I have known Kendra, 11 years old, her entire life. Her parents, Vanessa and Kevin, are hunting enthusiasts and friends of mine. Kendra has already taken two white-tailed deer in our home state of Pennsylvania, and even a black bear in Maine. As you can imagine, I was not at all convinced that hunting rabbits would be very exciting for a kid with that kind of big game success.
“She’s never shot a moving target,” Kevin said.
Under our state’s mentor program, a kid can hunt rabbits a couple of weeks before the opening season but cannot carry the gun while walking. The mentor has to stay with the youngster at all times. In other words, the mentor is a combination gunbearer and teacher. Kevin mentored Kendra and I handled the dog. Since she had never shot at a moving target, I decided to take just one dog, Duke, so as to make for a slower-moving target than would be presented by a pack. Plus, Duke doesn’t lose many rabbits.
On the first day we had many chases, but ultimately the rabbits ran to holes or remained unseen in thick brush. At dark we went back to Kevin’s house and ate bear stew from the Maine hunt.
The next night I chose a place with thick cover that bordered a cornfield. The rabbits very often run into the cornfield to lose the dogs on the dry dirt. It’s common to see the rabbits squirt from the corn to the brush, traversing a narrow band of unplanted field that provides ample opportunity to see the rabbit. This is one of my favorite places to train dogs, and I know where the rabbits tend to run and what they will do next.
When the rabbit was running, I sent father and daughter to a spot where I was sure the bunny would cross—a wide opening that went between two areas of thick cover, void of corn or any other crop. Predictably, the lanky lagomorph crossed the wide opening—fast and far and almost giving too much time. I heard the shot. Miss.
Kendra had now chased rabbits with no shooting one day and missing one the next, both of which are par for the course in rabbit hunting.
Next thing I knew Duke was in the corn, still chasing. I ran to put Kendra in the spot I thought the rabbit would eventually be seen. I was sure this rabbit would run a crazy maze through the big cornfield, doubling and crossing his own scent trail. Then, if old Duke could not be shaken from the chase, it would sprint back into the thicket at the place with the least open cover between corn and briars.
I heard the bunny moving through the cornstalks before I saw it. Then it hopped into view and paused for just a second, that seemed like forever, as Kendra safely brought the 20 gauge to her shoulder and ended the chase with a 20-yard shot. Duke fetched the rabbit, then ran another one until dark. However, it always stayed a bit too far away and a bit too out of sight.
Kendra was hooked.
“How do you like rabbit hunting?” I asked her later.
“I really liked it when Duke barked,” she beamed. “When I knew he was chasing the rabbit, it made my heart beat really fast!”
“Hound music can do that,” I said. “Maybe we can add more dogs next time, now that you are a pro.”
“Okay.” She held her rabbit close as the sun set low.
The next day I learned that fried rabbit was what she wanted for supper.
“Tonight?” I asked.
“Oh, no,” Kevin said. “She ate it at eight o’clock last night.”
It is good to see kids raised with the tradition of hunting and the understanding that the fellowship of food is as important as the trophies on the wall. She kept the hind legs from the rabbit and is as happy with them as the bear rug that will be arriving later this year.