Saturday, August 1, 2009

Cazadora and the wascally wabbit hunt

OK, so I know all my hardcore hunter friends are out hunting deer this weekend, because tomorrow is the last day of archery season in California's huge "A" zone.

But me? Oh, no, I can't do what anyone else is doing. I went rabbit hunting this morning. (And trust me, that won't be the weirdest thing I do today. But I'll get to that later.)

I've really been itching to go on a rabbit hunt. Our cottontail season started July 1, and I've been so busy that I haven't had a chance to get out. Today was my first break. Read more...
But Boyfriend was busy doing freelance work this morning, so I'd be hunting alone, which was kind of cool. I haven't hunted rabbits much, so I was happy to get the chance to figure things out for myself, not to mention to avoid having to compete with Mr. Snap Shot. If a shot requires speed, he's always the one who gets it.

I got up at 4 a.m. and headed north toward the Feather River, happy as hell to be zooming through the blackness with hardly another soul around me. I'd hunted this spot on the river once before with Boyfriend on a day so cold (by California standards) that nothing was moving, so I was familiar with the terrain, but not with rabbit behavior. I had two questions going into this: One, would I see any rabbits? And two, would I be able to hit one?

"You'll have two seconds, at most," Mr. Snap Shot told me last night.

Great. You know me. I like my targets to hold still.

I arrived at the spot just a few minutes before shoot time, donned my vest and blaze orange and crossed the levee into a riparian habitat loaded with wild grapes, wild roses and elderberry trees - yep, rabbit heaven. I started walking south and it wasn't five minutes before I saw two rabbits up on an embankment.

Eighty yards away.

Bastards! They must've known I don't take "golden BB" shots. I hate the idea of putting a shot in something and watching it hobble, crippled, into a place where I can't finish the job.

I actually got another 10-15 yards closer before they bolted. I made a mental note to approach that spot with caution on the return trip - if I was stealthy, my head would pop over the embankment 15-20 yards from where they'd be hanging out.

For the longest time after that, I didn't see anything else. I heard plenty in the bushes around me, but I could never tell: Bird? Squirrel? Rabbit? After about an hour, I'd noticed that I wasn't seeing any rabbit sign, so I figured it was time to turn back.

At this point, I was pretty close to the river, and I barged through the growth to my left, wanting to get back out closer to the levee, where there had been more rabbit sign. Walking north, I was beginning to notice the long shadow I was casting to my left, worrying that the wascally wabbits would feel that kiss of sunshine and decide it was nappy time.

As I walked on the edge of a little oak woodland, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. A rabbit, 40 yards away, bounding toward cover. After one leap, I figured it was done, so I didn't raise my gun. But it kept leaping, and by the time I realized I could still shoot, I couldn't shoot anymore - it was safely into cover.

Well, thank God Mr. Snap Shot hadn't seen that - I'd never hear the end of it.

I walked all the way back to my car, then decided to keep at it for a while, heading back south again.

And once again I saw those two rabbits on that embankment. Too far away to shoot. Walk on by. Back to the place where I'd seen the bounding rabbit. Not there anymore. Cross the brush to get back toward the river, where there was still good shade. Head north, back toward the car. It was nearing 8 a.m. - getting late in rabbit time.

Or so I thought. To my right, a rabbit leapt into a huge thicket of wild roses. A smile crossed my face. Maybe it wasn't over yet.

I continued up the path, grateful that it was covered with river sand that hushed my steps. I gazed down at all the rabbit tracks in the sand. Holy crap. Had they been walking in my footprints?

Ahead of me, a rabbit burst from the base of a tree and dove into the roses, probably too fast for even Mr. Snap Shot to get a shot. I moved forward more slowly. Heard another rustle near the tree. Rabbit again! But so close to the roses that all I could see was that white tail before it was enveloped by foliage.

Finally, I was learning something! How a rabbit sounded when it was nearby. How far it was likely to be from its cover. The fact that he might be with a friend who waits a minute to bolt. I might go home empty handed, but not without having gained valuable knowledge.

As I neared the final approach to my car, I saw two more fluffy white tails disappear into thickets. Then I came to The Embankment.

With my gun stock tucked between my elbow and ribcage, I crept up the path on my side of the embankment, quietly, quietly, vewy vewy quiet.

Finally, my eyes crested the embankment and I surveyed the scene in front of me. One more step, and there I saw it: a rabbit. Feeding behind a little earthen bump about 15 yards ahead of me, only his back and ears visible.

I raised my gun.

But I knew I needed a better target. And I had an idea.

The most recent book I read was "Slaughter in the Sacramento Valley," a book by former game warden Terry Grosz about the poaching and market hunting of ducks and geese. I'm sure I'll be writing more about that later, but what came back to me this morning was how, over and over again, Grosz described the illegal nighttime hunts in which poachers would belly up close to enormous feeding flocks of ducks or geese. One of the poachers would fire a shot in the air, or shout, or do anything to spook the birds and they would all lift their heads momentarily, giving the poachers a chance to spray shot across the ground and kill enormous numbers of birds.

Deer hunters do the same thing on TV all the time - make a noise that causes a deer to lift his head and freeze for a second.

So as I sat there with my cheek on the stock, the bead over that rabbit, I decided to do the same thing.

I opened my mouth and yelled.




What the f$@#?
Who the hell shouts "spook" at a wild animal? That was just plain weird.

But it worked. The rabbit's head popped up. I pulled the trigger. The force of the shot blew him two feet back. Whoa.

That was awfully close range, but boy, it sure did the trick - that rabbit was dead. No chase, no finishing shot. That critter didn't know what hit him.

I breathed a sigh of relief and walked over to pick him up. He was warm and full of holes. I squatted, laid him across my lap and thanked him, gazing at him for a minute before putting him in my vest.

After that, I did another quick walk back to that big thicket of wild roses, but I'd already gotten what I was going to get. I headed back to the car, grateful.

Back at home, my story was just weird enough that Boyfriend didn't make fun of me for not taking that first good shot I had.

"Spook?" he asked, incredulous. "You yelled a racial epithet at a rabbit?"

"No!" I protested. I hate racial epithets - my mom raised me right. It's just what came out when I wanted to spook the rabbit.

Fortunately, he didn't have time to make fun of my bizarre utterance any more, because he had to get ready for tonight's big dinner.

A vegan dinner.

Yes, a vegan who believes meat is murder is dining with us - two ardent hunters who believe meat is one of the great gifts of the earth. That rabbit will probably be the closest I come to meat today. It's gonna be an interesting night, for sure.

But that, my friends, will be another story.

© Holly A. Heyser 2009


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a nice place for bunny hunting. I learned some things from what you wrote and have some things to think about for the next time I go rabbit hunting.

Do you hold just a hair forward of the nose with the bead?
My theory is I have fewer pellets to remove when I do this, but I still have a vwery dead wabbit. So far, I've had good luck with that on still shots with the 12 gauge.

At least you didn't have a bunny trick you into shooting a cow pie. Also, the wabbit probably stopped because he'd never heard the word used that way, either.


Garrett said...

Not aware of spook as any sort of racial slur. Either way the effect you wanted was the outcome. Props. Of course, next time I see you across a room I'll probably yell out "Spook!" just to get your attention. ;)

Josh said...

Great story! Rabbits are about the funnest.

If you've found a spot where you think they were walking over your tracks, they were. Here's what you do:

1) Buy a .22, or better yet, .22 wmr (non-lead option), or borrow my cousin's 10/22;

2) walk about 30-50 yds. upwind and wait.

Pretty soon, they'll start popping out of the woodwork. You can probably do that w/ a shotgun at 20-30 yds. Just sit and wait. They'll come out, and hop slow and stop.

Or, get a good beagle. When he jumps the rabbit, sit down and wait. They'll be back. Or invite me, and I'll bring my doggie; not exactly a beagle, but a good rabbit-jumper, for sure, and thorough.

Also, if you've found good, public rabbit country in the Valley around Sacramento, hold onto it like grim death. Most of the stuff is walking along the edge of gigantic blackberry brambles. The same goes for quail.

As for the jump-shooter, last year he kept plucking my snipe right out of the air! For the record, I usually practice shoot-and-release with my snipe.

hodgeman said...

And now you know why my "go-to" small game gun is a tack driving .22 bolt action with a big game scope.

50-80yd shot? It makes it look easy...

I flat love hunting rabbits, sounds like you had a good time.

Barbara Baird said...

Why don't you come on over to Missouri this winter and we'll round up some beagles and go rabbit hunting the Ozarkian way? Round and round the briar patch they go. As always, enjoyed tailing along with you in the field! Thanks for the story.

Albert A Rasch said...

I ain't takin' Holly nowheres around heah! Liable ta git us both killt daed!

Still laughing,

NorCal Cazadora said...

Jean - I'm flattered that you learned something from this! And while I was not tricked into shooting a cowpie, I almost whacked a squirrel at the edge of the roses, until I saw him wave that tail. Squirrel season doesn't start for a while. And no, I didn't shift my aim, because honestly, I'm not sure what my spread would've been at 15 yards, and I'd've hated to have missed.

Garrett - You have grown up blissfully sheltered. That or there were no black people where you raised. Wait, I know where you were raised - it's the latter. I think it's a more common epithet on the East Coast, which is why Hank immediately thought epithet.

Hodgeman and Josh - Hank actually has a scoped .22, but last time we took it out to the range, it was jamming a lot, and we haven't dealt with it since then. But looking at the perforations in my rabbit, I wish I could've shot him with a rifle. Two legs are going to be sausage for sure. (And FYI, I was using steel shot.)

Babbs, I'd love to hunt with you in Missouri. Clearly, we have a hunting exchange program in the making here.

And Albert, you crack me up!

Chas S. Clifton said...

Congrats on nailing the bunny, but here's a question.

I was raised with the fatherly advice to not hunt rabbits until after a hard frost, because supposedly that would kill the sick ones (tularemia, etc.).

Not true in California?

WV: Scollym. They are not yet in season.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Well, Chas, we don't always get a real hard frost here, so it's not an option for us. (And I hate to pass up an opportunity to hunt in the summer - pigs, rabbits and pigeons are just about all we can hunt right now.)

What we do, though, is ALWAYS wear gloves while dressing them to look for telltale striations on the liver that would indicate tularemia. And this one was really healthy - he was even building up a little fat (which I promptly whacked off, because if it's anything like domestic rabbit fat, it's NASTY).

SimplyOutdoors said...

I do love chasing the cottontails, whether it be with dogs, or just old-fashioned hole stomping to flush them out.

Here in Michigan we usually hunt them in the winter time, and that just adds a whole new dimension to the experience. I absolutely love it, though. Rabbit hunting was one of my first hunting experiences, and still ranks right up there for me.

Throw in some dogs and rabbit hunting takes on a whole new perspective; and is one good time.

The Hunter's Wife said...

I know nothing about the hunting you did but we use to have a dog name Spook. :)

Matt Mullenix said...


When we are hawking rabbits, the game call is: "Ho! Ho! Ho! HOHOHO!"

When you factor in the hawk's bells ringing, it sounds like Christmas Eve.

But I suppose we could also be calling for a low-price escort service.

NorCal Cazadora said...

This is giving me so many ideas for my next rabbit hunt!

Shannon said...

Boy, I'm jealous. As it was said above rabbit hunting in Michigan usually means waiting for a good frost or snow on the ground. So I have a while to go yet. There's nothing like listening to a couple of beagles on a hot track. It's a great sound. :)