January weather in the Midwest yields many surprises.
January weather in the Midwest yields many surprises.
My grandfather woke me up about 40 Januarys ago by saying, "Look out the window."
My eyes opened wide to a deep blanket of snow. Temperatures were warm, about 30 degrees, and I knew exactly what that meant — time to hunt rabbits.
My grandmother was an excellent country cook who knew we would be walking all morning in deep snow. I quickly dressed and hurried to the kitchen towards the remarkable smells of bacon, pancakes and coffee that drifted through the house.
Grandma's food was delicious as always, but my mind was on hunting rabbits. I think grandpa knew that as he sipped his coffee and looked at me, obviously amused by my impatience.
I quickly finished my second plate and Grandpa stood up and walked towards the door. I thanked grandma with a hug and followed him to the cold basement where our hunting clothes and boots were stashed.
A wooded-gun rack held my old 4.10 shotgun that had been handed down a generation or two and his new single shot break-over Winchester 16 gauge, the most beautiful gun in the world in my young opinion.
Soon we were high-stepping through the beautiful snow. Dark cloud threatened more snow as we plowed towards the barn. Cold air on my face felt good.
A snowflake drifted past and then another. Soon a snow shower slipped through the air as I approach our objective — a wooden loading shoot. I kicked the frame two times before a rabbit blurred across grandpa's pasture.
I took careful aim and rolled the cottontail before he could reach a nearby wood lot.
"Why didn't you shoot grandpa," I asked. "I just wanted to see if you could hit him," he said. "I'll shoot one directly."
The next rabbit jumped in front of me and I rolled it with just enough lead like grandpa had taught me several years before. He did not say a word, but just stood there with a pleased look on his face.
He had hunted rabbits with a .22 during the 1930's depression to help feed his family. Shotgun shells were too expensive to waste on just a bunny.
The rim fire .22 rounds were less than a cent each. A fried rabbit for a cent was cheap, even by depression standards.
We decided to slip through a big-picked cornfield and hunt out hollows where the rabbits would be waiting out the snow. Grandpa stepped on a small snow drift against several cornstalks and a rabbit exploded from his insulated cover.
I watched grandpa take careful lead and squeeze his trigger. The rabbit flipped once and lay still. I walked over and retrieved the bunny for him. He looked the rabbit over and then slipped it in his game pouch.
"We have enough for a couple of meals," he said. "Let's head home."
I was not ready to go, but he was no longer a young man and walking in knee-high snow had to be tough. We turned for home against a brisk northern breeze and several million snowflakes.
I stopped to help him walk through the most difficult areas a couple of time. Grandpa was a strong, proud man who would only accept help if it was really needed.
That was grandpa's last rabbit hunt. The following Christmas I found a long package under the tree. I opened it and found grandpa's 16 gauge with a note.
"Kenny, I am finished rabbit hunting. My knees can't take the hard walking and my eyes are not as good as they used to be. I know you always admired this old Winchester.
Take it hunting from time to time and remember me when you do."
Grandpa died shortly after that Christmas. I have taken his shotgun hunting at least once every year since, some 40 seasons.
The old 16 gauge still rolls a running rabbit just like he showed me, plenty of lead and follow through.
I will always fondly remember grandpa's hunts. You can introduce your child to rabbit hunting if you know the rules. Start with a Hunter's Safety Course and then take the child out to practice.
A child who is familiar with the workings and feel of his or her gun will be less apt to have an accident and more likely to accomplish the all-important one-shot kill.
Hunting teaches responsibility. Maturity is gained by learning and practicing safety.
Rabbits stay alive by disappearing at the first hint of danger. Approach a hunting area quietly and you have a chance.
Make a lot of noise and you will be lucky to see a rabbit's tail disappearing over the distant ridge. Most hunters watch rabbits during deer season because of stealth and long periods of sitting.
Hunters should space about 10 yards apart and step on every clump of grass or brush. Rabbits will try to hide from danger if not pushed by oncoming sounds of danger.
Make sure each hunter is aware that rabbits are fast and may run in almost any direction. This is a safety factor that can get hunters shot.
It is imperative to know each hunter's location before pulling the trigger. A rabbit dinner is never worth a human's life.
Rabbit hunting on public areas can be productive. Look for thick grass, brush or brush piles. Try hunting farther back on these areas where most hunters fail to visit.
Private land hunts are easier. Kick around old fence lines that filled up with undergrowth, pond dams, timber strips and weed patches. Again, rabbits survive by the thickest cover available.
Many use shotguns for rabbit because they are small, fast moving targets. But a .22 rifle has its place in the rabbit woods. I prefer a .22 because it tears up less meat and you occasionally find a rabbit sitting under a brush pile.
Old timers used a 4.10 shotgun but the shells are expensive compared to 12, 16 or 20 gauge versions. Hunters in heavy brush rely on shotguns. Few pellets are required to stop a rabbit.