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2500 words
7 pix
Submitted by-
Rob F. Sanderson
724 Edgewater,
Portage, WIS

Season for Snow Bunnies
by- Rob F. Sanderson

It takes the first good tracking snow to open the season for snow bunnies, and to do the opening with proper sound effect two hound dogs to the vocals while the shotguns act as kettle drums.

Whether you prefer #6 shot or a snappy .22 repeater doesn't seem to affect the score. However, as Jack will show us on this hunt, the technique is a little different. Get some Wisconsin snow on your boots - come along and help Dad, Tom, Jack and I salute in the snow bunny season!

Season for Snow Bunnies

          Sometimes on an open winter here in central Wisconsin the snow doesn't come until after New Years Day, which is too late because then the season on cottontails is closed. On those years we really miss the snow bunny hunting and somehow all the boys around here feel that some of the very best weeks are scissored right out of the sporting calendars.

          Any nimrod who has ever gunned a fresh sheet of Midwestern snow for bouncing bunnies admits it’s a sport superb. Especially when the shotgun-smoked air is full of hound dog yodels, and of course Jack had brought his two best flop-eared rabbit hustlers. When Dad opened the trunk that eager pair of mutts took off like greyhounds.

          Having waited almost all November for the first honest-to-gosh snow, the four of us were quick to click our hulls into the magazines of our shooting pieces and follow the dogs into the side hill brush. Tom was first to slip through the fence, and as Jack and I helped each other through the wire I affirmed what I had suspected - Jack had left his scattergun at home in favor of his snappy little .22 autoloader.

          “I get up good and high when I can.” Jack explained, “and I can see ‘em and pop ‘em a good ways off when they’re ink spotted against a new snow!”

          Just then the dogs jumped a bunny up ahead and let go with a red-hot falsetto. We spread out and pushed ahead rapidly, our shooting blood really warmed up by the bugle-tooting yelps of the racing hounds. But on the return circuit bunny had a change of heart and popped into a rock pile for time out.

          “Let’s get off the hill,” Dad suggested. “Tracking’s good today and the dogs can push ‘em hard. Let’s go down into the marsh - Old Br-er Rabbit can’t hole or rock pile down there!”

          So we crossed the road and entered the thick weeds along the marsh. At first we found no fresh tracks in the snow, but within a few minutes the brown hound jumped a sitting bunny and hustled it westward along a ditch. Despite the white snow background the weeds were too thick to see for a shot. Bunny, who easily outdistanced the hounds, jumped their quarry for a second lap. They drove him right in toward us.

          Tom was in the middle and in a flash his twelve gauge belched thunder. The snow all around the running rabbit was shot-peppered and the rabbit collapsed in a limp heap. A few kangaroo leaps brought the hounds underfoot and we gave them both a good whiff of dead bunny so they wouldn’t run the same track again. Then Tom slit the belly down the middle and snapped the insides off into the snow before slipping the carcass into his hunting coat.

          We crossed the ditch and started into taller cover, four abreast behind the two dogs. Both hounds were ambitious rabbit rustlers, but a few days rest from hunting left them too full of surplus ginger and they ranged ahead too far. When they bounced the next bunny it was beyond shooting distance. The rabbit ran across the marsh with the hounds in full cry behind, then doubled back toward us along the edge of a field. Just how he gave the dogs the slip we never knew - he may have darted straight across a windswept field into other cover - but at any rate we never saw the critter and the dogs acted embarrassed about the whole thing.

          Usually after the dogs run one rabbit on a good sized circuit, the hunting picks up right away because the noise and action gets other rabbits moving and easier for the hounds to get scent of. This is exactly what happened. In less than five minutes, the mutts had another hot trail going. They chased it directly across a roadway into adjacent low ground with timber and thicker cover.

          We figured the bunny would be back rather directly to where he came from, according to standard bunny behavior. The four of us covered the roadway, all from the near side so our shooting field would be clear and the visibility clear. For a while the dogs lost the scent, then recovered and whooped the truant bunny back toward the road at full gallop. They were headed directly toward me.

          I tensed and fingered my shotgun safety to “off” position. But instead of crossing the road immediately bunny turned at right angles. Safely obscured by a fringe of brush, he ran right along our firing line to the very end, where he unexpectedly popped into view right in front of Dad. Thoroughly startled by the unexpected appearance, Dad fumbled his gun and missed the first shot. The second blast flattened the charging rabbit solidly against the open snow. In a matter of seconds the pursuing dogs had squirmed through the fence to sniff the warm fur.

          We crossed the fence and were less than a hundred yards into the woods when the spotted hound jumped a bunny behind us. This trail bee-lined back over the roadway and into the marsh thickets we had just left. Taking advantageous stands near the roadway we enjoyed the hound dog music while we waited for the return trip across the roadway.

          This Uncle Wiggly was no amateur. Returning not quite to the open roadway, he about-faced in a patch of thick sumac and brambles, and headed way into the big marsh again. After this maneuver we took stands about thirty yards into the marsh cover, thinking that the running rabbit might not come any nearer on the next lap. However, we reckoned wrong.

          This time, Br-er Rabbit was so far ahead of the hounds that we were not looking for him. He must have sneaked through between us while the hounds were still at the far end of the circle. Once past us, he promptly crossed the roadway into the cover where we had jumped him. While we waited for him to come out he circled twice in the woods. Jack worked slowly up one side of the woods to a vantage point atop a tall stump. Dad worked up the other edge of the woods while Tom and I guarded the fence.

          The rabbit returned on Jack’s side, but too far within the brush for a clear shot. Jack shot three times without connecting on the moving fur target. Our attention focused on the area echoing from the staccato reports of Jack’s .22. Meanwhile bunny cut crosswise through the woods and sneaked through the fence and over the roadway behind us into the marsh. By this time we were about ready to offer a reward for the rabbit.

          The cool winter air had turned colder, the wind was moderate, and we felt chilled as we waited. Because the rabbit was running more than a full city block ahead of the dogs, there was no telling when or where he would try to sneak past. We were as well off waiting near the roadway as anywhere, it appeared. But the mystery rabbit never crossed the road again - he circled twice in the marsh, and when the dogs lost the track at last we were almost glad and took time off for lunch in the car. With the heater fan turned on full blast, we exchanged hunting talk between sandwich bites.

          Warmed by the heater and draughts of hot thermos coffee, we re-entered the woods and had combed the cover almost as far as the creek before a shot echoed on my right. The dogs opened tongue immediately to announce that the shot had not connected. While Jack ran back to his tall stump and mounted it statue-like, I quieted myself along an open strip in the woods. For a couple of minutes all was quiet except for the dogs. Then, through the thick brush, my eye riveted on a small dark shadow approaching across the snow.

          The route of the approaching bunny would avoid the clearing. I raised my gun. Next time the shadow flicked I let the hammer fly. As the shotgun roared the rabbit turned a distinct flip and kicked a hind leg in the air. Jumping down from my log to run forward I momentarily lost sight of the spot where the rabbit fell. Arriving breathless I saw where the #6 pellets had ripped green streaks through the brush, but neither rabbit nor bloodstains marked the snow. The phantom of the brush had made off.

          “Watch out!” I yelled to Jack. “He’s coming!”

          Within seconds, the .22 barked twice. Then a halloo, “Got ‘im!” Jack had scored a long shot from his high perch. The second shot had drilled bunny solidly through the tummy. Besides being a close shot, Jack is a careful shooter. Just to be in the same party with some men hunting a rifle in cover would give me the creeps, but Jack watches where he shoots and almost always stations himself on a high stand where he is shooting safely downward.

          We worked a good bit of likely cover without jumping anything. We had almost decided to return and hunt along the road when the dogs let loose with eager cries. After circling back almost to our stands, the rabbit doubled back and headed away. When we followed up into thin cover the dogs raised him again and this time he made off in long bounds across sparsely covered pastureland, over an oak umbrellaed hill and under a fence onto posted property. After a good deal of vocal exercise Jack finally got the hounds back.

          Since we were now out of the woods proper, Tom suggested we investigate an irregular strip of cover along the creek. It was not easy cover to hunt; the creek made deep and irregular bends and some of the innocent looking low land was boggy with springs. But it did look rabbity, and on the third loop of the creek when Tom was kicking a likely clump of marsh grass under some willows, a gray projectile exploded and bounced off with the rapidity of chain lightening. Too close among the dogs for shooting even if Tom could have straightened his gun among the thick willow saplings, this bunny headed my way.

          Head-on and on the fly, he was charging down the fencerow between the high ground and the willow marsh. It was an easy left-hand cross shot. When I spilled him with a charge of sixes he somersaulted and slid a couple of yards across the new snow. I called the dogs over to whiff the newly defunct rabbit so they would leave the track alone.

          Dad had stayed back in the woods to poke around for whatever he could find. During our own excitement we had heard one-shot echo out of the woods. When we met up with Dad he had a large plump young bunny in his coat. He had jumped the fat rascal out of a bramble patch, and he was all smiles when he heard that we had connected too.

          Spreading out to hunt toward the car, we had covered half the distance to the road when the bugle cry of a hound opened behind us. It was the brown hound - she had loitered behind when we had left the creek - and she was headed our way. Jack shinnied up a leaning tree along the edge of the woods, I took a stand on an overturned stump, and Tom and Dad were beyond sight to my right. A short halloo assured me they were just abreast and not ahead of my position.

          This bunny was nice to me. He gave me the easier shot of the day to convince me that, after all, rabbits might not be as clever as foxes in avoiding hunters. He started toward Tom and Dad but kept swinging my way on a diagonal, then cut in my right. It was a right cross shot, just a bit awkward when you do it slow. I glimpsed him coming down the snowy pathway at a moderate lipperty-lip clip. I swung the barrel along him easily and rolled him over solidly with the first load. The dogs were just a nice distance behind and arrived as I picked him off the snow by a hind leg and dangled the carcass in front of their noses.

          The pale light of the west-fallen sun was cloud swathed and weakening as we came out onto the road, stomping the snow from our boots onto the frozen gravel. As we tramped car ward, the hounds slipped off the road and into the marsh where we hunted earlier. Like all hunting dogs, they seemed to have the genius of finding game the last minute, to prolong the hunt. They opened with loud cries, ran the rabbit all the way to the ditch, then turned back. Dad, Tom, and I planted ourselves quietly ahead in the brush. Off to the south edge I could see Jack, positioned high in the air as usual atop an old stone foundation.

          On the return chase the hounds were in front of us, still a long distance away but driving toward us in full cry. The sharp crack of a .22 snapped into the air from Jack’s direction, but as the hounds were still well ahead of us we kept a watch ahead. But just beyond sight in the brush, the dogs cut across in front of us in full tongue and went directly toward Jack, who by this time had climbed down off the wall. The yodeling of the dogs stopped abruptly.

          Jack had been perched atop a wall, scanning the snow in the direction of the dogs, when some hunch had prompted him to turn around. Behind him, along the edge of the cover, slipping along in short and sudden advances, the biggest rabbit of the day was sneaking by. Jack put the sights dead center on the gray brown fur and touched the trigger. The huge bunny jumped high into the air like a jack-in-the-box, fell flat on the snow, twitched twice and relaxed.

          Was he the foxy old Uncle Wiggly that gave us the slip time and time again earlier in the day? Walking to the car, we speculated about it. Tom said the track was just as big as the track of the old gramps rabbit earlier in the day. Dad said, if it wasn’t the same one, then two different rabbits had the same trick of running way ahead of the dogs and slipping through the hunters on the other side opposite from his approach.

          “Technically there’s no way we can really tell for sure whether they’re two different rabbits or one and the same,” I concluded, as we neared the car.

          “And I’m glad of that,” Jack put in. “To tell the truth, I’d just as soon Old Wiggly is still running around somewhere out there in the marsh. He sure pepped up things for a while, and we owe him a vote of thanks wherever he is!”

          As we closed the tired hounds in the trunk, cased our empty guns and piled in for the drive home, it was true we didn’t know for sure what rabbit we had.

          But one thing the whole six of us - four hunters and two dogs - did know for sure. We had tasted a delicious day of snow bunny hunting and the hunting season was now complete even if we didn’t get to go out hunting again - which of course we would the next weekend!


© 2003 Chronicles of Bob