Rabbit Huntin’ Hijinks: Perfect Aim…Not!

Rabbit Huntin’ Hijinks: Perfect Aim…Not!

James R. Aist

I was about 17 years old and living in Elm Springs, Arkansas. My daddy was the Pastor of the local Methodist Church. It so happened that the Majorette of the local high School marching band attended that church too. She was very attractive, to say the least, and very popular. I wanted nothing more than to get to know her better. But, how could I manage to even appear on her dating radar?

Well, one day her 14-year-old brother, Danny, having found out that the men in my family like to hunt, asked me if I would take him rabbit hunting. Thinking that this might just be the break I was looking for to get me on his big sister’s dating radar (yes, I was that naïve back then), I eagerly agreed to introduce him to the sport. So, a few days later, we set out with our shotguns and my beagle dogs to hunt an old, abandoned farm place nearby that I knew was almost sure to provide rabbits for us to “harvest.” But wait, I told that story in an earlier post (click HERE). This is the sequel.

Danny asked me to take him hunting again, and after failing to make his big sister’s dating radar following the first hunting excursion – even though I had slain a running rabbit without firing a shot on the first trip – I eagerly agreed to give it another “shot” (pun intended). But, this time, Danny wanted to vary it up a bit by leaving the dogs at home and hunting for squirrels instead of rabbits. That was fine with me; I knew just the place.

When we arrived at the large, squirrel-infested patch of woods, we exited our vehicle, this time with rifles in hand. I was thinking “What better way to impress Danny’s big sister than to exhibit my superior marksmanship by plinking a stationary squirrel out of a tall oak tree with a single bullet from my trusty Mossberg 22-caliber, semi-automatic rifle?” I had done it before and was confident that nothing could possibly go wrong.

So, we split up to cover more ground and began sneaking stealthily through the woods, Danny on one ridge and me on the one next to it (about 40 yards from Danny), so we would not lose sight of each other. As we walked along, we scoured the tree tops for squirrel nests and suspicious, furry “knots” on the tree limbs. We were about 10 minutes into the hunt, having seen neither “hide nor hair” of a squirrel, when suddenly Danny inadvertently “flushed” a rabbit from a small brush pile. The frightened rabbit loped lazily along the side of the ridge next to me, presenting himself for an open shot each time he passed between trees. Now please understand that, normally, one would have a much better likelihood of “harvesting” a rabbit on the run by firing a shotgun at him, especially at 40 yards. On the other hand, to harvest said running rabbit with a single shot from a rifle would make a much bigger impression on Danny, and consequently on his big sister (or, so I hoped), than would merely plinking a stationary squirrel on the side of a tree with one shot. So, with nothing to lose, really, I decided to go ahead and give it a try. Taking aim and timing my shot for when the rabbit was between trees and about to execute his next leap, I pulled the trigger.

And wouldn’t you know it? My aim was “dead on”, so to speak; the rabbit was mortally wounded and rolled immediately to a stop, his limp carcass lying lifeless on the ground! Well now, Danny had witnessed the entire episode and was duly dumbfounded, trust me. At that point, to complete the ruse, I had only to pretend that such masterful marksmanship was merely routine for me. So I nonchalantly walked over to the rabbit, picked it up by the “behind feet” and lifted it, matter-of-factly, skyward to show it off to Danny. He was speechless, and I was surely “in” with his big sister!

Well, we continued hunting for squirrels and spotted several, but for some mysterious reason, neither of us was able to hit any of them; the unfortunate rabbit turned out to be our only trophy that day. Danny was disappointed, but I was proud of my hunting trophy and hopeful that I had made a good enough impression on Danny that a date with his big sister would be my next “trophy.”

However, for some mysterious reason, the date never materialized. The story gets worse, though. A few days later, still puzzled as to why I was unable to harvest any squirrels that day – especially after having bagged a rabbit on the run at 40 yards with a 22 rifle – I decided to test the rifle with a paper, bull’s-eye target to see if it was properly “sighted in.” Alas and alack, the rifle was off about a foot to the upper left, meaning that even my “miraculous” shot that felled the fleeing rabbit was, unarguably, nothing more than pure, dumb luck!

With spirit crushed, I decided, right then and there, to cut my losses and stop hunting with Danny. And, of course, I never told Danny that the rifle was way off. After all, what he didn’t know couldn’t hurt me.

(To read more of my True Tales, click HERE)

Rabbit Huntin’ Hijinks: Who Needs a Gun Anyway?

Rabbit Huntin’ Hijinks: Who Needs a Gun Anyway?

 James R. Aist

I was about 17 years old and living in Elm Springs, Arkansas. My daddy was the Pastor of the local Methodist Church. It so happened that the Majorette of the local high School marching band attended that church too. She was very attractive, to say the least, and very popular. I wanted nothing more than to get to know her better. But, how could I manage to even appear on her dating radar?

Well, one day her 14-year-old brother, Danny, having found out that the men in my family like to hunt, asked me if I would take him rabbit hunting. Thinking that this might just be the break I was looking for to get me on his big sister’s dating radar (yes, I was that naïve back then), I eagerly agreed to introduce him to the sport. So, a few days later, we set out with our shotguns and my beagle dogs to hunt an old, abandoned farm place nearby that I knew was almost sure to provide rabbits for us to “harvest.” We pulled into the dirt driveway, exited the car, loaded our shotguns and followed the dogs as they sniffed here and there for the scent of a cottontail. It didn’t take long.

The dogs were “working” the area around a broken-down, wooden shed when suddenly a rabbit sprang from the rubbish and ran for his life through a field out back and into the woods. The dogs were in hot pursuit, baying beautifully as they followed the invisible scent trail left by the rabbit. Now, the success of the hunt depends largely on where you position yourself in anticipation of the rabbit doubling back toward where he started from. So, hoping to make a good impression on Danny, I recommended that he position himself where I anticipated the rabbit would surely return, so that he would get the best shot at it. I took up my post in the middle of an old, dirt farm road that ran straight through the field to the woods, the alternative course that I reckoned the rabbit might take on his return trip.

Well, it didn’t turn out as I had expected, to say the least. The rabbit finally made his turn, alright, but was headed straight for me instead of Danny! Out of the woods he came, loping along just fast enough to stay a safe distance ahead of the dogs. He was running right down one of the two dirt tracks of the farm road, and I had positioned myself between the two tracks. I could hardly believe that he kept running right at me, because surely he could see me standing out in the middle of the open field, right where he was headed. Trying not to divert him away from his death course, I slowly raised my shotgun to take him out. When he got to just the right distance for a perfect shot, I pulled the trigger, but nothing happened. I pulled again, and still no “BANG”; the gun had “jammed.” By this time, Danny had turned and was watching this spectacle from a side angle. I began to panic, because failing to bag this rabbit with Danny looking on was not an option. So, I did the only thing a manly hunter could do in such a dilemma. I waited until the running rabbit was almost beside me on the farm road and made a desperate attempt to take him out with a swift kick to the head.

Believe it or not, my timing could not have been more precise, as the toe of my boot struck the poor creature just behind the head and broke his neck; he rolled over, “dead as a door nail!” I was shocked, but I had to keep my cool so as to maximize the positive impression on Danny, who had witnessed the entire encounter. So, I calmly and nonchalantly stepped over to the dead rabbit, raised him up by the hind feet, and displayed him to Danny as if this were just another routine kill for me. And it worked. Danny had no idea that my gun had jammed and was more than duly impressed by my athletic, though unorthodox, hunting prowess.

I would like to report that because of my magnificent hunting maneuver, Danny put in a good word for me with his big sister, and we began dating, much to my delight. But, alas and alack, that was not the case. I was left with only the reward of knowing that I had, indeed, made a good impression on Danny, albeit with a fortuitous combination of dumb luck and fast thinking (and kicking!).

(For more of my TRUE TALES, click HERE)

What Kind of Rabbit Is that, Jack?

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.)

A Haven of Life

Bushtits mass on a birdfeeder in Salem, Oregon. A Haven of Life

By Angie Brown, Guest Author

            “There, there in the hickory tree. Do you see them?” I was telling my neighbor about the additions to my “bird sanctuary”: two scarlet cardinals. My back yard has a large stream that flows at the southeastern border of my property, called the Haskell Creek. This side of the water, between the house and the stream, there is an abundance of low bushes, some elderberry, sumac, and others I can’t identify. Several large hickory trees grow along the northern boundary of the three and a half acre lot.

Bird watching is relaxing and fulfilling. I spend many moments watching these interesting creatures that God has provided for us to enjoy. Their cheerful chatter and singing lightens the heart.  I try to identify the different ones. You can tell what they are, not only by color, but by their shape, their behavior, and the sounds they make. With the help of my son, I have set up a bird feeder on the large back lawn. The feeder is filled with only sunflower seeds, as I want to attract the smaller birds. Cracked corn and mixed birdseed tend to bring the larger birds, which I don’t particularly want.  Nevertheless, the crows do come to the compost pile at the far edge of the lawn. As I looked out my window one day, I saw a crow walking across the grass, dangling a used tea bag in his beak. He reminded me of Minnie Pearl’s hat with the hanging price tag. That gave me a chuckle and brightened my day.

Yonder in the pasture, as I refer to it, two or three decaying trees lie flat, felled by past storms. These trees make a good cover for the birds. They snatch a seed and hurry to crack and devour it. Birds need food, water, and a cover. What is here seems to be the elements for their survival. If you study birds closely, you’ll notice that they eat differently. The small ones take a seed and fly off to work on it. The large blue jays fill their beaks, jamming them full before leaving. Some like to eat on the ground, some in the feeder, and some in the tree or the tree trunk.

Directly to the south of the area, a luscious swamp has settled in, made by a small stream coming from a pond area across the street. This swamp gives the roaming mallards a place to feed on slugs and water weeds that are a part of their diet. Through my binoculars, which I keep handy at the window, I have observed hawks circling overhead, then lighting on top of a tall hickory tree. They watch patiently for a chance to assault the ducks as they leave the swamp.

I’ve also noticed other animals as well, around the foliage; for instance, a woodchuck or two squeezing under the pile of dead tree branches. Hopefully they will stay there and not raid my garden!  Further along are clumps of grasses, where I’ve seen rabbits frolicking. How fast a young rabbit can move when frightened!  They can also strip a garden of young shoots in no time. I’ve seen deer browsing nearby and have also heard that a bear was sighted in the area not long ago. Not surprisingly, two kinds of squirrels appear often, all year long — the small red squirrel and the larger fox squirrel. It’s a joy to see some life out there on a sunny day in the dead of winter. The hickory trees provide food that the squirrels store somewhere in a cozy nook to sustain them.

Above all, though, the birds are my favorite interests. Someone once said that birds, not rooted to the earth, are among the most eloquent expressions of life. The return of the birds each spring means renewal, confirming the continuity of life.

(For more stories by Angie Brown, click HERE)