Friday, July 9, 2010

Rabbit Hunt: A Real-Life Horror Story

Today was the Big Day for my new friend Claire. She's a UC Davis wildlife biology student who's learning to hunt, and I offered to take her rabbit hunting. We did some target practice yesterday (she's awesome, especially for having done just one weekend of shooting this January), and today we went out to my spot.

We saw nearly a dozen rabbits, but got none. I took two long shots and realized belatedly that I should've switched out the open choke I'd left in the gun. Oopsie. Claire didn't take any shots, but she learned a lot about rabbit hunting: where rabbits tend to be, how quickly they move, how quickly she needs to shoot.

But that's not what this post is about. This post is about possibly the most horrifying thing that has ever happened to me on a hunt. Read more...
It started nearly at the end of the hunt. We were walking in some open space between the woods and the levee when I felt a spiderweb blow up against my cheek. No big deal, happens all the time. I went to swipe it away when I felt the unmistakable squirmy bump. It was a tick walking on my cheek.

No biggie - I expected that. I picked up four ticks when I went out on the opener last week.

Back at my car we put away our guns and took off our vests and I decided it was time for a cursory tick check. Two on my neck. On a hunch, I lifted up my shirt and saw one crawling up my belly. Slipped my hand under the waistband of my pants and found another on my hip.

Claire did a quick check and I brushed a couple off of her, and we were on our way.

At a stop sign, something possessed me to pull out the top of my shirt and reach into my sport bra. Yep, one on my left breast. Nice.

Now I had the heebie jeebies, bigtime, so I was compulsively sticking my hand into any opening of my shirt and sport bra I could find - yes, while driving - and coming out with a tick nearly every place I looked. Dear God!

Claire seemed alarmed. I secretly worried that in my effort to help her get a bunny I'd delivered her unto Lyme disease.

"This must've happened when we were bushwhacking," I said.

There was this point in the hunt when we'd walked along the river long enough - we were getting out of cottontail habitat - so I said we needed to cut across the woods to the levee, a trek of no more than 200 yards, but without the benefit of a trail.

I went first, scanning for deer trails (and yes, we spooked a doe), and looking for openings between bushes and trees. We pushed through blackberry brambles, past wild roses and through deep grass, all under a canopy of oaks, the favored launchpad of ticks. That must've been how I got so many of them on me. And maybe I had so many because I'd gone first, and all the eager little bastards dropped onto me.

At least that's what I hoped.

Poor Claire. Her first hunt was, frankly, a dream: Prominent waterfowl philanthropists Paul and Sandi Bonderson hosted a group of wildlife biology students at their Bird Haven Ranch in the Butte Sink, which is probably one of the hottest waterfowl regions in the entire country - take that, Stuttgart.

There, with the help of California Waterfowl, the students got instruction in shooting, completed their hunter education courses, bought licenses on the spot and then went duck hunting. Claire bagged a limit on her very first hunt. (If you click on that link above, you'll see her in the back row, second from the right.) She said the ducks just kept coming. They didn't even have to be stealthy - they'd be sitting there chatting in normal tones and ducks would come in.

So, for Claire's second hunt, I take her out for a glorious goose-egg and potentially send her home infested with one of the foulest creatures on earth, blood-sucking little bastards that bloat to disgusting proportions if they feast on your blood long enough without you noticing.

For the love of Pete, just the thought of them makes me want to scream, or vomit, or both. I don't like seeing my blood, uh, ever, and I really don't like seeing it fattening some disgusting pimple of an insect.

By the time I dropped Claire off at her car at the IHOP where we'd met, I had visions of her looking in her mirror at home and seeing a tick infestation so bad it'd look like leprosy. Nice work, Hol. But I bade her a cheery farewell and hoped for the best.

Over the remainder of my drive home, I pulled off more than a dozen ticks. I must've been quite a sight to other motorists, reaching into my shirt, grimacing, rolling down my window and flicking things outside the car. I was driving faster and faster because I was dying to get home and remove all my clothes to finish the inspection, and driving more and more erratically as I went digging for ticks whereever I could reach.

I had visions of getting pulled over by the cops:

I roll down the window.

"Ma'am, do you know how fast you were going?"

Secretly, I think, "Eighty." Then my face contorts as I feel another tick crawling on my belly. I reach under my shirt to grab it.

The cop, sure that I am an armed crazy woman, pulls out his gun and shoots me in the head.

During the autopsy, all the coroner finds is ticks. Ticks everywhere. They have to shut down the lab to decontaminate it.

But I made it to my house without dying in an unarmed conflict with the police.

I jumped out of my car and started taking off my clothing.

Yes, in my garage, thank you.

I turned my shirt inside out and found two ticks in it.

What do do with them? They're unsquishable, and I don't want them running around in my garage. I see the orange lid/measuring cup for a bottle of Clorox II, and some Pine-Sol.

Yeah, that'll do it. I'll send 'em for a swim in a cup of Pine-Sol.

In they go! More on my sport bra. More on my underwear. More on my jeans. About ten in all.

Finally, I walked into the house, naked of clothing and ticks. Until I got to the bathroom and find two more in my hair. Quick! I ran to the garage and brought in the Pine-Sol swimming pool, and dropped them in.

I gave it a swirl, and noticed that their legs were still moving, and some were trying to wrestle with others. Durable little buggers. But the Pine-Sol sapped them of their will to escape.

Having bagged an estimated three dozen ticks, I jumped in the shower, and finally started feeling better. I put on fresh clothes, brushed my hair and smiled.

Then I remembered that I hadn't unloaded my car, so I went back out to the garage.

Oh. My. God!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I looked at the heap of clothing on the floor, backlit by the dim light coming through the garage-door windows, and saw a swarm of ticks crawling on them. Yes, a swarm. I didn't know ticks swarmed either, but now I do.

I didn't know whether to scream or cry, so I rushed back inside to retrieve my Pine-Sol swimming pool and a pair of tweezers and began plucking ticks off my clothes and dropping them into the drink.

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. ...

Fourteen. Fifteen. Sixteen. Seventeen. ...

Thirty-six. Thirty-seven. Thirty-eight. Thirty-nine. ...

They seemed to run out at 42, so I ran in the house, got my phone, and dialed Phillip to share my horror. (Boyfriend was busy fishing for sturgeon and wasn't responding to my frantic texts.)

Phillip laughed at me. "They're just bugs! Just leave your stuff in the garage and they'll bail when they realize they're not on something warm anymore."

Aaaaack! I shrieked in his ear. "Forty-three! Forty-four! Forty-five!"

"What are you doing this weekend?" he asked.

I opened the back of my car where Claire and I had stashed our vests. "Forty-six! Forty-seven!"

"Yeah, Josh and I are going hunting at Hedgepeth..."

I opened the driver-side door and looked at the seat I'd have to get into soon to go to lunch to see off my good friend, who was leaving for Cairo.

"Forty-eight! Aaaaaaack! Forty-nine!"

"We'll probably get a shot at some pigs, maybe some deer."

"Fifty! Dude, I gotta go. This is freaking me out."

"All right, have a nice weekend!"


I picked two more ticks off the garage floor and called it a day. Estimated total that hitched a ride with me? Ninety-plus.


I emailed Claire to tell her what the count was.

She responded. "I think you're going to hate me for this, but I didn't find any more after the ones you brushed off of me! So, way to take one for the team?"

"I definitely hate you for that!!!"

But really, I don't. She's a great kid who really has her head on straight. Check out the before-and-after essays she wrote about that hunter education camp she went to in January - it's here on page 34.

I just hope she'll actually want to hunt with me again.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010


Anonymous said...

Umm - with that count, I suggest you start looking for ticks in your curtains and blinds. Plan on seeing the stray tick for the next three to six days.

And start a small vial of rubbing alcohol in your car/garage/house. Much more effective than pine-sol

I've been through this more times than I care to think about. With brown and black dogs to add to the tick treasure hunt.

Annette Laing said...

Oh, grrrrrooooosssssss....
Sorry, Holly. You've just strengthened my resolve to avoid the outdoors whenever possible.

Holly Heyser said...

Ardenwoodpatti: I think I may have left all of them in the garage - I still haven't brought in my clothes. But we'll be on watch - and next time, rubbing alcohol!

Annette: Ha ha ha ha haaaaaaaa...!

SimplyOutdoors said...

Okay. I know I'm a guy, and Phillip is a guy, and I might get some ribbing for this, but.......NASTY, NASTY. I don't mind bugs, but ticks? Disgusting. I would have been swerving and driving like a crazy person.

Thankfully, here in our area of Michigan, ticks aren't too bad, and I have yet to ever find one on me.

On one of the dogs we had? Yes! On me? Never.

Thank god! Disgusting!

At least you took one for the team, though, so that she will probably hunt with you again.

I'm trying to find something positive here:)

This post makes me want to take a a shower.

sportingdays said...

Laughing as that was pretty much my same experience hunting cottontails last week at the Grizzly Island Wildlife Area.

I'm pretty sure I removed more than 75 ticks. They were everywhere. At one point during the hunt, I had to have a conversation with myself about gun safety as I was afraid I was going to accidentally shoot myself while fending off the tick attacks.

When I got home, I had to strip down and pull out a large kitchen knife to remove the ticks embedded in my back that I couldn't otherwise dislodge.

The tough part is that I actually got a rabbit, and one cottontail really can't feed a family of four. So I'm so debating whether to go back, brave the ticks again and try and get another bunny or two to make a nice meal.

Clearly, CA's late winter/spring rains benefitted the tick population. Wow.

Greg Damitz said...

It's July. Prime time tick breeding time. They just want a little blood. Use premethrin on your clothes. Make sure you follow the directions and let it dry prior to wearing your clothes. Use 100% DEET on your hands and lower legs. They'll leave you alone then.

Holly Heyser said...

Simply: Thanks for the sympathy!

Sportingdays: My friend Rebecca at DU says one of their biologists went out recently and came back with like 170-180 ticks. It is apparently a ferociously bad year.

Greg: Permethrin - that's what Phillip said to me, between snorts of laughter. I'll definitely look into that. And I will NOT be bushwhacking anymore this year. Blech.

Blessed said...

Oh my Holly - you have my deepest sympathy... but the premethrin will do the trick. We started using it after the farm pond fishing trip Hubby took with a buddy that netted him some of the biggest bass he's ever caught and around 200 seed ticks. He came in around 2 or 3 in the morning and woke me up so that I could spend the next 2 hours picking ticks off of him - not fun.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Yikes, Holly. I hope this pattern changes. Otherwise, this blog is going to become "NorCal Cazadora: The Misadventures of a Tick Magnet."

We're seeing more in Vermont this year, too. But nothing like what you're getting there.

Edward J. Palumbo said...

Where's a HazMat suit when you need one? Nothing will take the joy out of a day in the field as certainly as a tick infestation. I'd be reluctant to return to the same site, even if it was a productive favorite. On a positive note, it's a good thing you didn't have to camp out in that area!

Anonymous said...

Holly, I was reading in the Stockton Recorg, Wednesday's edition, that, according to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service that the water fowl count is up by 29% ( See Pete Ottesen' article ). So, with that news and the fact you have a new shotgun,new adjustable-comb stock, and a new recoil pad, there shouldn't be ant excuses for not getting limits this year !! With an estimated 41 million birds in the air you should get some. lol

Rich Mellott said...

I've found embedded ticks, and the safest way to get them to detach is to scorch them with a match that has just been put out. That way, they don't leave parts of their jaw in the wound, a potential source of infection. If I were you, I'd be watching any place they bit for a "Halo Effect" which could signify lyme disease infection. Bone up on the symptoms, and watch yourself. It isn't any fun getting infested with Ticks, but it seems like you took proper precautions.
I'm visiting up north, and staying in Newark, in the house of a friend. Their house backs up to a Wildlife Refuge, and as I was writing this, I heard "Honking," and lifted the shade to see a flock of around 10 Canadians flying by at treetop height.
I may have to get a shotgun...not for here, but for some of the spots you've been talking about. Getting the itch. Used to hunt ducks a while back, it might be a good thing to get into this year. Thanks for all of your very informative and easy-to-read posts.

Holly Heyser said...

Blessed: You are a good woman! All last night I could "feel" ticks walking all over me. I actually got up once because I thought I'd found one. It was just a mole.

Tovar: Hopefully I'll get a RABBIT or something so I can start writing about four- and two-legged critters again!

Edward: Agreed! I think I'll be OK there if I don't do bushwhacking, but it really changes how I hunt there, because I'll have to walk a big "U," starting at the bottom, rather than walking a big loop. And yes, the idea of camping there is horrifying.

Richard: None of the ticks were embedded. I'm not even sure any were attached because they cling hard when pulled off. But I will definitely be inspecting my skin a lot for the next few days. Both my mother and sister, who live up in Gold Country, got rashes after tick bites this year and went on lengthy antibiotic treatments as a preventive. Lyme disease is the last thing I need!

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

By the way, this spring I found this Ohio State resource ( on tick removal techniques, including recommendations on a couple of simple tools. My wife and I got one to have on hand...just in case.

Holly Heyser said...

Do the tools include a firehose? Because really, that's what I was wishing for yesterday.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

There might be a flamethrower option somewhere in there.

Anonymous said...

Pliers do a nice job of crushing the little bastards. Hairspray stops them and suffocates them.

I would probably fog the car as they are too expensive to burn.

Permethrin is great stuff. Also seems to make the ants not want to crawl on you but still not a good idea to sit on a nest.


Peebs said...

Bad side late rain hot days (110 yesterday)spells ticks. Good side same combo means lots of ducklings saw at least three set of double broods on lake yesterday.

Doug said...

I can completely relate. That is one of the reasons why I can't wait until fall. I don't venture far into the woods around here this time of year.

Side note: We had our first good freeze this winter in a long time, and both bugs seem better so far this summer.

Phillip said...

I like the flamethrower idea.

By the way, I got a tick this weekend. He wasn't so bad.

Holly Heyser said...


I hate you too.

Get any four-legged critters?

Phillip said...

I feel the love, Holly.

Story to come about the weekend's hunt... but gotta wait until I get home from work to find my photos.

As for the tick, I flipped him out the window and set him free. He was just doing the same thing I was... hunting.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Phillip: As a friend of mine used to say whenever he or I came down with a flu bug or something, "Everything's gotta eat." ;-)


Dont you just h8 them! Here in VT lymes disease is increasing at an alarming rate each year. It was almost unheard of a few years back. Dang them!

Albert Quackenbush said...

My skin crawls when I think of ticks. Back in NY my dog came in one day and I felt a tick embedded in his neck. We spent the next hour or so combing through his fur and found 16 or so in the scruff of his neck and ears. He was so good to just sit there and allow us to pull them out. I hate 'em! Bad! Going out in this heat, in this type of country is heaven for the ticks. I spray my clothes with premethrin and it seems to work well. Good luck on the next hunt!

Holly Heyser said...

I hope to pick up 100% deet and premethrin before my next hunt. But I STILL plan to stay out of the undergrowth!

Galen Geer said...

Holly, your experience with ticks is why I refuse to cut wood in the summer months. As for going into the woods and doing any scouting or even trout fishing--nope! I hate ticks. I hate leaches (still have some scars from them in South East Asia). One time in Africa I happened to be there during an annual migration, or swarm, or whatever, of some little beetle thing and they were so thick they were like waves moving over the ground and right into my chalet. Thank God that experience only lasted one night and in the morning I was able to sweep the piles of little black beetles out and off the porch. yech!
So, I feel your disgust! glg

Stephen said...

Holly, I learned about ticks in the Ruby Mountains of NE Nevada while field dressing a mule deer. They were everywhere. Not fun. Here's a tip though. Flea and tick repelling dog collars. You wrap them around each leg just below the knee, over your pants. For wading through low brush it works like a champ.

Holly Heyser said...


Phillip said...

Stephen may be onto something. At SHOT Show this year I saw some little "flea collars" for humans, but for the life of me I can't remember the name of the product or company. I got a sample somewhere.

Holly Heyser said...

I was wondering when someone would come up with Frontline for humans. I promise I'd take it better than my kitty does.

But even the collar is not a bad idea. Hell, I already got a dog ID tag for myself to wear as an ID necklace when I was running long distances, so I wouldn't have to carry ID. OK, Phillip, go ahead, take your shot now.

Chad Love said...

It's a pretty bad year for ticks out my way, but damn...

Barbara Baird said...

I don't think Terminex has a tick plan. ;) Coupla things:

Take Vitamin B1 before you go out hunting. You'll smell foul, but supposedly mites and such don't like you either.

Buy household bug spray that contains permethrin, and spray it on your clothes, your boots, etc. Don't get it on your skin. It stays in for a few washings and it WORKS! Believe me, I live in Tick Territory USA.

Enjoyed the story, though.

Hubert Hubert said...

I have the most visceral horror of creepy-crawlies - so this post just scares the hell out of me. Forget about me ever coming to the States - I'm staying put (& possibly never leaving the house again...).


Phil410 said...

Hi I was wondering if you might share your hunting spot?? I have been looking for a good place to hunt cottontails with a crossbow... Thank you in advance.

Holly Heyser said...

Phil, hunters have been drawn and quartered for posting hunt locations on the internet. That said, if you're interested in the spot where I got no rabbits this summer, email me. Tell me your requirements (I've never bowhunted, much less bow-hunted rabbits) and I'll see if I can help.