When my husband asked if I wanted to go rabbit hunting with him I said yes, not because I wanted to kill a rabbit, but because it was a sunny weekend day and I wanted to spend the morning walking in the woods. If we came home with a rabbit for the pot, that would be nice.
We met Stephen Correy, who breeds beagles and had agreed to take us out. It was not terribly cold, in the twenties, but we would be beating through brush, and a one piece suit is less likely to get caught up, snagged, or let snow up your back if you slip. It was a Mrs. Peel kind of day, and so she came along, too. Mrs. Peel is my one-piece silver Descente snowsuit with red silk lining, an ebay find, and she keeps me warm and safe on many winter expeditions. Also on the trip were Dawn, the beagle, who took second place in the national trials, and her son Jack.
Sixteen inches of snow kept us from tripping over the undergrowth, but rabbits like cover, so we spent some time negotiating alders and brambles as we followed the dogs. Stephen has over two hundred acres of land and we were prepared to walk, but we had not gone far before Dawn began baying. She lived up to her title, and pushed the rabbit back and forth along some scrubby lowland. Jack never made a sound.
I had never been rabbit hunting before. I had never used a shotgun before, either. In fact, I had never shot game before. But I am not a vegetarian. When I eat meat, I know an animal has died to provide my meal. I am not sure I am ready to shoot a deer, but I was prepared to shoot that rabbit. I remember helping my grandfather slaughter chickens when I was a little girl. It was our secret because my mother would have put a stop to it at once. It was done quickly, without fuss, (not the neck chopped off, leaving the body to run, which I think really only happens in fiction) and never struck me as cruel.
Everyone draws a line somewhere. I know someone who refused to swat mosquitoes, and would sit at dusk with half a dozen along his arm, drawing blood. I have a vegetarian friend who uses sticky pad traps, which I cannot tolerate, to kill the mice in her house. Another friend travels to exotic terrains to hunt, not to eat, but for the challenge. Right, wrong, black, white, gray. I just want to feel good and right about my choices, and let others take care of theirs.
As it turns out, when Dawn sent the rabbit darting through the brush in front of me, I reacted calmly. There was no inner dialogue, “Do I really want to do this?” I knew I did. It was a bit far, but it was pretty clear between the rabbit and me. I released the safety, leaned into the shot, and squeezed the trigger. I missed. My husband and Steve could not see what had happened, and called out, “Did you get it?” I snapped the old shell out of the gun, and turned to answer them. “Too far, I was too slow.” As I spoke I sensed movement. Forty feet away a second hare was travelling in the same direction as the first, but more quickly. It was the ideal set-up. My newbie-ness unfortunately took over. “There’s another rabbit,” I yelled, astounded, and failed to function. “Reload,” they called. I fumbled, but Mrs. Peel popped another shell from her pocket into my hand. I slammed it in, and brought up the gun. It was too late, the rabbit was out of sight.
I will go rabbit hunting again, I hope with Dawn and Mrs. Peel. I still have not killed my game. But when I squeezed that trigger with intent, if not success, I crossed a line. I am a hunter.
Rabbit with bacon and tomatoes
6 Slices of bacon
1 Medium rabbit, cut up
1 Medium onion
4 Cloves of garlic, sliced
3 Carrots, cut into thirds lengthwise, then split in half
1 Small yellow turnip, peeled, cut into 1 ½“ chunks
3 medium tomatoes, chopped (or a can of whole stewed plain tomatoes)
Herbes de Provences , or a mix of lavender, basil, oregano, rosemary and bay
2 cups red wine
In large Dutch oven cook bacon on low until soft. Spoon bacon out and aside
Turn up heat, grind pepper over rabbit, and brown. Take out of pot and set aside
Add all vegetables except tomatoes to Dutch oven, braise. (If there is a lot of bacon grease, drain it off) Add spices and stir in, cook a few minutes.
Add back the rabbit and bacon, add the wine, the tomatoes, cover and simmer 45 minutes.
Serve with polenta or mashed potatoes