Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Summer and the huntin' is ... not easy!

It would be so easy to sit at home and do nothing.

The whole state has been on fire for nearly three weeks now, ever since the summer solstice arrived, bringing thunderstorms and lighting strikes that started 800 or so fires. The air has been filled with smoke ever since. It's hard to breathe. And it's hot.

But Boyfriend and I don't have a lick of sense. Monday, we were heading down to Monterey to see my new friend Michael Riddle at Native Hunt, and last-minute I emailed Michael to ask: "You don't happen to have a cottontail problem, do you?"

Cottontail season started on July 1, and for some reason we hadn't been out yet, so we were itching to hunt. We have to hit the road to hunt rabbits anyway, so as long as we were hitting the road...

The answer came back: Yes. So into the car the shotguns went.

I had visions of taking a leisurely evening stroll to this little meadow I'd seen when I went pig hunting on Michael's property last month. It was right near the entrance. I had utterly forgotten what Phillip had written about going hunting with Michael the same day I got my pig. What did he call Michael?

Oh, yes! Satan.

After we arrived Monday afternoon, we sat around for a while talking at Michael's lodge, which consists of a bunkhouse, a deck and a fantastic covered open kitchen. When the sun dropped low enough, it was time to head out and look for rabbits. But not in that little meadow.

Michael sent us out in an electric vehicle with Ed, who isn't nearly intimidating as he looks in this photo. Actually, he's a very cool guy. Love the beard, too.

I jumped into the backward-facing back seat. Ed and Boyfriend hopped into the front. Then we proceeded up one of those crazy 40-degree-angle roads at Native Hunt, spewing a cloud of dust behind us, adding a chalky tinge to the already-yellow air.

And then, partway up this hill, the vehicle stopped. And started rolling back - the same "back" that I was facing, where there was a solid wall of hillside on one side of the road and an excruciating drop on the other.

So, what is the appropriate time to jump off of a moving vehicle? And should I worry about Boyfriend or just save myself?

Before I could answer either question, though, Ed somehow managed to stop the thing. We all got out and accepted our only choice: Walking.

Did I mention the hills at this place are steep?

When we finally made it to the top of that grade, we found Michael going about his business on the ranch in his truck.

He was surprised to see us on foot, and to hear about our vehicle's fate. Or at least he seemed surprised. I wasn't sure yet whether this was all part of some plan to torture us the way he'd tortured Phillip. He's really proud of this land. I think he really wants his guests to experience it fully.

But when he invited us to hop on back of his truck so he could take us to Happy Rabbit Land, my thoughts turned more charitable.

Michael took us down some perilous stretches of road where I decided it would be less sickening to look up than look down, and finally came to a stop at a low spot where we could walk any direction and not fall. Ahhh.

"All right, just head up that road toward the barley patch and start watching for rabbits on the side of the road," he said.

"OK!" we said cheerfully, wiping dust and sweat from our brows. As Michael turned his truck around and went the other way with Ed to go work on the dead vehicle, Boyfriend and I headed up that road, waiting to glimpse barley or bunnies, whichever came first.

Then, very quickly, the road turned up hill. Steeply uphill. We were huffing and puffing and sweating and huffing and there were no rabbits anywhere, and no rabbit prints, and we couldn't see the barley field anywhere. But we had a spectacular view of the smoke-covered hills of Monterey County.

"Slow down!" I implored Boyfriend, who has longer legs than I. "If ... we ... see ... a rabbit ... I'm not ... (pant, pant) ... going ... to be able ... to shoot it."

Fortunately, we didn't see any rabbits before we got to the barley field, so it wasn't an issue.

Unfortunately, we didn't see any in the field either. We worked it for a while, and didn't even see any ground squirrels, which Michael had also encouraged us to take out.

"Think we should keep going up the road?" Boyfriend asked.

"I dunno," I said. The sun was getting really low, we hadn't seen cottontail nor hare. And it'd been a long time since we'd seen Michael and Ed too. I was starting to think again that maybe Michael really was a sadist - maybe he really wanted us to hike the entire length of his property so we could appreciate it the way he does.

I glanced back and assessed the road we might have to walk, looking long and hard at one particularly steep incline in the distance. "I'm not sure I want to keep going up this hill if we might be in for a long walk back," I concluded.

Guess I'm really not very tough at all.

But I was a happy. We'd gotten some exercise, and it'd been months since we'd been out in the field together.

Me - hot and sweaty - with the barley field in the background.

And soon enough we saw Michael and Ed zooming up the road in a tougher gas-powered ATV. He was coming back for us!

"Get anything?" Michael asked when we finally met on the road.

"Didn't see a thing," we said.

"Let's go find you some rabbits," he said, undeterred. And to my great relief, he indicated we should hop on the ATV.

We drove around as long as light permitted, looking for the telltale movement of a rabbit crossing the road, Michael and Boyfriend in front, Ed and I in back, leaning on the ATV's plastic roof. I have to admit, it was ridiculously fun, clinging to that thing while it bounced over hill and dale like I was on a safari hunting for a fierce rhinoceros or something.

We were coming up empty, but at long last, the vehicle screeched to a halt and Michael said, "Right there! Behind that bush!"

I couldn't see it, but it was on Boyfriend's side anyway. He hopped out and spotted a young jackrabbit, frozen. Boyfriend took aim, fired and picked up our meal. It was a nice shot.

We cruised around a while longer, but that was it. Finally, we had to make our way through the smoky darkness back to the lodge.

I didn't mind that we'd only gotten that one jack. It had been a fun little rabbit-hunting adventure.

And there was some good Scotch waiting for us back at the lodge. Guess Michael's not such a sadist after all.

Boyfriend and his jack rabbit

To read Boyfriend's ode to the hare, click here.

Postscript: To read the delicious way Boyfriend prepared this jack, click here.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008


SimplyOutdoors said...

Sounds like a good time.

It does sound slighty odd to me, because I'm used to hunting cottontails when it is bitterly cold out.

Usually we wait for a little snow and a nice bright shiny morning so that they want to come out and sun themselves.I don't know if I could hunt rabbits in such hot temperatures.

Sounds like a great time anyway though.

Blessed said...

that land sounds like the bluffs we used to deer hunt on... sometimes I ended up crawling up the hills they were so steep! Oh, and riding the ATV up one of those hills was not for the faint of heart!

Glad you got at least one rabbit and got to spend some time in the field with Boyfriend!

Oh, and I'm with Arthur - we normally hunt rabbits when it is cold out.

NorCal Cazadora said...

This was only my second rabbit hunt, and my first actually was on a bitterly cold morning, and nothing was moving. Big goose egg. Boyfriend hunted rabbits in the snow in Minnesota, but here in California he's had a lot more luck with summer rabbit hunting, down along a river about an hour from our house.

I have to hunt deer in the summer too - there are 43 different zones in this state for deer hunting, and in my zone, the season is Aug. 9-Sept. 21. Most zones are done by mid-October. Imagine how utterly useless most deer hunting shows on TV are to me! Bundle up???

And I'm with you, Blessed - taking vehicles on steep roads scares me to death. I had faith here because Michael knows his place - and his vehicles - like the back of his hand.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like an interesting and energetic time. I'm not sure I'd be up for tramping around in the heat, but it looks like you guys had fun.

I'm off to read the ode to the hare.

Tom Sorenson said...

Shoot, sounds like I'm gonna hafta take up rabbit hunting. I went a few times when I was a youngster, but was always filled with tales about how they all carry diseases and stuff, so I figured, why hunt an animal if I'm not going to eat it because it is full of diseases? But lately I've been reading all kinds of blogs about rabbit hunting (all in CA...must be a popular thing there?) and not just the hunting, but the eating. So, now I shall try this for myself.

Phillip said...

Holly beware! This is how Michael fools you... he sucks you in, then when you least expect it, it's time for a death march up the steepest hill on the property on the morning after an hour's sleep and NO COFFEE!

You just watch. Next time you go back, when you're least expecting, the horns come out and he'll get that evil grin.

Seriously, sounds like ya'll had a good time. Wish I could've made it.

HuntingwithJim said...

We lost a good man on the death march Phillip and I nearly barfed while trying not to be the first to pass out

...i'm just glad Holly came back unscathed ...and with rabbit to boot!

Brandon Darnell said...

I'm a little tired of the smoke, as we all are, and I'm glad to see you didn't let it stop you from having a good time. My dad hasn't let it stop me from laying new river rocks in the yard. I'm glad you came back with something. I'd be annoyed if I didn't have some success after all that.

NorCal Cazadora said...

The smoke is really starting to wear me down - not just the perpetual darkness, but the eye irritation, gunky lungs etc. I just feel worn out really early in the day.

I don't know how firefighters can expose themselves to this for a living.

Phillip said...

Yeah John, I bet Michael took it easy on her because she's a girl.

I'm running away now... gotta get out of range of Holly's .270 after that comment.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Hope you can get away fast enough, Phillip. I know it's a lot harder to run at your age.

NorCal Cazadora said...

For those who love good food, Boyfriend's post about how he cooked this jack is now live - click here. Well worth reading - the dish was FANTASTIC.

Jesse's Hunting & Outdoors said...

You kwazy wabbit hunters you. I cut my teeth on cottontails with my bow every day after school. My buddy Jimmy and I walked the weedy ditches and would spot the one lone brown eye peeking out at us from their hidey hole. The trick was guessing which end the rabbit was on of that eye.

flanhammer said...

OMG, you totally look like an extra in Apocalypse Now: The Female Version.
Kind of a ditzy comment, sorry.

Phillip said...

Oof... I guess I had that coming.

It was worth it, though.