Cottontail Days

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Joined: 06/03/2010

Cottentail Day
          Jiggs yipped furiously as he dashed from one opening to the next around the base of the brush pile. There was three or four inches of old snow covering the ground and the area around the base of the brush pile was adorned with countless rabbit tracks leading in and out of it. There was nothing else to do but jump on the brush and shake out the rabbit or I wouldn’t get a shot and the stubborn little tri-colored cocker spaniel wouldn’t give up.
            I opened my 12 gauge Stevens pump and removed the shell from the chamber and slid it shut so I could reload the shell into the magazine and proceeded to make my way to the summit of the pile. Brush pile jumping is a sometimes thing, sometimes the rabbit flushes out before the top is reached and then there’s no shot and sometimes the rabbit won’t bust out no matter how hard the jumping up and down on the unsteady branches. This day the rabbit decided to make his exit just as I paused to rest and as he ran I pumped a shell in and swung on him. Jiggs seemed satisfied with the shot and worried the carcass for a minute then casually walked away while I picked up my first rabbit of the day.
            Small game season opened on October 1st when I was a teenager and I hunted squirrels and partridge then deer until deer season ended on November 30th. Hunting the brush piles around the farmland wood lots was my outdoor adventure from December to March 31st when rabbit season ended. I tramped around all the hedgerows along the fields and coursed through the small wooded acreages that made the land look like a patchwork quilt. The farmers often used the wood lots for winter fuel and kept them stocked with brush piles of limbs and branches from that year’s harvest of hardwood. Naturally the small game animals loved the piles for the protection they offered from most predators, except for me. I was relentless when jumping brush piles and didn’t like to give up until I spooked something from the snarled maze beneath my feet.
            I seldom got more than two or three rabbits on any given day (often less with my .22 revolver) and rarely made the daily limit of five unless I hunted from sunup to sundown. It was a tiring way to hunt as the sweat would build up as I climbed and jumped and then the cold air would chill me to the bone from my damp clothes. This hunting method was tiresome for even those in the best of shape so most of my brush pile hunts were half day affairs. I would select an area that I hadn’t hunted for a while and jump a few piles and then hunt back towards home along the hedgerows or along the farm paths. Sometimes we would jump a rabbit in the open and Jiggs would bay like a hound as he chased it back towards me. These open-area chases usually ended right back where the rabbit was first flushed out and gave me excellent shot opportunities as I could hear Jiggs and knew the rabbit was coming my way.
            Most of the seasons that I hunted would end with a freezer well stocked with some squirrels, some partridge, occasionally some venison and lots of rabbits. I kept the family dinner table graced with cottontail rabbit for many years. One of my favorite dishes, hasenpfeffer, is rabbit stewed in a spicy, tangy gravy until it is so tender it falls off the bone. My grandmother’s father and mother had come over from Germany and she loved preparing the dishes her father had loved in the “Old Country “and rabbit was one staple he had plenty of on the Wisconsin farm where she was raised . She taught my mom how to cook and I think we must have had a dozen ways to cook rabbit at our house. I honestly think rabbit is one of the better tasting wild game animals, of course I often provided the main ingredient so I may be biased.
            As a side note imagine my great delight when I was stationed in Alaska and one of our weekly menu items was deep fried rabbit legs with mashed potatoes and gravy. It seems that a food concession had the contract to supply the food for our station and rabbit hind legs and thighs were considered the same as chicken. Most of the crew was of the opinion rabbit was less desirable than chicken but I was one of the few who willingly went for seconds and thirds. The commercially raised rabbit was not as tasty as our cottontails but it was still OK.
            My long time hunting companion Jiggs is long gone and I hope he is still chasing rabbits but as for me, I haven’t been rabbit hunting for many years, more than I care to count and I miss the excitement of those hunts with Jiggs more and more as time goes by.