Monday, January 13, 2014


        In the new year, my mind often drifts to things I hope to accomplish, things new and exciting.  I've always had the desire to chase rabbits.

It was poring rain--Fluvanna County Schools called an all-too-regular "snow day" for rain--and I resolved to do just that.

        Noting the rain, as I gathered my things I realized the struggle I was undertaking.  Rain coat, gloves, hat, licence, food, hot coffee, 6-shot, 20-gauge--all here.  The pitter-patter on the ground would rob me of my sense of hearing, with which, on a sunny day, I could use to pinpoint the location of a rabbit settling in to a new hideout after being jumped.

        Oh well.  If nothing else, a few hours of slinking through the pine and rose thickets of a friend's lake property would put me on some rabbits.  I would know where to find them, where they hide out.  I could put together a pattern--which types of cover they prefer, which type offers the best shooting.
Photo by Matthew Reilly

        As I turned the key in the truck's ignition, the patch of rain on the doplar radar opened up around Cunningham, Fluvanna County.  I hoped I wouldn't get too wet.

        Turkey love the rain for the worms and grubs it exposes; and likewise, there were several feeding in the fields of long grass as I pulled into the property down gravel and dirt.  Turkey season reopens on January 11th--tomorrow--they're safe.

        Heading into the pines, I remember my GPS in my backpack.  I might need it.  The thick pines are somewhat disorienting.  I take the same opportunity to slip three shells into the chamber of my 20-gauge pump action.
Photo by Matthew Reilly

        Moving slowly, I approached each piece of potential rabbit cover shotgun shouldered, the barrel at a 45-degree decline, ready.  A kick to the trunk of a blown-over ceder flushes nothing.  

        On to the next piece of cover.  A hulking pile of uprooted pines caught my attention; and I stepped closer, still on alert.  Five paces from the log jam, a streak of white-gray fur exploded from the bows, striding out of sight, silent on the wet needles.  I missed my chance.  If the ground were dry, I would pause and wait.  With the rabbit's new location pinpointed, I would let it settle for a moment, then stalk, hoping to get a shot before or while it makes its next escape.

        Moving on.
Photo by Matthew Reilly

        I came into an opening, swampy and wet.  A creek pooled in a small break in the pines, hardwoods surrounding, where a beaver had dammed and taken up residence.  Moving further, I came upon a skeleton, the beaver's.  It's no secret--where there are rabbits there are predators.  A beaver could make a strong meal for a coyote or bobcat.  I harvested its skull as a trophy.
Photo by Matthew Reilly
Another hour searching the thickets resulted in three more rabbits jumped, none offering shots.  As I headed back to the truck parked above the lake, I was still more excited to return on a dry day with better visibility.

        Packing my gear into the back seat of the truck, at last I detected a sound, natural and rhythmic, in the air.  It grew louder, and soon a hoard of dark figures emerged from the fog, onk-onking on time.  The flock of geese continued to grow from the thick cloud cover--50, 100, 200.  Roughly 200 birds flew over the lake in formation, circled, and disappeared into the fog once more, their call tapering out.  Again, moments later, the sound began to grow.  50 more birds arrived, bent their wings, and landed softly on the bank 200 yards away.  Feeling safe, hearing the squabble below, the original flock of 200 returned, bent their wings, and joined the first-comers by the water.  Another like-sized flock joined them moments later.


        Driving home, I was content with my afternoon.  I was wet, beaten up by brush and thorns--tired--but I knew where I could find rabbits on my next hunt, and I know where I will hunt resident geese this year!

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