By Andrew T. Whitman
Once my dad and I went hunting in February in Virginia on the last day of rabbit season. This particular time we went to a farm in another county and used a local guide named Jackson who owned a bunch of beagles. We drove to acreage that had been logged out and had since turned into a wicked sea of briars and saplings, broken up by heaps of rotting wood.
The eager beagles jumped out of their dog boxes and within seconds had picked up a scent and were baying loudly, for we were in rabbit paradise. However, the cottontails stayed in the abundant cover, even with the dogs hard on their heels.
We waited without success in a few different locations for one to pop out until Jackson deciphered some kind of pattern to all the madness. He told me to crawl inside a huge clump of bushes and wait, assuring me that soon a rabbit would appear. I got seated in a small opening inside with just enough room to move the gun a little.
Only a few moments later I saw something small and tawny-colored carefully picking its way through the brush, sometimes crawling on its belly. As soon as I discerned a shooting lane, my old pump shotgun boomed and the sound reverberated in the hills. Rabbit number one was in the bag.
Jackson then placed my dad, who was more interested in watching the dogs than hunting, at one end of a trail. He placed me at the center of the trail. A few minutes later another rabbit emerged out of the brush directly in front of me and rabbit two was in the bag.
How Jackson knew where they would be, I’ll never know. At home, I could stomp the bushes all day and maybe only see one or two rabbits. Today with the beagles, I already had two and we had only been hunting for about an hour, although I suspect my dad had likely let a rabbit or two get by him.
Later we broke for lunch, which was ham biscuits and coffee. I had gotten up early that morning and fried some country ham and baked a few buttermilk biscuits from a can, but Jackson sincerely commented, “You boys sure do know how to make a ham biscuit!” We admired the rabbits lying in the back of the pickup, then covered them up so nothing would carry them off.
Back in the cutover, the dogs trailed a rabbit that took us much farther than we had gone before, deep into a place with many piles of rotting logs. Jackson yelled, “There he goes!” Apparently, a cottontail was in view for a moment and then went into some tall grass, but dang if I saw him. Of course, my dad, who was higher up and should have had a better vantage point, still didn’t see a thing.
After a while, the dogs were on the run again and this time I too saw a brown blur as a rabbit dove into a pile of logs. Jackson had me wait on the far side and eventually it darted out and ran for another pile a few yards away. I swung and fired and the tough old bunny rolled over and then got to his feet and started to go again. I picked up a big piece of wood and prepared to club him but Jackson half yelled and half laughed at the same time, “Leave him be, you’ll bust him up too much, he’s already dead!” With that, the rabbit plopped over and with one last heave, gave up the ghost.
Three hours of hunting—plus one extended lunch break that included some good storytelling—and we had three nice rabbits. The dogs chased another one for a while, but this one we didn’t see and felt we had already done enough, especially with my dad getting up in age and no longer able to spend a full day out. We heartily gave Jackson what we thought was a generous, well-deserved tip and he seemed pleased.
Back home, I got into the spirit of cooking. I had been experimenting off and on with rabbit stew for years, but that day I had a moment of inspiration and everything seemed to come together. I more or less cooked from instinct and from my head and heart came this savory, but simple recipe. It has been my son’s favorite since that day when he was about 5 years old. Here it is:
2 rabbits (or 1 rabbit, 2 squirrels)
1 cup of baby carrots cut up
1 large potato – cubed
1 yellow onion – sliced
2 cups of water
Cut the raw meat up into chunks and fry the pieces in bacon grease with the yellow onion.
Cook everything together in a crockpot on high for 3 – 4 hours with one chicken bouillon cube and a chicken flavor Ramen noodle seasoning packet if you have one. If not, use 2 bouillon cubes instead.
Mix a tablespoon of corn starch in a bowl of cold water (about 2 or 3 tablespoons of water), and add to the crockpot to thicken the broth.
Salt and pepper to taste and serve with Ritz crackers or Captain’s Wafers (any buttery flavored cracker will do).