Three Species in a Week by Bob Ford

February 24, 2016 5 min read

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Rabbit hunters are the types of people that look forward to snowfall as much as a sixth grader with a test the next morning. The local news now gets dreadfully panic-stricken about the least potential accumulations of snow. The Weather World channel, based out of Atlanta, erupts into an apocalyptic doomsday mindset for a hard frost. When I was a kid, in northwestern Pennsylvania, we would get a new inch or two every night as the winds raced across Lake Erie. It took 6-8 inches of snow to even delay school then. Of course, my elementary school bus driver was a woman with a beehive haircut that chained smoked. I figure I smoked a pack of second hand smoke every day, counting the ride to school and home. I loved snow days.

Today, schools cancel all the time for snow or rumors of snow, in the tiniest accumulations. People are always saying that we need to support our school teachers, and I agree. One of the ways I do that is to skip work whenever the teachers have to miss due to snow. Sure, it is a small show of solidarity, but I stay home to show my support. I get bored at home, so I usually take dogs into the field and enjoy a little rabbit hunting. I love snow days even more as an adult than I did as a kid, especially since they are much more frequent now. Bitter cold air, however, is not my favorite. Schools routinely delay school for 2 hours on those days while the ambient air temperature rises from an unsafe -2 degrees Fahrenheit to an acceptable 2 degrees Fahrenheit. I still hunt the cold, but it is done to prove I can, rather than because I like it. My dogs always have Mushers Secret on their feet to protect them from the crusty snow. I had a frigid foray afield during the most recent visit from the polar vortex, and I found myself reminiscing about autumn. I found myself daydreaming about the beach, and a great week.

In one week's time I successfully hunted three species of bunnies in three states with my beagles. You could do the same with birds or squirrels, depending on what type of dogs you PAcottontail_smallhave. The week in question began with an eastern cottontail shot in my home state of Pennsylvania on Tuesday, October 27th. The chase was noteworthy only in that it was early in the season, with lots of dense cover, making it difficult to spot the bunny. I always say that if I am going to carry a gun all day and not get a shot due to the dense cover it may as well be a light one! I like my grade I Ugartechea side-by-side .410 in the thick cover before frost and snow allow for more visibility of the rabbits. Ugartechea is available exclusively at Lion Country Supply in the United States, and I like this little bunny buster more than I can describe. The rabbit passed within 15 yards of me several times, and I never saw it. I finally spied the tricky lagomorgh sneaking through a small opening in the goldenrod and tumbled it with 11/16 ounces of #5 from a 3? hi-brass Federal shell.

Wednesday was a travel day, all the way to Cape Cod to my friend Jason's house. There is no good way to get to Cape Cod that doesn't have lots of city traffic. I chose interstate 84 through Connecticut, which provides traffic that would make a day scheduled with a root canal and a colonoscopy seem like a better day. As I saw all the urban terrain I wondered how we could possibly hunt rabbits on this eastern most edge of Massachusetts, jutting into the Atlantic and packed with cars and buildings. I conveyed my worry about busy roads to Jason as we ate linguica, the Portuguese sausage that is ubiquitous on the Cape. He assured me that the dogs would be safe from roads.

Hossbreakwaterchase_smallOctober 29th had wind advisory warnings that kept us inside until early afternoon. I was flabbergasted at the sight of the beach we were hunting. No roads anywhere-In fact the biggest worry was keeping the dogs from drinking salt water. There were sand dunes and waves, as the dogs were chasing rabbits from scrubby patches of thorns that sprouted straight up from the sand. I saw a couple rabbits during the chases we had, but they were too far to shoot. The next day, Friday the 30th, we went to another expansive beach and I managed to shoot two rabbits’an eastern cottontail and a New England cottontail. While the only definitive way to identify the New England subspecies is by DNA or a skull measurement, you can make a very good educated guess. New England cottontails are slightly smaller, often with shorter ears that have black edges. Also, they have black hair on the skull and never have the white blaze on the forehead that typifies half of all eastern cottontails. I have a good idea how to identify them, as they are very closely related to the Appalachian cottontail, found only at higher elevations in the Appalachia, including my home state of Pennsylvania. Saturday we shot a few more rabbits before I traveled much of Sunday to get to Maine where I was meeting my friends Mike, Cody and Jack. Snowshoe hare is the bunny in Maine, and we ate well Sunday night in anticipation of the hunt in the morning.

mainehare2_smallMonday, November 2nd was day 7 of my quest to bag 3 species in 7 days. The ground was bare, the hare were brown, and I took a 12 gauge with me just to make sure. We had managed to collect another beagler and his friends, so we had more shooters than I typically take afield?7 guys trying to shoot one hare in front of our pack. I stayed to the outskirts, almost guaranteeing that I would not be in the way of other hunters or near the hare on the first circle. One hare managed to avoid the guys on two circles and moved out towards me. I managed to drop it late Monday morning, making success on the third species in three states in one week. I spent the next couple days in Maine listening to the beagles, usually with an empty gun, before driving home, celebrating the big fun that can come from small game. Warm thoughts on a cold day.

 


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