I went rabbit hunting today with my good buddy Aristos and his son, Mark. We were joined by Aristos's brother-in-law and niece. We hunted a woodlot at the back of an old family farm. It was cold! My hands were uncomfortably cold right from the start, and remained so for about an hour. It was about 20 degrees F at 1 p.m., with winds of 10-20 mph out of the northwest. Brrr! I began by walking west, on the north side of a hedgerow, so the wind was blasting me the whole way. It was bearable once I gained the cover of the woods and the wind died down.
Aristos was the first to jump a rabbit, and he fired once as it ran away. Our two beagles, Chloe and Naala, began following the trail. The two kids were being too chatty, so we split them up by sending them off with different adults. I took Mark with me to find a spot in the woods, hopefully to intercept the rabbit the dogs were trailing. Mark's cousin stayed with her dad and watched for a bunny at another location. I tried to head towards the barking dogs, but they seemed to be having a difficult time staying on the rabbit's trail. Also, Mark and I were making too much noise crashing through the brush. Eventually, we turned around and found the rest of the group. Nobody had seen a rabbit since Aristos initially jumped the first rabbit.
We decided to try a new strategy. Aristos and I headed into the thick brush from two points, while the kids stayed with their uncle/dad and waited for a rabbit to run past. I found the perfect hiding spot for cottontails, an area of knee-high grass and fallen trees. The dogs found plenty of scent and began working under the limbs looking for bunnies. A rabbit darted from a patch of grass and I raised my .22 rifle. Click. An easy ten-foot shot ruined by a misfire! I called out "rabbit!" and spent the next few minutes extracting the dud cartridge, and feeding in new rounds until I found one that fired. By this time the rabbit was long gone, and the shot went harmlessly into the ground a few feet from me. But the shot excited the dogs, who began searching even harder.
Naala followed a scent under a fallen tree, and within minutes of my misfire, I was firing two shots at a fleeing rabbit, this time with bullets actually leaving the barrel. Naala found the scent trail, but showed trouble staying on track, and I feared it would be another rabbit escape. I moved to a more open area nearby, and saw that Aristos was doing the same. The other three members of our group were waiting in the other direction. Naala followed the trail in a big loop probably close to the size of a football field while I found the perfect spot to wait. I could see 50-100 yards in a 180 degree arc. Suddenly, Naala let out an intense series of barks, and I knew that she had seen the rabbit she was trailing. Soon I could see it fleeing, heading straight towards me! I readied my rifle, but waited for a shot where the dog was not nearby. But then Chloe left the brush and headed towards the running rabbit. The cottontail stopped and froze, a beagle behind it and to its left. I crept forward a few steps, hoping for a clear shot at a still target. Instead, the rabbit lost its nerve and ran past Chloe, offering me a running shot. I shot twice, hitting it on the second from about 20 ft. away. It flopped around for a while, then lay still.
Aristos reached me as a began inspecting my kill, and we were soon joined by the rest of the group. Mark volunteered to fillet the rabbit right there, but the adults decided he was not knowledgeable enough about rabbit anatomy to do a proper job. Your day will come, Mark! You'll be wishing you never said anything when the job of cleaning all the rabbits falls to you! After looking at the rabbit for a while and taking some pictures, Aristos's brother-in-law said he was going to take the kids and go home. They had lost their zeal for tramping around the woods in the cold. Aristos and I, along with the dogs, resumed our hunt. We knew there were more rabbits around.
Before we could get very far, my cell phone rang. My wife informed me that my older daughter was having trouble breathing. I agreed to meet her at the urgent care center, then set off to find Aristos. I told him of my dilemma, and we set off for the car, just minutes behind the kids. Aristos and Naala ended up going home with the others, and Chloe and I drove to meet my family. In the end, my daughter was fine after a treatment at the center, and we were all home in time for supper. I thank God that I was able to get out for a successful hunt, and that my little girl received the medical aid that she needed.