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Rabbit Road

rabbit

The road was mostly overgrown now, but you could feel the gravel moving under your feet when stepped along it. And the rabbit hunters often did when they went out for a spot of pot shooting for cottontails.

These hunters were not the noble coursing men or poachers of England, but simple Appalachian hill farmers and farm boys who knew where to go to bring in a few rabbits for the pot. Those with sense often brought along a few not particularly well-bred beagles to bound about the brier patches and drive the most recalcitrant and retiring Lagomorpha shotgun.

But the land of brier patches was once a good little hill pasture. The family dairy cattle once grazed all around these little escarpments and benches, and many days the summer sun would shine upon bare-chested farm boys leaping about the grass as they tried to catch grasshoppers as bait for the bluegill holes.

However, now the land was covered in briers of multiflora rose and sand brier, and the rabbits lived as kings. They had cover to hid them from the swooping red-tails that often flew over the briers in search of the few dumb bunnies that stood around when the winged death’s shadow covered menaced the ground.

And the gray foxes all knew that they had to beat the brush hard to make a good rabbit chase, but by mid-November, enough happy fur hunters had taken shots at them to ward them off the overgrown road until the next spring, when the baby rabbits would fill the road again. This was the time when the gray foxes tried their skill at hunting blue jays and songbirds in the autumn olives and rhododendron, leaving their rabbit hunts to better days when the quarry was more naive and stupid and the guns were not cracking for their heads.

And so the men wandered along the old road, eyes casting all around for the brown leporid forms that would make for fine frying and roasting on a chill November night.  Part of their goal was to shoot the rabbits. The other was to check out the deer sign, and maybe figure out where those big bucks were traveling now.  Such early forays would give some insight into the ways of the local deer that might give a hunter a bit of an advantage once the great Thanksgiving week deer cull began.

But the truth of the matter is that it was a good time to be out walking with a gun in one’s hands.  This was the time of year when it the air was so strongly crisp but the sun still had enough power to balm the skin as one entered into the world of forests and fields and went questing after wild meat.

The men would talk about the weather, especially the forecast for the coming snows, and they would tell tales of great deer hunts of the past, of that time when they jumped a wandering sow bear and her two cubs and how all three ran off in absolute terror as the men’s boots scratched upon the gravel.

They would marvel at the old moonshine drum that stood half-hidden in a stand of ancient white pine. The would wonder how the old farmers of that alcohol banning time hid their drinks and spirits, even though the law was always slinking about busting down their operations. They would wonder how man as religious as the great grandfather who owned this land had led a double life, preaching hard against all the sins that lead to eternal damnation and then parceling out the sauce to the local ne’er-do-wells.

The drum was hidden nicely. It was covered with soil except for the opening lid, which lay just exposed enough on the ground that if one were looking very carefully, it would become instantly obvious. It held 50 gallons, and when it was in use, it hid that valuable drink so well that no lawman ever set eyes upon.

It was only known because of the simple perambulations of the rabbit shooters, who just happened to notice it when a wounded cottontail passed into the pine grove and fell into its death in front of the drum’s lid.

So the rabbit shooters knew about the other side of this rabbit road.  They knew they were walking on a land of survival but a land in which not all was at appeared.

But the rabbit meat was good for the roasting and the frying on those coming cold nights, and the waking the woods and simply chatting was good enough for the spirit.

And so they came every weekend in first few weeks of November. They dropped a few rabbits, and some ran their beagles. And the brier patches were full of rabbits. And the comradeship of a nice walking hunt made the world make sense for a while.

The rabbit road was a pathway into something simpler yet more complete. And so these men and boys came with their shotguns and game bags

And the frying pans and roasting pots were filled with meat, meat that had come from a land left to go into briers and brush, where the rabbits had their great paradise.

 

 

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Not a beagle, so he has to wear a bell.

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