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03/07/2005 Archived Entry: "Rabbit hunting"

HOWDY, blogispondent Ian here. I've been into guns and shooting for quite some time, but I've never done any hunting - until the past couple days. I've gone out looking for rabbits for a couple days now, and learned some things I thought I'd pass along.

It started when I was simply out moseying about, and noticed a cottontail sitting perfectly still under a bush not 20 feet away. I'd seen rabbits around quite a bit before, and the thought of rabbit stew had occurred to me, but I'd never made the effort to shoot one. Well, with this guy just sitting there, I figured it was too good an opportunity to pass up (and the foolish creature didn't move while this all went through my head). I had my 1911 on, and since I'm a decent pistol shot I figured that a 15- or 20-foot shot should be a piece of cake. I drew, lined up carefully on the rabbit (he still wasn't moving), and patiently squeezed the trigger - BLAM!

I missed. No puff of dirt, no blood or fur, nothing. Damn rabbit sat there for another second or so to taunt me (I didn't have the presence of mind to take another shot), and then bolted away into the brush. And thus I get to the first lesson I learned:

* Know your gun's sights. I knew my pistol was shooting pretty much to point of aim at close range, and that was plenty good enough for my practice against silhouette targets. It wasn't good enough for the rabbit, though. That guy gave me a target roughly the size of the base of a pop can, and I had exactly one shot at it. I probably didn't miss by very much, but close didn't count for anything. It really brought that point home to me - how many of my guns could I have made that shot with? Do I know any of their sights well enough to make a first-round hit on a target that size?

Anyway, that miss ate at me. I decided to go out again in the mornings and evenings until I got a rabbit, and learned how to clean it and cook it. I also used a short-term solution to the first lesson, and took a shotgun instead of just a pistol. :)

The next evening got me no results. I went out around dusk, and saw one rabbit but couldn't bring my shotgun to bear before it had disappeared into the brush. If I keep this up (which I plan to), it'll do wonders for my snap-shooting skills. Anyway, I went out again this morning and had better results. I spotted a rabbit browsing about 30 feet away, and hit him with a shell of 12 gauge #4 shot. To my chagrin, it kept moving after I shot it (albeit somewhat feebly), so I hit it again, this time with a round of #8 birdshot. I was using a double-barrelled shotgun, and had loaded it with #4 for a normal shot and the #8 in case I came across a rabbit right at my feet. I'm not yet sure how appropriate a choice that was, which leads to lesson #2:

* Use proper ammo. What I've read has suggested that #4 and #6 shot are good sizes for small game, but my #4 failed to kill this rabbit immediately. I'm going to continue using it to see if this time was a fluke or poor shot, but if it continues to leave wounded rabbits, I'll try something else (either #2 or #3 for heavier shot or #8 for more pellets).

After I brought the stew-to-be back home, I hit the net to find instructions on how to clean it up for cooking (next time I try something along these lines, I'll find this sort of info before I have a dead animal in my hands). It was actually fairly simple, though not a task for the queasy. I won't go into the whole process, but you can find a fine tutorial (and recipes) here if you're interested. What I will say is that the cleaning taught me (reinforced, really) lesson #3:

* Make sure your cutting tools are sharp. Removing the rabbit's feet and head was a bit, ah, less efficient than it would have been with a sharper hatchet. Similarly, cutting it into sections would have been easier had my butcher's scissors been sharper.

One potential issue that I checked for was the possibility of the rabbit being infected with tularemia. Apparently it's fairly common, and transferable to human either by through fleas from the rabbit or blood transfer (ie if you have an open cut while you're cleaning the animal). In humans, it causes a fever and flu-like symptoms that can last up to 6 weeks (and has about a 5% fatality rate) if not treated with antibiotics. Infected rabbits have visible white cysts on their livers. If a rabbit has a healthy-looking (solid dark red, no white spots) liver, it should be free of the disease (I still would cook it pretty darn thoroughly, though).

Another tip I picked up - don't do the skinning and cleaning on newspaper - apparently the ink stains the meat and is pretty hard to get out. I used a piece of scrap plywood, but a large plastic cutting board would probably be ideal.

Unfortunately, between my shot pellets and my knifework, I punctured the large intestine pretty thoroughly. I'm not sure how badly that would have contaminated the meat, but just to be safe I decided to chalk this rabbit up to practice and presented it to the local wildlife rather than eat it myself. I need to do a bit more research on this topic before I go out with the shotgun again. I may switch to using a .22 and taking head shots, though that would be a lot more difficult than using the shotgun.

This leads me to the most important lesson I learned:

* Practice this sort of thing before you really need it! As recently noted by the bug-out campers in Hardyville, there's a learning curve for activities like this. The first few times through, you're bound to make plenty of mistakes. If the SHTF for whatever reason and I had to rely on my hunting skills for dinner, I'd be a hungry (or possibly sick) dude right now. Much better to get it figured out now, when nothing depends on my success.

Posted by Ian @ 09:29 PM CST

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