Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Rabbit hunts, video games and good advice

Last Saturday I found myself heading out to the Feather River to have a go at those rabbits again, and it struck me that hunting and video games actually do have something in common, and I’m not talking about the shooting.

I went through a couple phases when I played video games a fair bit. I never had it in me to be like some of my students (or ex-boyfriends, for that matter) who’d play video games every waking moment if you gave them a chance. But there were a couple games I really liked: Tron back in high school. Elevator Action when I was in college. And early in my professional career, Sewer Shark.

While many folks abhor the way video games turn children into vegetables – and outdoors people especially lament how they keep kids indoors – video games actually satisfy something really important: the quintessentially human lust for learning. Read more...
Think about it: Why do kids play video games over and over and over? Because they want to get better and better and better. They want to master the game. That’s why they can’t tear themselves away.

This is what was on my mind as I headed to my spot on the river as that gentle pre-dawn light began to fill the sky. I was here in large part because I wanted to get a chance to play this new game again, to master it – a feeling that still defines much of my hunting experience because I’m still so new to it. I was thinking about all the things I’d done wrong my first time out the weekend before, and how I would do things differently this time so I could be more successful.

This time, I knew a bunch of spots where there were sure to be rabbits (like knowing where the monster will pop out in a video game). I knew where I needed to be quiet. I knew where I needed to think fast. And I was armed with two good pieces of advice I got from Josh and Jean when I blogged about the previous weekend’s hunt (much the way gamers rely on tips from their friends).

When I headed over the levee and loaded my gun, I approached the spot where I’d been successful the week before, taking care to walk concealed edges where I wouldn’t be seen as easily as I had before, when the rabbits and I saw each other at 80 yards.

But there was no movement there this time, so I walked on through.

As I walked up the embankment that led to my next rabbity spot, a bumblebee zoomed around my head, and I remembered this was exactly where a bumblebee had strafed me the weekend before. Either he liked my blaze orange hat or I was getting too close to something he wanted to protect. Either way, I was getting to know the gamescape, and this was apparently his spot in it.

Next I came to the spot where I’d seen plenty of tails bouncing into a little thicket of wild roses the weekend before. This time I approached quietly, and indeed I heard lots of movement in the roses. Hop. Hop hop.

Josh’s words came back to me: If you stand there quietly for about 20 minutes, they’ll come out sometimes.

So I stood there quietly, moving very little, scanning the brush every time I heard movement to see if a rabbit had come out. I had a great vantage point, standing on a dirt path where I could look down into the roses – which were pretty scraggly – and get a good view of the small bank that rose up behind them. The sun still hadn’t topped the horizon, so everything still seemed muted and gray.

Hop. Hop hop. Hop. Hop. Hop hop. Hop. Hop. Hop hop. Hop.

Not just one rabbit, but several. And every time I heard a hop, my eyes would zoom to that location to see if anything had left cover.

After 10 minutes of this, I saw what I was looking for: A rabbit had emerged from the roses, taking a few steps up the bank opposite me. She was quartering away from me, not looking my way. I raised my gun very slowly. She didn’t spook.

Now Jean’s words came back to me: Aim in front of the head to avoid filling the body with shot.

I still didn’t know how my gun patterned at this distance – probably 15-20 yards – but I was willing to take a guess. That rabbit I shot last week was full of holes, two legs so broken up that they’ll have to go into sausage. I didn’t want that to happen today. The other reason I was here was because I’d had visions of an African-inspired rabbit-peanut stew, and I wanted beautiful, whole parts from several rabbits in it.

I aimed ahead of the doe and pulled the trigger. The dust exploded all around her and she bolted to the left.

I rushed down the hill, rose thorns tugging at my shirt as I went. I was afraid it had been a poor shot, that I would have sent a cripple into a thicket where I’d never find her.

But there she was, no more than 10 feet from the spot where I’d shot her. She was quite dead. And it looked like she wasn’t as full of holes as last week’s rabbit.

Success! My heart still racing, I thanked her. Don’t ask me why. Sometimes I thank the animals I shoot. Sometimes I apologize to them. Sometimes I just quietly pick them up.

Regardless, I was grateful it had been a good shot that ended her life quickly. Later, when I dressed her, I’d find out just how good: Two shots had pierced her back and done a lot of damage to a single tenderloin. Two had pierced her ribcage and hit a lung, which bled profusely. Several shots had hit her head. No mangled legs. No broken guts. A very clean kill.

I put the doe in my vest and moved quietly to the next spot, a place where I’d seen LOTS of rabbits the weekend before.

Sure as hell, they were there again today. I could hear them moving all around me on both sides of the path. Emboldened by my success minutes earlier, I found a soft sandy place to stand, faced an area with good visibility and waited for my next easy kill.

Hop. Hop hop.

Hop. Hop. Hop.

Hop. Hop hop. Hop.

I saw a shadow zipping behind some grass, but never saw the telltale ears. Remembering how close I came to shooting a squirrel the week before, I held fire.

Then I saw the grass moving, about 25 yards in front of me.

Hop. Move. Hop. Move.

The grass was so tall I couldn’t see what was making all this noise.

Munch munch munch munch munch. I could see the grass being pulled down each time this animal took a bite. I could hear that this was a rabbit-sized mouth doing the munching (I used to raise rabbits in 4-H). I absolutely knew this had to be a rabbit. I was pretty sure I could even figure out which end was which. I was 100 percent certain I could kill it.

But I couldn’t see it. And this was not a video game, where shooting the wrong thing costs you points or, at worst, ends the game. This was real life, where shooting the wrong thing could end up taking the life of something I didn’t intend to kill, or even worse, something that was illegal to kill.

I held fire. And the rabbits – I know they were rabbits! – kept moving.

After standing there nearly an hour without any rabbit showing its face, I conceded defeat and moved on. Yep, that’s what you get for getting cocky, Holly.

I did get one other chance that morning. As I walked away from the Spot of Frustration, a rabbit veered into, and quickly off of, the path in front of me. Remembering Boyfriend’s words – that I have to move quickly – I shouldered my gun and fired, watching the dust puff up a few feet behind the rabbit as he zoomed around a corner into the wild roses.

Horrible shot.

And I’m almost glad I missed – I didn’t really want haunches full of shot anyway.

But it was important that I took the shot, because the week before when a bounding rabbit presented me with what could’ve been a beautiful shot, I’d stood there like a dumbass.

So, yes, I was learning! Not at the lightspeed pace that video games allow, but at the pace of real life.

That’s fine, though, because that’s the world I live in.

© Holly A. Heyser 2009


suzee said...

Way to go on your second rabbit! You are so right that it's the pull of trying to master the game...I'm a newcomer to hunting also and after every hunting trip whether there's been success or not I've gone over the hunt many times in my mind, thinking of the things that I'd do different next time!

Albert A Rasch said...

Great analogy.
Never thought of it that way.


Anonymous said...

Holly, you should try sporting clays it will get you prepared for those moving rabbits!

SimplyOutdoors said...

The first time my wife went rabbit hunting was a thing of beauty. It was freezing cold, and the first rabbit came busting out of some briars doing about Mach 6.5. She stood there, watched him run away, and then asked laughingly if, "she was suppose to shoot that?"

Rabbits are a great quarry, and I can definitely see some similarities in hunting and video games, except for one part: hunting actually makes you go outside!

Don't get me wrong, I love a good video game from time to time, but it never compares to being in nature.

Great post, as always.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Oh yeah, believe me, I'm not a fan of video games - they're a piss-poor substitute for reality. I actually had a student whose dad was a big duck hunter, but he couldn't get his son interested in it - too slow, compared with video games. Pretty sad that so many people are content with simulations of real life.

Anonymous, I love sporting clays, and hope to go shoot some in the next couple weeks with a former student who's a gun nut (but not a hunter).

Suzee, glad to know you're a kindred spirit. I'm kind of wondering when this phase of my hunting experience will be over - and what it will be like when I'm not so manic about getting out over and over again. I know it's gonna happen sooner or later. But I actually really enjoy this phase a lot. I enjoy feeling totally driven about what I do.

Josh said...

I've not seen an end to that phase, though I've felt it wax and wane in me, as other things have come along.

Rabbits and a bow taught me how to hunt, and the single biggest lesson I ever learned from both of them was to slow way down... even stop, most of the time. It was like, the less I moved, the more I became aware of the waves I was making around me.

It's funny, because that style of game-play also got me third place in a "Street Figher II" videogame tournament back in college. Also, the guy who won had to cheat to beat me... it's a long, sad story. Anyhoo, while everybody else was into the fast, fast, hit 'em as fast as you can moves, I was always moving slower, counterstriking when I saw an opening... interesting you should point out those similarities, Holly. Thanks!

Live to Hunt.... said...

That is a great story and analogy Holly. I never stop learning every time I step into the wild.

Matt Mullenix said...

Holly do you have a .22?

NorCal Cazadora said...

Boyfriend does, but it's been jamming. I'd love to hunt them with a rifle - I prefer the sniper approach - but the shotgun's what I've got for now.

And it's doing all right - got another one this morning!

Anonymous said...

I am glad you found my words helpful. It sounds silly, but I was really tickled to see my name in print like that.
I have been wanting to take a .22 rabbit hunting for a while now. I have a target .22. It has a really fancy scope on it so that new shooter's can see exactly what they hit at 50 yards. It's not a good choice for rabbits. It has no sling swivels and it is a bit on the heavy side. I found a tactical sling in one of our boxes of stuff and set it up. Except for the laminated wood stock, it looks like BUNNY SNIPER. So we go deer/pig hunting. I take this piece of gear along in the back of the truck. Every time I see bunnies, I am hunting deer or pig and have the .30'06. Every time I am hunting bunnies, I see quail and cows.
P.S. If you take the guitar away from the .22 maybe it won't jam.;-)

NorCal Cazadora said...


Boyfriend once saw a cottontail when he was pig hunting with a .270. You may remember from my previous rabbit post that I called him Mr. Snapshot. I probably don't need to tell you what happened.

OffLine Notification said...

Arcade/shooting games may seem violent but actually it enhances strategic concentration. A better way of venting without harming anyone but the computer screen.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Offline, I'm not quite sure how to take your comment. Violence in video games wasn't the point of this post at all.

Perhaps you're just commenting to get people to go to your game site. But I will take this opportunity to point out that hunters don't kill animals to vent aggression - that's a myth perpetuated by PETA.

As for video games improving any non-computer game skills: I wish I could find evidence of that in my students, but I haven't yet.