“Hey Dan, I was thinking about coming up and getting after those rabbits we saw a while quail hunting on Bobby Joe’s place. That’s the most rabbits I’ve seen for a few years. They were driving the bird dogs nuts that day. I’ll call Jeremy and Tony and drag a friend or two up with me and we will make it a stick bow hunt. Can we stay out at your cabin when we come?”
“Yea, come on up,” Dan said. “Just let me know when you’ll be here. I’ll get some firewood out to the cabin for you. I need some rabbits and squirrels for my wild game feed on Superbowl Sunday anyway.” Dan Vogt said he would bring his nine-year-old son Alex. And so was the start of the greatest rabbit hunt ever.
The call to Jeremy Middleton and Tony Potter didn’t take long.
“Can you guys go chase rabbits next Saturday?”
Tony said he was good for a half-day and would bring Corey his nine-year-old daughter. Jeremy said he was good for all day but had to be in town over the noon hour to watch his daughter play in a basketball game. Jeremy said he would call Chad Chitwood to see if he could go. Jeremy said Chad had a one-year-old beagle but he hadn’t hunted him yet. We would meet at 7:00 a.m. at a local eatery and then get on our way. Things were lining up just fine.
I called Tom Maul to see if he could get away for the weekend. Tom said he would check with the boss, and then called back a few days later to say he was in.
“How many arrows should I bring?” he said. (We would find out later he didn’t bring enough). I gave Todd Secker a call and he went to work trying to wrangle the hunt. Todd gave a valiant effort but was thwarted by that thing we all have to do to pay the bills. Darn! I was hoping Todd could get some time off.
All week I watched the weather for the NE Missouri area. Every day it predicted a wintry mix and rain for the weekend. It didn’t matter ‘cause we were going anyway, but some snow would make it just right for a rabbit hunt. Finally, the forecast on Thursday and Friday brought a chance of snow for the area.
Tom called during the week and asked what he needed to bring.
“Bring your sleeping bag, a jug of water, TP, and your hunting stuff,” I said. “You can buy a couple of one-day Missouri hunting permits for 11 dollars a piece. Get them ahead of time so we don’t get shut out when we get there. We will catch some meals in town. Can you round up some kindling to bring to the cabin? Be at my house after work on Friday and we should be up there about 10:00 p.m.” Every thing was falling nicely into place.
Tom was at my house about 6:15 and we set off. We talked hunting some of the way up and solved all the world’s problems the rest of the way. We arrived at our destination at about 10:00 p.m. We stopped by Dan’s restaurant for some introductions and one cold one before we headed out to the cabin. Dan reiterated that he really needed some rabbits for his Super Bowl Sunday wild game feed. It looked like the pressure was on! His cabin is out in the boonies and if it is a little wet you need 4-wheel drive. We went from highway to blacktop, blacktop to gravel and from gravel to the dirt road at the gate to Dan’s property. Down the road we went, thru a few mud holes, around the curve and down a long hill.
At last we were at the cabin. Tom had brought a nice box of scrap wood for kindling and we had a fire going in no time. We made a few trips to the jeep and soon had all our gear squared away. I took one last look outside before hitting the hay. A very light snow was falling. Would we have any snow for a hunt tomorrow? Before I fell asleep I thought of a game plan for where we should go first. I knew we would get into some rabbits but I had no idea what was coming. Lights out was the cue for the resident mice to become active. We fell asleep to the sound of little feet and claws running around the cabin.
I awoke several times before the alarm went off. We were up at 6:00 a.m. I asked Tom if I had kept him awake with my snoring. He said he had earplugs in all night. He came prepared! I guess that meant he didn’t hear the coyotes howling during the night either. When I looked outside I saw it had snowed about an inch. Could this get any better? (Yes it could). We were in our hunting duds in no time and headed for town. Good thing we had 4-wheel drive going up the long hill and thru the mud holes.
Tony, his daughter Corey, and Jeremy met us for breakfast. Chad was going on the afternoon hunt. Tony has made some laminated bows and he and Tom talked bow woods. Later Jeremy told us about his Colorado elk hunt and how two bears got in his Blazer and hauled off most of his elk. One bear was in the front seat and another was in the back! Jeremy said there were a million burrs on the headliner of his Blazer. He had left the back end open so cold air could circulate and help cool the meat. Jeremy said he went a little nuts and yelled and screamed to run them off. We finished breakfast and headed out to start our adventure.
We soon pulled into Bobby Joe’s driveway. His wife Dorothy said he was at the horse barn and we could catch him up there. We met Bobby Joe on the road. Bobby Joe said he couldn’t go but he had been seeing a bunch of rabbits recently and thought we should start over on Brad’s place. As we pulled into Brad’s place, a snow-covered CRP field and several brush filled ditches lay before us but first we had to hunt around the old house. Corey got a rabbit running in just a few minutes. It hopped towards the house and stopped by the corner. When I got to half-draw it snuck under the house. Dang!
Off to the ditches we went. I saw Dan and his son Alex pull in when we were about halfway there. Dan brought a shotgun ‘cause he wanted some rabbits for his Super Bowl party. Everybody spread out and we got started. Several rabbits were jumped in the first ditch but no shots. The fresh snow was perfect. You could see where rabbits were a few hours ago and could still tell the fresh tracks. You could almost track them to their forms. Corey had a nose and eye for the rabbits and spotted a sitter. Just as I got to half-draw, off it went. Maybe I should become a snap shooter!
Two or three rabbits were started and everyone was getting a shot or two. I finally connected on a sitter and a short time later got a point blank range shot which I made meat on. The rabbits proved to be tough and a chase or two ensued before their final capture. The rabbits wised up fast and it wasn’t long before they headed for a huge brush pile where they knew they would be safe. Alex got deep in the brush pile and I heard him tell his Dad he could hear the rabbits moving in there. Dan connected with his shotgun on one that strayed a little too far from the brush pile. The rabbits here didn’t want to play anymore so off we went to some nearby ditches to try our luck. Several rabbits were jumped but all made their escape.
It was time to hunt some new territory. Dan had some obligations in town so he and his son Alex took off. Dan had bagged two rabbits. We loaded up and headed to a brush patch on Bobby Joe’s place. The patch used to have some trees in it but over the years he had cut a lot for firewood and now it was covered with laid-down horseweeds and several bulldozed mounds. It was so hard to walk through that you had to back up to fall down! Corey proved to be a real trooper and worked the brush like a pro. I saw her shoot a few arrows but Diana didn’t smile on her.
We took turns posting and driving. This place was full of rabbits! If you were up high enough you could see them hopping in front of the drivers. Everyone had lots of shots. When the rabbits got to the end they would break out and run the field edge up to the other end. We all took lots of running shots and shots at sitters. The brush deflected a lot of arrows but it was constant action for about two hours. What made it great was that the brush patch was surrounded by harvested soybean fields and the bunnies were reluctant to head across the open ground to new cover. Two rabbits felt the heat however and took a mad 200-yard dash to another ditch. From my vantage point I could see Jeremy and Tony come to full draw several times as rabbits headed their way. I connected with another rabbit which carried my arrow off. Red fletch really shows up on the snow. I directed Tom to the rabbit from my elevated position and Tom administered the coup de grace.
Tony and Corey had to get going so we said our goodbyes. Jeremy also took off and we made plans to meet up with him later in town. Tom and I headed for a new ditch. After just a few minutes of no action (we were spoiled by now!) we decided to head back to the horseweed patch. We took turns posting and driving and both had a few shots. When we left, we made a push to the very end of the patch and five rabbits boiled out and ran up the edge of the field to the other end. I think we could have driven those rabbits past each other for the rest of the day. We estimated there was 10 to 12 rabbits in that patch of cover that was tear-drop shaped and roughly 100 yards long and 70 yards wide. It would have been close to murder with a shotgun or .22. Our legs were shot and we needed nourishment so we headed back to town for lunch. Could the afternoon hunt be any better than the morning hunt? We would find out soon. As we left Bobby Joe’s the temperature had gone up just enough to melt the snow from the fields. It looked like the afternoon hunt would be made with little or no snow on the ground.
Lunch revived us a bit and we hooked back up with Jeremy in town. It was almost 3:00 o’clock by the time we got going again. We followed Jeremy north of town to hunt a new spot and meet up with Chad.
When we turned off the highway, we realized there was more snow north of town. The fields were still covered! It was looking good for the afternoon hunt. Somebody upstairs was looking out for us. Chad was waiting for us with his beagle Rosco. Chad explained that Rosco had never been out but it was time for him to learn. As we crossed the road to enter a small patch of cover, a rabbit took off. It was starting already! This patch of cover contained an old house foundation, scattered pine trees, brush, a small row of pines and big bales of hay in rows. Rosco was nosing around not sure of what he was doing but he knew something was going on. We were into rabbits immediately and everyone started getting some shots. Rosco had a short sight chase or two and you could tell he was starting to get the hang of it. Chad had brought a .22 rifle and took some longer shots after he was sure of everyone’s position. Chad had some long-range shots at sitting and running rabbits.
I nailed a tight sitter and Tom got hot and connected on two in short order. Jeremy climbed up on the big bales and was shooting, jumping from bale to bale, and giving us a play by play on where the rabbits were going. If the rabbits did leave the small patch of cover they ran to a nearby fencerow and took haven by an old Chevy Blazer and some rusted farm equipment. We would follow and soon jump them only to have them run back the way they had come. The action was constant; it was as good or better than the horseweed patch! We headed down a fencerow and soon Rosco was bawling on a rabbit track. It didn’t take him long to figure it out. He was bawling on tracks the rest of the hunt. A rabbit dog was made that day.
We headed to some new territory, flushing several rabbits and a big covey of quail along the way. I saw a pheasant’s tracks in the snow and could see a perfect outline of its wings imbedded in the snow where it had taken flight. We moved a few more rabbits and had a few shots but nothing in the bag. It was getting late and we wanted one more crack at the rabbits around the house foundation so we headed back that way. Tom and I each let an arrow fly as far as we could launch it across an open field. An arrow in a long arcing flight is a beautiful thing. We had some trouble finding his arrow but it turned out we just hadn’t gone far enough. As we got close to the old Chevy Blazer, a bunny bolted and Tom made a good shot when the rabbit stopped to consider his options. I don’t think one of the options was ending up in Tom’s game bag! Tom connected on another rabbit right by the house foundation at the end of the day. Tom was up for honors as Bunny Buster of the Day. It was time to call it a day so we took a few pictures and said our goodbyes. We all agreed it was the best stickbow rabbit hunt any of us had ever been on. The total was 7 bow-bagged rabbits for the day. Do you know how many shots five bow hunters have to take to get seven rabbits? Let’s just say the percentage of rabbits in the bag to shots taken wasn’t impressive! I missed three or four gimme sitters, a few midrange sitters and every runner thru the brush. Everyone else did too. It was a great time. I wished I had taken some pictures during the hunt but the action was just so fast and furious that it seemed I never had the opportunity.
It was time to go so Tom and I headed for the cabin. We quickly got another fire started and got down to business cleaning rabbits while the wood stove heated up. Tom has the slickest way of cleaning rabbits I have ever seen. Here’s how he does it in his own words:
“Have a buddy hold the rabbit by the rear feet, head hanging down with the belly facing you. You can hang the rabbits by the rear legs on two nails about 8 to 10 inches apart if nobody likes you and you have no friends. Between the thumb and index fingers, pinch the hide on the rear ankle area and pull down. Two or three tugs on each leg should expose the clean meat of the rear legs. Pull the hide down completely past the thighs, working around the rump and pelvis area with a series of short pulls while trying to keep the hide even. Two handfuls of hide should now exist around the girth of the rabbit. While your buddy holds on tight pull the hide all the way down off the rabbit in one long motion, completely to the head. Pull the front legs through and cut the head off. At this point you should have a headless, naked rabbit wearing socks and gloves with a cotton ball on his naked butt.
Now gently press the blade of the knife against the pelvic area and split the pelvic bone. Insert the knife tip at the rear of the gut area and carefully split the skin up to and through the chest cavity, splitting the sternum area completely. Be careful not to knick the bladder, intestines or stomach. Before spilling the innards, take the knife and make a short gentle cut immediately on either side of the tail angling into the tailbone. Now, if you snap through the tailbone with the knife blade, you can pull down the tail and the pooper shoot in one motion to the large intestine. From here a couple of scooping handfuls and tugs will remove all the guts very cleanly. With a pair of sharp snips, snip off all four feet and voila!”
We quartered and rinsed the bunnies and put them in a cooler with some water to soak all night. The air temperature would be around freezing so the meat would be cooled off just right. A large stump was placed on the cooler to keep any nocturnal visitors away from our meat stash. The Super Bowl wild game feed was on! We cleaned up and went inside the cabin.
We kicked back and relaxed and let the penetrating heat of the woodstove soak into our tired bodies. There is nothing like the heat from a woodstove at the end of a long, cold hunting day. It just seems to get down all the way to your body’s core and into your bones. We agreed that we were tired but that it was that good tired. We munched down dinner along with several cold ones and recounted the day. We just couldn’t believe the constant action we had all day. What a great hunt! Tom said he would have traded his whole bow deer season for today. I agreed it was a great day but I didn’t know about trading a whole deer season for one day!
As I drifted off to sleep I started thinking about the squirrel hunt the next morning. I wonder how that would turn out……………….