one county, Hodgeman, stopped paying bounties at 44,000 rabbits because they no longer had enough money. Money was so tight farmers didn't want to waste ammunition shooting rabbits.
The populace resorted to the drives that had been attempted a few decades before. They often held drives on Sunday afternoons in February or March when entire families were available.
Newspapers and fliers heavily advertised the drives around neighboring counties. County commissions purchased fences and the Federal Government gave financial support. Farm bureaus, chambers of commerce and local newspapers pitched in as well.
Drives could involve a section or two of land to several square miles. Ten thousand people netted 35,000 jackrabbits over an eight mile square area in Lane County in the most successful drive in western Kansas.
The drives started with people spread 20 to 30 feet apart on all four sides of a square. They walked together toward the center of the square getting more tightly packed as they moved inward. All the while they made noises which caused the rabbits within the square to move away from them toward the center. Often behind the front lines were women and children driving cars and trucks. They blew their horns, pounded on pans and did anything to frighten the jackrabbits deeper into the square.
At the center was a fenced in area that ranged from 75 square feet to 40 acres. Near the center people walking inward were packed shoulder to shoulder which blocked any hope for the rabbits' escape. Once corralled, they were usually clubbed to death. Firearms were forbidden for obvious reasons. In a few cases, live rabbits were sold to people back east, but the demand for live rabbits was much lower than the supply of over 2,000,000 rabbits corralled in 13 western Kansas counties.
People outside Kansas were infuriated by the mass slaughter of jackrabbits. They thought they were killed for sport rather than to preserve the livelihood of the Kansas farmer and rancher. It is estimated that feed for over 200,000 cattle was saved due to the rabbit drives. And the remains of the rabbits served as feed. Humans didn't eat them because of fears of "rabbit fever" which had emerged a few years before. But the rabbits' pelts sold for three cents apiece.
Most of this information is from the Kansas Historical Society.