THE HUNT FOR THE EASTER BUNNY
Around 1996, I was on a rabbit hunt on a small island named Endelave in my home country, Denmark.
The island is known for its stunning nature, seals, and exploding rabbit population. There are very few predators on the small island and plenty of food, so the little varmints thrive there.
In Denmark the primary hunting method for rabbits is to send a gagged ferret into the burrows to chase the rabbits out. Hunters are placed at the multiple exits of the burrows about 8–10 yards apart.
It’s up to the hunters to hit the little furry rockets when they shoot out of their launch pads — and before they rapidly zig-zag a few very fast seconds later to enter another hole.
New York, February 2012
I’ve asked my neighbor’s son, John, if he would like to join me for my first U.S. rabbit hunt.
John is a very quiet and rather lonely child; lonely, that is, when it comes to what he loves the most — fishing and hunting. He has two older sisters who, despite the age difference, have absolutely no interest in the great outdoors and the wonderful activities it has to offer.
John’s father has, true to his warm and caring personality, obtained a hunting license so he can take his son hunting. However, the days when the gun is in hand are few and far between.
That pretty much mirrors my own story. When I was John’s age, my little sister was interested only in horses, but not the kind used for an accelerating foxhunt. Instead she liked the kind of horses trained to walk funny and jover obstacles for absolutely NO reason at all!
And so my father’s best friend, Anton, took me under his wing and introduced me to Diana’s world of forests and animals. Now it was my turn to do the same for John. We meet at John’s house. His family lives a short mile down the road from me, towards Woodstock.
In between, at the Greek Orthodox Monastery live our friends who have so generously donated many wonderful homemade dark beers to my wild game dishes and to my dry hunters’ throat.
Today we’ll try our luck on their property, where I’ve seen several small furballs basking in the warming sun on the snow-covered ground.
John and I start out a bit down the hill from the monastery and work our way up towards the tall trees surrounding the outer buildings and the big cross on the hill.
There are signs of rabbits everywhere, with small round pellets, bark eaten off the lower part of the trees, and paw tracks, but there are no rabbits in sight.
We are kicking branches and bushes, but nothing. We are almost at the end of the field where the bushes end and the road starts, when suddenly a single rabbit shoots out from my left and sprints towards a small hill on my right.
In a split second I have my gun aimed about a foot in front of the little sprinter and my finger ordered to contract and fire the shot. In the very same instant, I see two hood-covered black-bearded monks some 25 yards behind the little critter.
Immediately recognizing that ‘Monk Stew’ would not be good eating and that, of course, there is to the best of my knowledge no season on monks, I instantly lowered the gun with the trigger half-pulled and my heart pulsating all the way up my throat. No rabbits that day, but the monks got to live another day so I guess that story has a happy ending.
Fast-forward to a sunny and warm early spring day in upstate New York, 2013.
I’ve been anticipating my next rabbit hunt for a long time. I’ve been especially eager after last year’s failed attempt to harvest the protein ingredient for my slow-cooked rabbit stew almost ended in life-long jail time and a direct ticket to hell.
I’ve teamed up with local hunters Ron and Brandon. Ron has a local outdoors website called HudsonValleySportsman.com and is a world-champion taxidermist. Both Ron and Brandon are hunters well-respected by the locals so I’m excited for a day in the fields with them and, of course, with Jack!
Jack, a young dog just two years old, is originally from the Midwest and of true blue hunting blood.
Ron and Jack were brought together by fate when Jack was given up for adoption for free to a loving and caring hunter, who was Ron. Ron drove thousands of miles to pick up Jack and they have been inseparable ever since. Without writing a novel about the relationship between a hunter, any hunter, and their four-legged soul mates, I will just say that faced with the ultimatum to choose between their dog and anything else in their lives, including wife, car, job, friends or family, 99 percent of hunters would choose their dog and live on the street if need be.
For an English Pointer, Jack has developed into quite the rabbit dog. Here traditionally hounds such as beagles are used for rabbit hunting while pointers like Jack fare or bird hunting. However, Jack developed a nose and appetite for hunting rabbits — with certain restrictions, I would come to find out.
I meet the gang at the local gas station at 8:30 a.m. I’ve never met or hunted with them before, so I’m excited not only for the hunt but of course also to meet my new hunting companions.
I don’t know what these guys look like, but as I’m walking toward the store, two gentlemen in hunting attire get out of a pickup truck, so I’m guessing it’s them.
We shake hands and walk inside to get a warm cup of conversation coffee, the drink of choice for real hunters, at least officially.
Ron and Brandon give me a short brief of the day’s grand plan.
We are going to hunt the flat lands of the Hudson Valley on the edges of the farmlands down towards the river.
A few weeks earlier, the guys hunted the same area and got two nice fat rabbits.
We park our trucks close to the river and get ready. Ron opens up for Jack, who shoots out of the car like a pilot catapulting out of a fighter jet.
Next to us is a big open field where corn stood just a few months ago.There is a patch of high grass, small trees and rosebushes about 25 yards wide and 150 yards long, our first remise.
Ron directs us to our spots. As we are about to step into the high grass, Jack gets on a point right on the edge of the remise.
He holds the point for just a few seconds and then eagerly jumps forward. If there was something there, it ran off already.
We continue to push through the area while keeping an eye on Jack and kicking all logs and small bushes which could potentially hide a rabbit.
There are signs of rabbit everywhere. Stripped corn cobs lay scattered over the ground, stolen and hauled by rabbits from the farmer’s field into well camouflaged underground rabbit treasure chambers.
Anyone who ever tasted a corn-fed chicken knows how juicy and delicious the meat is. I’m determined to try one of these corn-fed rabbits.
To Ron, Brandon and Jack’s surprise, we reach the end of the remise without seeing anything.
Ron commands us to turn around and go through it again as he refuses to believe that no critters are hiding in there. We turn 180 degrees and back we go.
Jack seems to circle around the thick thorn and rose brush area ,now staying on the outskirts in the high grass. So Brandon and I fight our way through it. As we come out on the other side, I head up to the tip of the brush.
With Ron and Jack only a few yards from the end of the patch, I suddenly spot movement right in front of them and call it out. At the same moment, Jack catches scent and jumps forward, sending a rabbit firing out of the brush like a little camouflaged torpedo.
But it’s me that’s locked on to my target and I fire and fire again with a follow-up shot – first rabbit down!
Jack is quick to retrieve his trophy. He takes an honor round proudly displaying the rabbit to his fellow hunters before returning to Ron’s side to deliver the corn-fat rabbit. That is why the bird dog became a rabbit dog…oh yes, with restrictions that is.
We leave the rabbit in the bed of my truck and head towards the brush that runs right along the river. We are ready to walk in but there is something missing: Jack.
We look around and can’t see him. Ron wonders if he took off after a rabbit or something else but then we spot him. He’s lying under an old truck that found its final resting place on the field. Jack is lying flat down on the ground shivering and looking at us. Ron tries to call him over but he’s not moving. We all get nervous. Did something happen to him? Did a stray pellet hit him? I assured Ron that Jack was nowhere near the rabbit when I shot. But chills still ran down my spine as Ron walked over to him. Maybe he cut his paw on something? We check him out but can’t see any signs of physical damage or wounds anywhere.
But his eyes…his eyes were filled with fear and he was shaking like a rodeo bull. What happened? What scared him?
Ron’s presence seems to calm down him a little but Jack still does not want to move. With cheering and encouraging words, yells and claps, we get him to follow us. Staying right next to Ron until they are about to enter the thick brush area, Jack shot out of the brush faster than the rabbit had exited earlier and was back hiding under Ron’s truck.
We tried to call him over again but with no luck, so Ron put him in his truck.
When Ron returned, he remembered what had happened the last time they went rabbit hunting in this spot. Jack had eagerly followed his instincts and scent of rabbit into the thick rose and thorn brush. When he had come out, he was covered with thorns and cuts all over his body, especially on his ears and belly. According to Ron, Jack’s private parts looked like they’d been through a paper shredder!
So now it was up to us humans to act like dogs and kick those hiding rabbits out of the thick, thorny brush.
Determined to get more rabbits and show good hunting spirit, I fought my way through the thick brush.
Three hours, shredded pants, jacket, gloves; blood, sweat, an ice-cold wet boot, thorns and cuts in places I will not discuss, six misses and three rabbits later, we called it a day.
Although Ron will properly deny this to his dying day, my theory is that he did NOT share the delicious corn-fed rabbit dinner from the previous hunt with Jack.
Because if he did, I’m damn sure that Jack would have evaluated the scale of pros and cons of the thorn torture in favor of sacrificing his private parts one more tim