Friday, July 2, 2010

I went out for the rabbit opener and all I got was four ticks and a pit bull head

For about ten minutes yesterday morning, it looked as if I was going to get my first rabbit of the cottontail season at the crack of shoot time, literally just a few yards into my hunting grounds.

It was dark when I arrived at my favorite spot, a long stretch of a Sacramento Valley river with a lot of land between the levee and the actual river.

Wait, it was way too dark.
Duh. You got shoot time wrong, moron. I was half an hour early - must be out of practice. No problem, though. I just walked over the levee and squatted so I could listen for a while, and eventually watch.

Ahead of me was a flat area dotted with grasses and scraggly wild mustard, bordered by oaks, and beyond them a steep drop to the river. Good bunny habitat!

After 20 minutes - still before shoot time - I made out the shape of a rabbit about 15 yards from me. I watched him. He saw my shape and hopped quickly, then stopped, unsure whether I posed a threat. Before long, another one appeared where I'd originally seen the first one.

Good news, right? Well, sorta. Unfortunately, I had not squatted in a ready-to-shoot position. My gun was in my lap, not close to where it needed to be for a speedy shot. And if I shouldered my gun and shot squatting, it would've knocked me on my butt, so I'd have to stand, mount and shoot.

It went predictably. When I determined it was light enough, I lurched to my feet. Bunny bolted. By the time I got off a shot, he was almost to the edge of the river. I missed, and there was no second chance.

So much for a glorious opener.

I saw exactly two more rabbits after that, the first just a few minutes after my bungled glory. The rabbit was 50 yards away, at the edge of a bank of wild grape. Long shot. Risk of wounding, not killing. Zero chance of recovering a wounded rabbit in the grapes. No thanks.

The second was a doozy. I had started the return portion of the loop I walk. I heard something scrambling in the wild rose thicket on my left, and ahead on my right I saw a rabbit scramble too. He was close enough to shoot, and he was bolting across a long stretch of open ground between the levee and the woods, the best chance you get of shooting a rabbit.

But at the same time I saw the thing on my left emerge from the thicket looking like a giant rabbit. Harvey?

I swung on the closer thing in time to see it was a young-of-the-year deer in a state of panic. Can't shoot that!

But by that time, the rabbit had safely made cover. Tricksters indeed!

I could feel that the morning would end with a big zero, but I tried one last trick of my own: I parked myself near a little oak on a little rise over that patch of wild grape. Last year I learned that if you hold still long enough, rabbits will come out.

I sat there for a good 30 minutes, gun ready. I felt the sweat dripping slowly down my lower back into my undies.

Wait a second, it's not hot. I'm not sweating...

Oh boy. That could be only one thing. I shuddered, but continued my fruitless vigil until I realized the jig was up.

I continued back toward my car and decided to poke around where the first rabbit had evaded me, and that's when I spotted a deer-colored carcass on the ground.

I have always been fascinated with skeletons, ever since I was a tiny little girl. I used to collect cow bones on a family friend's cattle ranch. When I was 5, I wanted to be a paleontologist, and some form of archeology or paleoanthropology was always my second choice for a career.

On closer inspection, I saw it was not a deer. Round face. Young mountain lion?

The hide, dessicated, but still covered with hair, enveloped the skeleton like a stiff casing. I peered more closely at the snout.

Pit bull, I guessed. It was young, with very clean and not fully developed teeth.

Everyone's favorite dog to get, and then dump when it becomes a problem. How sad.

I called my mom.

"Hey Mom, want a pit bull skull?"

"A what?"

"A pit bull skull. I'm rabbit hunting and I found a dead pit bull."

"Oh. Sure!"

I should explain here that my mother is an artist, and her latest thing is encasing skulls in fragments of broken windshield glass. It's way more interesting than ordinary taxidermy.

"All right, it's yours."

"Thanks! This is the weirdest call I've gotten in weeks."

Weeks. Tells ya something, doesn't it?

Back at home, I started finding ticks. One. Two. Three. Four. I flushed them down the toilet. A fitting end for my first rabbit hunt of the season.

Pit bull head. Or at least that's what I think it is.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010


sportingdays said...

Good for you at least getting out on the opener of rabbit season. I would have expected you to see a few more bunnies with the wet winter/spring we had in NorCal.

I'm planning to get out there myself this weekend at Grizzly Island, again hoping for a bumper bunny crop.

David J Blackburn said...

Try going here Half an hour after sunup and half an hour before sundown.

It's kind of like the movie birds, only involving jacks and cottons.

Not quite this bad...

sportingdays said...

Following up on David's point: My personal experience has been that the hunting window for cottontails -- the period when they're out and about and active during legal shooting time -- is greater in the evenings than the mornings. I've always had more luck in the evenings than the mornings, anyway...

David J Blackburn said...

ignore the link! google maps this 39.087003,-122.519188

David Demola said...

So, being completely uneducated on the subject, I'm going to ask a stupid question: Why couldn't you take down the young-of-the-year deer?

David J Blackburn said...

and sportyday is right, at least about the spot. they run thickest in the evening there. scary thick. creepy thick. shoot your way out and hope to survive thick. at least they did 2 years ago. I haven't gone back, can't find anyone brave enough.

Holly Heyser said...

David Demola: It's not deer season. and if it were, the deer wouldn't have been legal game because it was a doe. And if none of the above was a problem, then there'd be the fact that the size of shot you use for rabbits wouldn't do much to a deer, unless I got VERY lucky.

David Blackburn: Thanks for the tip! That's farther from home, but the swarms sound good.

Sportindays: Yeah, I was a little surprised I didn't see more either. But being outsmarted by the little buggers makes me more determined to try again.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Yikes. Quite the haul: ticks and a dead dog. Sounds like the Land of the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog. Better luck next time!

Julia said...

I cut my hunting teeth on rabbits (no pun intended) and even after graduating to big game and upland game they are still my favorite thing to hunt. :) They certainly aren't as easy to get as it would seem.

I hate ticks. I've had them three or four times...I've become a master of removing them.

Holly Heyser said...

Tovar: Definitely one of my more interesting hauls.

Henhouse: Fortunately, only one had attached, and I'm watching the spot carefully for signs of Lyme disease. Obviously I need to eat more garlic - last time I went rabbit hunting after having had some strong garlic the night before, none of the ticks that found me actually attached.

Anonymous said...

Having had access to the same public hunting areas you have, the most consistant results I ever got was down at Volta WMA.

I know it's quite a drive for you (it was for me too), but the place is just loaded with them! All those now drained marshlands and their levees.

We'd actually find them not so much in the now dried up ponds with their baked dry bottoms, but on the outter edges of the pond areas out in that pucker brush stuff, whatever it was?

In the morning you can usually count on them being out from shooting time to ~9:00 a.m.

I don't think we ever came back empty handed; we'd usually bring back 4-5 apiece.

I'm sure they're there in the evening too, but we didn't like sitting around all day in the valley's heat and we always tried to escape back over the hill to the cooler weather of the S.F. Penninsula.

Bill C.-Orygun

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Sigh, no bunnies and, well, you miscounted ticks, babe: The next day I was writing and found one CRAWLING UP MY GODDAMN LEG!!! Skeeved me out big time.

We'll get 'em next time, though. And we'll spray lots of DEET on our legs.

Holly Heyser said...

Uh, yeah, sorry about that one, Babe!

Anonymous said...

Girl duck season can't get get fast enough now your counting ticks and dead dog heads.

Holly Heyser said...

Ain't that tha truth!

Josh said...

Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook - Ah, the perilous adventures of the outdoor writer.

Cazadora, garlic? That's cool, I'm going to try it, or at least use it as an additional excuse for eating lots of garlic.

Holly Heyser said...

LOL, that's probably the of the garlic myth - an excuse to eat more. Works for me!

SimplyOutdoors said...

I'm so used to hunting cottontails in the winter, that reading about hunting them in the summer is very interesting.

Our season opens in September, but we usually wait to hunt them until January - in the early season they are full of fleas.

It was definitely an interesting hunt, though.. Although, I'm sure you would have preferred to not find any ticks on you.


Anonymous said...

I spray permethrin on my outer clothing. It appears to last through more than one washing. Haven't had as much trouble with the little sucking bastards since I started doing that.

At least you got out and saw wabbits. Good to see they are still giving you lessons and some grist for interesting stories.


Chas S. Clifton said...

I suppose it was a good day afield if you come back with something.