The leaves have fallen from most of the trees. Frosts have been frequent enough to dispatch the weeds and any crops the farmers have left in the fields.
Late November was its usual self with a few days showing agreeable temperatures and low winds. Early December generally shows itself with a limited number of quiet days that don’t bring much wind with them.
Most hunters wanting meat for the freezer are out in tree stands waiting on deer to cross their paths. Those toughened veterans of many a buck season will challenge even the days when the temperature never rises above 20 degrees and the wind never falls below 15 miles a chilling hour.
Venizen. Deer jerky. Deer bologna. Deer steaks.
Those are the treats that dance in front of the deer hunters eyes. Dance enough that they will brave the elements to put meat on the table and have more for the winter months to come.
Then there are the rabbit hunters.
They need no elaborate plans or expensive equipment to pursue the uncooperative cottontails.
If the day is just comfortable enough and their schedule is ripe with a few hours for leisure time, rabbit hunters can pull on their blaze orange vests and caps, find clothing thick enough to win battles against briars and thorns and pick up the trusty 20-gauge shotgun that has been successful against Br’er Rabbit in the past.
Rabbits aren’t too particular about where they live. Any place with fenced farm fields, a few woodlots, some overgrown spots with honeysuckle, weeds turned brown, thick grass and abandoned farm machinery will suit their unrefined fancy.
Rabbits have a particular taste for clover, alfalfa, timothy and broadleaf plants. They don’t need dessert. They just need cover to hide their stubby white tails (scuts) when dining in their favorite overgrown fence rows or just out for a snack from homes in piles of brush or a jumbled mass of old apple trees pushed together.
Finding rabbits isn’t as easy as it once way. Cleared land for housing developments or fields filled with cash-heavy corn and soybeans have lessened the areas where they can be found.
But they are still around, still fun to try to outwit and still a tasty stew if they can be bagged.
Attracting a day in December suitable to be out after the rabbits might be more difficult than getting a few of them to break their cover and bob along in front of a quick shot.
If and when a time can be found to get to a farmer’s fields and woods, the rabbit hunter has to be armed with more than his shotgun, heavy gloves and experience.
He has to be toting his patience with him.
Rabbits are an impatient sort. Older hunters would have called them a little “jumpy”. Having so many natural enemies wanting to make a meal of them might be cause for their nervous and high-strung ways.
Rabbits are wary and alert to any noise or movement around them. They can bolt from cover and be gone before a startled hunter realizes his quarry has gone to hiding elsewhere.
The successful rabbit person has developed good stalking skills. When surrounded by low thickets or underbrush, a hunter should take only about 10 or 15 steps and stop. Alerted and impatient, a rabbit might leave his hiding area. Often, a cottontail will come out running when the hunter is stopped. That sort of behavior can only be attributed to the nervous nature all rabbits have.
The bunnies can’t abide being outwaited by a more patient being.
As the hunter moves slowly through the rabbit habitat, he waits about 30 seconds after each 15-step segment of his search.
Even though the surroundings are what rabbits would choose if they had a wish list, there might not be any animals in the area. The habitat can be there and the food sources can be plentiful enough but the diminishing number of rabbits is now a fact of outdoor life.
Unlike some of the deer hunters, the rabbit people don’t need the small bits of meat they get to feed their families or relatives.
The outdoors and its natural beauty and unchanging rhythms are often what brings the hunter to the fields. The rest of the experience is all icing on the cake of life.
Run rabbit, run.
If the foxes, hawks and other predators don’t get you, we’ll be out to see you on the next weather-tolerable day.