It happened while I peed behind a mesquite bush during a West Texas hunting trip.
I caught movement out of the corner of my eye as I concentrated on flooding an anthill. My brother-in-law and my rifle were back at the truck, stuck axle-deep in a patch of fine New Mexican moon dust on what passed for a road. Out there, the landscape all looks pretty much like Afghanistan, so once cellphone signal is lost and the GPS app on your phone no longer works, it becomes difficult to know with certainty whether you’ve committed a border incursion or not.
The trip had started from my house in El Paso in the wee hours of the morning with the intent to drive until we thought we were lost and then make some ranchers very happy by thinning out the coyote population. You would be surprised how accommodating ranchers can be when approached by a couple of polite rednecks who ask where the cattle are (so we can keep clear of them) and ask permission to hunt (even though we don’t technically have to).
Hunting out West is a little different. Vast expanses of land are leased to ranchers from the Bureau of Land Management with the proviso that it be left open to the public. That’s why there aren’t locks on the gates.
The rule of thumb is that a locked gate means you can’t go through. You also leave the gate the way you found it; closed, open, or closed and latched.
And for God’s sake, if you see somebody, take a few minutes to say “Hello,” state who you are, and why you’re there.
I’m not sure of the exact rules of hunting BLM land, but those three sentences have served me well. Every rancher I’ve encountered was glad to have me there helping him out with a problem, told me where I would have the best luck on his lease, and invited me to come back.
Most even offered use of the garden hose up at the house. It probably helped that I don’t look like a Mexican.
Completing the transmogrifying exercise of changing fire ants to piss ants, a young rabbit loped from the mesquite in the far right of my peripheral vision about twenty yards distant. He was feeling brave for my lack of a rifle.
Without bothering to holster one gun before grabbing for another, I skinned my pistol and went to work with speed that would impress Bill Jordan.
Rabbits have a goofy method of locomotion. They take a few hops and stop to look around. I suspect they do that to decide whether they need to take a few more. It makes properly leading a shot difficult, and is why I would have preferred he was tearing ass through the brush.
The Big Four-Five barked at the exact moment little Peter Cottontail came to a halt to consider his next move, and two hundred thirty grains of “Take That!” slammed into the khaki colored dust directly in front of his nose.
Peter Cottontail recoiled in his footprints at the breeze and dust kicked into his face. My Peter Cottontail did, too.
This rabbit was either clairvoyant or possessed of the four luckiest rabbit feet in history because he started hauling ass as I touched off the second round. The bullet sent up a plume of dust where he had been.
Two shots. Two misses by less than five inches. Had this been a combat shooting drill, that kind of accuracy would have been considered excellent. That day, it meant I suck.
There are two things you never run from; dogs and cops. Both for the same reason. They possess a chase instinct triggered by movement. If you don’t believe me, think about how racing dogs are induced to run around a track. If you need further proof, take off running the next time you get pulled over.
Being the Alpha Predator I consider myself, there was no way I was going to let Mr. Rabbit get away now that I was committed. Zipper down or not, I was taking home hasenpfeffer.
Despite the portrayal in movies, it’s actually quite difficult to shoot while running, especially with parts of your anatomy hanging out that don’t normally hang out. Whoever coined the term “Run and Gun” probably intended them to be done in turn…and with a zipped fly.
After five more shots that ruffled the rabbit’s fur as they passed, I screeched to a stop to aim my final shot. Yeah, I carry on a loaded chamber. Save your lectures for somebody who’s had a negligent discharge.
Then the rabbit sealed his fate by cutting left as I set up for a Portuguese Brain Shot. I adjusted my aim, set my lead, and caught him at the end of his rib cage. The pink cloud confirmed the bullet found its mark.
Physics is a hell of a thing. So is rabbit anatomy. A demonstration of which I found as I approached my quarry. Apparently, rabbits are loosely put together. Either that or I managed to hit some secret rabbit disarticulation pressure point because there wasn’t anything recognizable as a rabbit from the bottom rib on down.
Word of what happened must have gotten around to the other wildlife pretty fast. Later in the day, I was nearly bitten by a coyote I suspect was out for revenge at my stealing his dinner.
My wife’s reaction wasn’t exactly what I expected. I thought she would be thrilled I brought back something edible. Up to that point, I operated on the principle of “Don’t bring home anything she can’t cook or play with.”
I think her exact words were, “I’d cook it, if you hadn’t shot the shit out of it first. What am I going to do with half a fucking rabbit?”
Since I can’t be trusted to bring a whole rabbit back from the wild, we began raising our own rabbits. We started with two does, Eve and Shelby, and one buck, Sampson. My choice for naming the male was “Adam,” but I was vetoed by a nine-year-old who refuses to be bound by convention. Or maybe she doesn’t read her bible enough to keep all the names straight.
This Rogues Gallery was the beginning of my education.
The purported reason to raise rabbits was to reduce the grocery bill. Coming from generally poor families and poor cultures, the idea of food readily available on the homestead was attractive to my wife and I. We wonder whether we are part of the whole Homestead movement that has gained popularity the past few years and often question if we are “real” homesteaders. We live outside city limits, but are not terribly isolated (at least, not yet. Time will tell). Our fruit and vegetable crop isn’t terribly impressive. We only have a couple types of livestock.
I don’t have a clue if we’re “real” homesteaders or not, but the longer I work at it, the more I believe it’s a mindset.
Another concept I am beginning to understand is “rabbit math.” Not so much in the multiplication sense, even though rabbits earn every bit of their prolific reputations. Rabbit gestation is thirty-one days (give or take), and left to their own devices, the doe can easily be pregnant a month later.
A week ago, Eve kindled eight kits, and a day later, Shelby kindled nine. Add in the two we held back from Eve’s March litter to let them grow bigger, the second buck my wife wanted for some eugenic experimentation, and the third doe my daughters fell in love with, that means I have a total of twenty-four rabbits running around.
Luckily, we butcher between eight and twelve weeks, so I won’t be up to my ass in rabbits for too long. Of course, that depends on how soon we breed them again. I’m going to have to get really fast at butchering if I don’t want to spend every spare minute wrist deep in a rabbit carcass.
We strive to be responsible rabbit ranchers. That whole good stewards of the land and responsible practitioners of animal husbandry thing. Following the desire to give the best life possible to the cute, furry little creatures we ultimately conk on the head, decapitate, rip the hide off of, and disembowel for consumption, I set about to build a place for them to live. I call it a Rabbit Condo.
The problem is I tend to over-engineer my construction projects. This two-tier movable rabbit enclosure with removable back for additional ventilation in summer wound up too heavy for my wife move by herself. Loaded down with cages, rabbits, and the watering system she added, it’s too heavy for me to move by myself.
Try as we might to remember they are livestock, the natural tendency is to develop some sort of attachment to animals you spend months caring for. That’s why we don’t name animals destined for Freezer Camp. Every now and then, we have to bend that rule for ease of identification, so we wind up with animals named “Brownie,” “Runt,” and “Thursday Dinner.”
In the continuing quest to minimize feed bills, we encourage our rabbits to forage as much as possible. That’s a Homesteader euphemism for “Let them eat what’s growing around here, so I don’t go broke buying them store-bought feed.” To keep them penned up while enjoying the “free” foliage growing in the yard required building Rabbit Tractors, basically movable cages.
If you can’t tell, every time I have a great money saving idea, it requires an outlay of cash with a fairly long break-even point. In six months of building rabbit structures that are better constructed than my house, acquiring the animals themselves, and providing feed (They still need some trace minerals and vitamins not found in forage), my rabbits have provided enough meat for exactly two meals.
Yeah. Rabbit math.
The upshot of all these rabbits is there is lots of poop…Lots and lots of rabbit poop.
As it turns out, rabbit droppings are the high end of the manure world, and there is a sort of boutique fertilizer market for them, the red worms that magically appear in the rabbit poop pile, and the worm poop after decomposition.
But you can’t charge an arm and a leg for “worm shit,” so the fancy term is “worm castings.” From what I hear from other homesteaders, there is a long line of hippies, hipsters, and high-end home gardeners willing to pay through the nose for the stuff.
Maybe I can make this rabbit math stuff work to my advantage. Somebody might get to go to college.