Friday, September 4, 2009

Br'er Rabbit and the dove hunt gone awry

Boyfriend and I went down to the Delta with some friends on Tuesday morning to see if we might get a little early morning dove action. I've done precious little dove hunting (two attempts), and even less dove hitting (uh, I've never exactly gotten one), so I was kind of excited about the prospect of a glorious opener.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Ha.

Glory?
There was none. Staked out along a farm road that ran between a young pear orchard and a vineyard, we didn't see a single limit of doves between the five of us all morning.

Of course, Mr. Snapshot got two of said birds, including one he got with an amazing overhead shot in which he pirouetted like a Nutcracker ballerina. If I didn't have to go to work today, I'd Photoshop a tutu on his ass, just for fun. But I'm busy.

Two other guys with us - Josh and Paul - got one each. But mostly we just sat there chatting with farm workers riding by on bicycles.

Buenos dias! Si. Palomas.

With the action in the sky looking that grim, we had no choice, really, but to look elsewhere. I informed everyone that I was working on a rabbit recipe that requires, you got it, rabbits.

Josh was the first to get one, a monster jack rabbit he'd spotted at about 20 yards. Enormous. It took two of us to stuff him in my vest.

We split up and wandered into more established pear orchards on the property, and that's when the fun began.

I walked the edge of an orchard slowly, poking my head forward to peer down the rows between the trees. Fourth row in, I saw the unmistakable bounce of a jack rabbit's butt disappearing behind a tree.

Ah ha! Br'er rabbit is here!

I walked to the end of the orchard, then back, and on the return trip, I saw something. Was that two big ears sticking up above the grass? I squinted, squatted to get a different angle and confirmed it. Jack rabbit. Not moving.

I love shooting at things that hold still for me, especially with a shotgun. I prefer a good clean kill to a "challenging" shot any day.

I aimed and fired. He loped away.


I ran into the orchard where I'd shot and found no indication that he'd been wounded. I saw a freshly gnawed-on pear on the ground. Mmmmmm. Well-fed jack! Pear rabbit!

I walked to the other end of the orchard and started looking between rows of trees again.

There he was again - holding still! I raised my gun and fired. He loped away again.

What the hell was wrong with me?

I kept walking the rows.

Blip! There was a butt bouncing into the trees.

Blip! There he was again, bouncing the other way.

It was like searching for someone in a grocery store.

Then the sprinklers went on.

Make that "like searching for someone in a grocery store in the produce aisle."

I didn't think the shower would be conducive to bringing out Pear Jack, so I went to rejoin my friends, who noticed that I was empty-handed after having fired two shots.

We regrouped, and Paul joined me on the walk to another orchard where the water wasn't on.

It turned out Paul is a grad student at my university. He's also a relatively new hunter, and that dove he'd gotten a little while earlier was his first kill. He had that look on his face: I finally did it!

I can relate.

I introduced him to the grocery store game, and we found a spot that was filthy with jacks. He stayed a couple rows down from me so we could alert each other if one was crossing our way.

I saw one and shot. Bounced away. Walked two rows down and did it again. Same result.

OK, I know I'm not that experienced, but dammit, I can hit something that's holding still when I'm shooting a shotgun. At 40 yards, the pattern should be plenty...

Hmmm. Forty yards. With dove shot. At a jack rabbit. Perhaps that was the problem. I'd need to get closer.

Then Paul said, "I see one!" He raised his shotgun and fired.

"I got it!" he yelled, and went sprinting into the orchard. He was holding it up by the legs when I got there. His second kill! He had that flushed look.

"You can have it," he said, stuffing it into my vest. "But I want to see if I can get another. If I do, I'll keep it."

"So," I asked, "how far away was it?"

"Oh, close," he said. "Five trees down." Probably 20 yards.

OK, that made me feel better. If I could just get one at 20 yards.

But we didn't. That was the last shot of the day. And it was another classic Holly hunt where I don't actually kill anything, but somehow come home with critters in the ice chest.

Boyfriend and I talked about it as we sped home so we could shower up and get to work. That rabbit stew I've been contemplated would require a couple tweaks. It just wouldn't be right to make it without pears.

Boyfriend, of course, has already cooked his quarry. You can check out his account of the hunt and the feast here.

© Holly A. Heyser 2009


Albert A Rasch said...

As they say,

If at first you don't succeed...

It'll give you more to write about next time!


Holly Heyser said...

DAMMIT! You've totally busted my formula.

Phillip said...

Holly.. I dunno about all this business of letting other people shoot your game for you... unless they'll clean it for you too.

Seriously... sounds like a really tough dove hunt. Makes for a long day when the birds don't fly... but your fallback plan (rabbits) sounds like the right option.

Not to get all teachy-preachy or anything, but this might be a good motivation for you to get out with your shotgun and some patterning boards. 40 yards with birdshot on a jackrabbit doesn't offer a lot of killing power... especially with improved cylinder. Seeing what that looks like on cardboard can be really enlightening.

Just a thought and a suggestion...

Holly Heyser said...

I don't think the pattern was the problem here - I know about how big it is at 40 yards. The problem was the size of the shot I was sending out for 40 yards.

If I already had a farm instead of a suburban house worth less we owe on it, I'd walk outside and pattern and do target practice all the time. Unfortunately, I have to drive at least an hour to find a place where I can do anything but skeet and bench shooting.

My biggest regret was that I didn't bring other ammo. Hell, I've been shooting 4s at cottontails. A .22 would've been even better. I'd have gotten four rabbits!

But hell, I'm lucky to have anything. It helps a lot that I'm not that picky...

As for gutting other people's kills ... well, that'll be part two of this story.

Josh said...

By the way, that picture is hilarious!

sister said...

hey holly, enjoying your stories! I have a question. don't you bleed the animals right after you kill them. I remembered mom doing that right after she slaughtered the rabbits. Also, i cringe each time you say you put the animal in your vest (sorry, i know I'm a sissy). aren't you worried about fleas,etc?

Lots of love,


Holly Heyser said...

Bleeding out is nice, but often not an option because you can only really get the blood to flow immediately after the kill, and sometimes you have to track animals. And with small game, we almost never dress them in the field even if we do have them in hand right away.

As for the fleas: This is what hunting has done for me - it's made me less squeamish about bugs and bacteria and even crap, which is something you have to deal with when dressing an animal. You can't afford to be squeamish when you hunt. And you quickly learn it's just no big deal - in fact, I suspect I have a stronger immune system than the average person because I'm constantly exposing myself to lots of little things in the field.

Fleas, of course, are big things (in this context), and irritating ones. When Hank brought home a deer a couple weeks ago and we had the head in the house for a while, we had a sudden influx of fleas (Hank, of course, blames the rabbit I'd shot that morning). They eventually went away. It's just part of the price of admission.

Thanks for reading, Les! Smooches :-)

Josh said...

You can bleed 'em out with an arrow. Or, so I'm told (I can only give them a stern warning with an arrow).

hodgeman said...

This sounds like a lot of my hunts...don't worry- it will get better.

The rabbit out of shotgun range thing is why I went to the .22 exclusively on rabbits. I got really tired of blasting away to see them scamper away unharmed. With a scoped .22 you'd have nailed them all. BTDT.

I almost never leave the house without one now.

Holly Heyser said...

I think the part that really bugs me is that they probably didn't scamper away entirely unharmed - there was probably a fair bit of shot that at least penetrated skin. (In fact, when we dressed Paul's rabbit, we found a lot of shot all over, which makes me think he may have shot one I missed.)

Unfortunately, I've looked at the regs of one of my public hunting areas and it's shotgun only, so I don't think I could get away with the .22 - but maybe an air rifle... Been wanting one of them.

Geez, when did I become a gun nut?

SimplyOutdoors said...

I can so relate.

My brother shoots more animals than he knows what to do with, so I always end up with some of the residual. It works out well, because, for some reason, even though I love hunting so much, I'm never as successful at it as I'd like to be.

That's okay, though. I still get to fill the freezer somewhat; and I damn enjoy the experience.

Trumpet Master Paul said...

How did your recipe turn out?

Holly Heyser said...

I hope to try it this weekend (spent Labor Day weekend out of town at an annual dove hunt/feast). I'll post it if it comes out how I want it to!