What Kind of Rabbit Is that, Jack?
James R. Aist
When I was growing up in Arkansas, we always had beagle dogs, and we always hunted rabbits with them. At that time we (the dogs and us, that is) had never seen any kind of rabbits except cottontails and, rarely, the oversized version of them, swamp rabbits. But, the cottontails were by far the most common and easily accessible, because we had to drive to a distant swamp to hunt the big ones. Little did we know at the time that there was another kind of rabbit slowly making its way eastward into Arkansas from Oklahoma and Texas, the jackrabbit. And, for sure, we had never, ever seen one, until one day…
My family was living in Elm Springs, about 6 miles from Springdale, where I was attending high School. My oldest brother, Art, was visiting us, and we decided to go rabbit hunting. I knew of a good place within walking distance, so we let the dogs out of the pen and started down the road to a nearby field that had a mixture of grass and brush, with a small woods on the back side. Off we went into the edge of the field with shotguns loaded and dogs in a frenzy, as they always were when we took them hunting.
Now our trained beagles would automatically begin hunting for cottontail rabbits once they saw us heading into a field or woods, guns in hand. With noses to the ground, they would search feverishly and anxiously here and there in hopes of “jumping” a rabbit that was hunkered down somewhere, hoping that we would just pass it by. When the dogs would begin to pick up the scent of a cottontail, they would get highly agitated and begin to making little yipping noises as they got closer and closer to the rabbit. Then, suddenly, the rabbit would make a run for it, hopping away lickety-split with short, rapid leaps, the dogs running at top speed after them and baying loudly with each breath. The chase was on! Now, a cottontail can always run faster than a beagle at first, but if the dogs can stay on their scent trail long enough, the rabbit will tire and the dogs will catch up with it. Note that all during the chase, the dogs are baying as they continue to get the scent of the fleeing rabbit. And when we would shoot a cottontail that was on the run, the dogs would run up to it, smell and “mouth” it for a moment, and, when they could not get it to get up and run any more, they would lose interest in it and set out to find a fresh rabbit that would run. That’s how it usually goes with beagles and cottontails.
But, this time it was strangely different. The dogs began to behave like they had picked up the scent of a rabbit alright, but they weren’t yipping. They continued to follow the scent cautiously until a rabbit “jumped” and began to run away. They gave chase, but running at about half speed, not making even a peep. Right away, we knew this was no ordinary rabbit, and a kind that we had never seen before. It was much larger than even a swamp rabbit, had oversize hind legs that launched it on very long, relatively slow strides, and had huge, long ears that flopped back and forth with every leap. The dogs followed this rabbit silently and at a distance, like they weren’t really sure that they wanted to catch up with it. Normally, we would raise and fire on a rabbit as soon as we had a clear shot, but this time we just stood there for a moment, watching this spectacular, alien creature run and the dogs follow along silently at a safe distance. It was an amazing sight to see.
Then, this jackrabbit made a fatal mistake, turning slightly to his left in his haste to get away, giving Art just enough separation from the trailing dogs to make a safe shot. His aim was true, and the jackrabbit rolled to the ground, dead in its tracks as it were. Uncharacteristically, the dogs stopped about ten feet from the fallen jackrabbit, afraid to get any closer to this strange-smelling beast. They circled around it with their eyes fixed on it, just in case. The entire scenario was, to us, bizarre, to say the least, yet very exciting and memorable.
So, we carried this odd creature home and proudly showed it off to the rest of the family. They were duly impressed. Then we “cleaned” the jackrabbit, cut it into pieces and cooked it in the usual fashion: rolled in flour seasoned with salt and pepper, and then fried with Crisco in a cast-iron skillet. And guess what it tasted like…wait for it…wait for it… It tasted like…rabbit. Now, why in the world would you assume that I was going to say it tasted like chicken? A rabbit is a rabbit is a rabbit, after all. And, uh-THA, uh-THA, uh-THAT’S all, folks, because that was the first and only jackrabbit we ever ran across in all our years of hunting in Arkansas. And we killed it.
(For more stories and tales by Dr. Aist, click HERE.)