Last week I embarrassed myself with some ridiculously bad shooting.
Normally, I love failure, because it's much more interesting to write about than success. But these misses were so pathetic that I couldn't bring myself to write about them until now, when I have a couple hits to assuage my self-pity.
Here's what happened: I finally hauled my butt out to my favorite cottontail rabbit spot last week for my first hunt since (my unsuccessful) turkey season. I'd shot some skeet the day before and done fairly poorly, so I thought I'd gotten my bad shooting out of the way.
Right as I approached the rabbitiest part of my path - lined by huge thickets of wild rose and poison oak on both sides - I heard something crashing in the brush behind me. Deer? No, dog, and he'd brought his human with him.
I turned back around to pretend they weren't there, and then the man yelled to me - yes, yelled: "Are you hunting?"
No, dude, I wear blaze orange and carry a shotgun everywhere I go.
To answer him, I held up my shotgun. He got the hint and took his dog the other direction.
Surprisingly, it was just a minute or two afterward that I spotted what I thought was a rabbit ahead of me on the path, maybe 40 yards away. The light was still dim and it was holding still, so I wasn't sure.
I could've just shot it, but I didn't want to announce my presence along the river with a shotgun blast if it wasn't really a rabbit. So, I tried a trick I learned from my duck-hunting buddy Charlie: I side-stepped toward it, rather than walk facing forward.
I took four steps, and got close enough to determine it was a rabbit without actually spooking him. I raised my shotgun, and remembered how I'd been so sloppy the day before, not bringing the stock all the way to my face. I put my cheek down on the stock firmly, looked down the barrel, and shot as the rabbit finally decided it was time to jump into his patch of wild rose.
Awesome! I stopped to pick up my spent shell, then walked over to claim my rabbit.
Only he was not dead at the edge of the roses. He was gone.
I was glad the dog-man had walked the other way so he couldn't see my shame.
I got one other shot that morning: I'd crept up a little hill, careful to bend lower as I neared the crest, and I spied a rabbit sitting outside of his patch of wild grape on the other side of the hill. Raised gun, settled cheek down, stared down the barrel, shot and missed. Again.
See why I couldn't write about it? Thank God a bear walked into a restaurant where Hank and I were hanging around the next day, or I'd've had nothing to write about.
I knew what I'd done wrong: I was staring at the end of the barrel to check my positioning, rather than looking at the target and forgetting everything else.
This week I decided I'd give it another go, so I set my alarm for 4 a.m. Thursday and headed out to the river. Target, target, target, I reminded myself as I crossed the levee.
I crept along quietly for a while. Nothing spooked near the wild grapes where I'd had my last miss. At the first patch of wild roses, I did hear a hop and catch sight of a white tail, but it was deep in the thicket, and the rabbit quickly became invisible.
Then came the part of the path with thickets on either side. This was the toughest part of this hunt: If you don't happen to be looking on the correct side of the path when a rabbit eventually breaks, you won't have the microsecond you need to shoot.
I scanned the edge of the thickets, looking for rabbit ears. When they hold still, it's so hard to see them, but they will hold and hold and hold, then suddenly break, and all you see is a flash of white tail disappearing into the brambles.
Suddenly, I caught movement on my right - it was a rabbit, bolting, 10 yards from me. If he'd been two feet from his thicket, he would've been fine, but he got caught four feet outside of it, which made for a long journey to safety.
I raised my gun, and it didn't make it all the way to my face. No time to reposition, no time no time no time. Just shoot, Holly!
Bang! The rabbit dropped, mid flight.
It was the fastest I'd ever shot at a bolting rabbit, and I'd done it right. Finally.
When I picked him up, I saw shot holes in his ears and his hind feet. Didn't see blood - he died so fast his heart hadn't had time to pump anymore - but I was pretty sure I'd center-patterned him. At 10 yards. Yep, gonna be some holes in this meat.
Silently, I thanked the rabbit and nature - the rabbit for his involuntary sacrifice, and nature for letting me win one this time.
Then I asked for one more. Not to be greedy. It's just that our cottontails are pretty small, and one more would make the 90-minute trip more worthwhile - I would have plenty of meat to work with. I was trying to devise a rabbit taco recipe so I can eat something besides roast duck, brown rice and peanut butter when Hank ditches me this fall for his book tour.
I walked the rest of my path without seeing anything, then headed back to complete the circuit. I had high hopes for the first place I'd seen a rabbit that morning: It was just over a little hill, and there was a good chance I could creep up the hill and spot that rabbit before he spotted me.
I took the hill quietly, careful to avoid snapping twigs because there was no wind to sweep away my noise. As I neared the crest, I bent lower and lower, then lifted my head just enough to survey the thicket.
There! On my left. The rabbit was sitting up, cleaning his ears. Distracted. He was in shade. The sun was on my right, so he'd be blinded if he looked my direction.
I raised my gun, pointed it at him, wobbled a bit. Don't aim, Holly, just SHOOT.
The rabbit bolted, but not well - I knew I'd hit him.
I marked the spot, then walked the long way around the thicket. As I neared the spot, he bolted again, deep into the thicket. I walked in as far as I could before rose thorns started tearing at me, then looked down. I could see him under a web of thorns. His head was starting to sag, like he was falling asleep. Fatal wound. He was dying.
I waited a moment, then pushed away the branches in front of me. Oooh, don't touch that one - poison oak! I found an opening in the thorns, reached down, grabbed him by the ears, pulled him out. Still alive, but just barely. I held him by his hind feet, pinned down his head, yanked hard to break his neck. Done.
"I'm sorry, sweetie," I said, stroking his now-still back. I hoped that the shock of his wound had made his last moments nothing but a confusing blur. I will not pretend that animals don't feel pain to make myself feel better about killing them, but I do believe that a fatal injury is so traumatic that there's no time to feel pain. I hope to be so lucky when my time comes.
So there it was: I'd asked for a second rabbit, and I'd gotten one. I felt lucky. I put him in my vest with the other rabbit and slid another shell in the magazine. I would not be going out of my way to find more rabbits, but if one presented himself, I would be happy to take advantage of the opportunity.
Of course, that didn't happen, but that was fine.
When I got back to my car, I cased my shotgun, removed my vest, put the rabbits in an ice chest to keep them cool for the 45-minute drive home, popped White Zombie into the CD player and hit the road.
I am so lucky to live this life. I know misses are part of it - as inevitable as death and taxes. That just makes the hits so much sweeter. And should the day come that I'm no longer grateful for them, that'll be time for me to bow out.
© Holly A. Heyser 2011
Friday, July 22, 2011
Last week I embarrassed myself with some ridiculously bad shooting.