Saturday, August 6, 2011

Hiding in plain sight: A tale of two tricksters

My friend Josh and I had completed most of the circuit on my rabbit-hunting grounds without firing a single shot yesterday when he turned to me.

"I hope this isn't one of those days, 'Remember the day we saw a rabbit?'"

Josh is notoriously unlucky in hunting, so much so that I'm not sure why his name isn't Jinx instead of Josh. It's a standing joke that he's lucky even to see game on a hunt, and actually shooting something can be out of the question.

I laughed. "I'm a little surprised. I usually see way more rabbits here."

We walked back toward the car, and decided to keep walking past it because Josh was pretty familiar with the territory beyond.

As we approached a spot where a road came over the levee into a parking lot, I spotted it through the wild mustard and star thistle: a set of ears, moving right to left. Hop hop hop. Hop hop hop.

"That's a rabbit!" I said to Josh. Unfortunately, he was easily 100 yards from us, not to mentioned skylighted. Even if I could hit something that far away, the risk of blasting a car driving down that road would be unacceptable.

So I started walking fast. Most rabbits stay close to their brambles - blackberry, rose or poison oak - but this one was out quite a ways. If I walked fast, I might be able to reach him before he reached impenetrable cover, as long as he just kept hopping and didn't run flat-out.

I kept seeing the ears bouncing periodically until the rabbit reached a spot of thick cover where he could go any number of directions without me seeing him. I looked around in vain.

Then Josh spotted him briefly. He'd doubled back behind me! Tricksy rabbit.

Josh and I pushed through the thick cover trying to force him out, but we saw nothing. I looked up and caught a glimpse of white tail disappearing into blackberries near a parking lot. Could he have gotten that far from us? Or was that another rabbit?

It didn't matter. He'd won.

But Josh and I were delighted. We had engaged with prey - finally - and the prey had outsmarted us, which we both enjoy. Yes, I love rooting for the underdog, even when I'm the one trying to kill him.

With smiles on our faces, we set out across the big parking lot to pick up a trail on the other side, chatting all the way. About halfway across, I noticed a big brown rock in the middle of the asphalt.

I squinted. "Is that a rabbit?" I whispered to Josh, just as the rock moved, revealing its ears.

The rabbit was dangerously exposed, but she was a good 80-90 yards from us. There was no way we could get to her. Indeed, when Josh and I stopped and stared, she took a few hops closer to cover.

But not all the way.

"Let's just keep walking that way and talking, like we're not hunting," I said to Josh. Animals know the difference between people who are stalking them and people who mean them no harm: We positively radiate our intent.

I quieted my racing heart and kept up the chatter as we walked calmly toward the rabbit, who was now on a little gravel patch between the parking lot and thick cover.

At about 35 yards, I said to Josh in normal tones, "Think we're close enough now?"

"Yeah. You take the shot," he answered casually.


I raised the gun, tried not to think too hard about the shot, pulled the trigger.

It was a fatal hit. One pellet to the head, and as I would later find out, just one more pellet to a hind leg. Dead rabbit, and bonus points for minimal meat damage.

We kept going after that, but that shot would be our last action of the day. I offered the rabbit to Josh, but he declined, so I took her home, where Hank made a meal of her: Sichuan rabbit with peanuts. (Keep an eye on Hank's blog if you're interested in the recipe.)

One rabbit had tricked us, one had been tricked by us. That, my friends, is a good day of hunting.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011


murphyfish said...

Enjoyed this post immensely Holly,
The trickster and the tricked tales came over really well and there is a lesson there about how a person's movement can betray their intentions to an animal. Many a time when walking my mind has strayed from looking closely for animals and it's usually then I manage to come right close to them, then when I'm all concious of the effort of stalking this is when I usually blow a close encounter.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

There it is again. That idea that animals know when they're being hunted. I swear I'm going to take up hunting in paisley instead of camo, and bring my gun in an extra-large pocketbook.

That rabbit looked awfully good.

Holly Heyser said...

Thanks! I think the fact that we radiate intent is one of the hardest things to communicate to non-hunters - they just don't believe it - but is pretty much universally accepted among hunters.

I've found myself working on that a LOT lately, mostly while watching doves in my front yard and hoping they get into my trap. They feel me watching them from the house and will bolt if I don't consciously pull myself in, for lack of a better term. I think learning to do that will probably improve my hunting more than anything else I can do at this stage.

Richard Mellott said...

The animals do see to know the difference. I've snuck up on several of my favorite prey animals by pretending to be on a relaxed hike, and not noticing them overtly. I've heard friends talk about how when a hunter comes by, all the deer in a field would lay down, and hide until he'd passed. They would pay my friends no attention, and would arise to continue grazing after the hunter passed.
I think this is also the reason that I had several ducks come into my decoys last year when I was otherwise occupied, even though I was moving and in the open. In one case, I had decided to relieve myself, and was standing away from the blind. In the other case, I was intent on digging a snack out of a paper bag. First case, I wasn't able to get to my weapon in time; second case, I did, although I had to drop the snacks in the drink.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Thought about getting a .22 for the extra range?

Holly Heyser said...

Richard, I think duck hunters know this truth best of all, because it's so common. Reminds me of a forum thread I read last year, where someone asked what the best decoys were, and one answered, "A silhouette of a hunter pouring coffee."

SBW, we have a .22, but the place where I hunt rabbits is shotgun-only. Wah!

SimplyOutdoors said...

They definitely know the difference!

They know when they're being hunted, and when they're not. But the best part of this whole story is that you used that to your advantage, and put some meat in the freezer.

Sounds like a great day!

Josh said...

I had a great time, Holly, thanks for the compliments! Er, I mean...

Yes, I'm quite the black hole of game and fish.

By the way, I just realized that you drew me! That's cool, and I want a copy.

Holly Heyser said...

Like I say, hunts gone wrong are more fun to write about than perfect hunts, so you are TOTALLY AWESOME for the sake of story-telling :-). But one of these days, we need to have an epic hunt together. Need to get you to my spot during duck season.

As for the picture: It's not very accurate... said...

I will be looking for that rabbit recipe on Hank's blog but in the meantime thought I'd pass along this one from another blog - the crockpot one - since you can cook just about anything in a crockpot (and this lady more or less has proved it.

So if you have some venison in the freezer and you have some time, nd Hank's on a book tour, try this one:

Holly Heyser said...

For anyone who was interested, Hank has posted about how he cooked this rabbit - click here.