Anyone who doesn’t like hunting and eating rabbits shouldn’t be allowed to live in the United States of America. Well, maybe that’s a tad extreme, but I refuse to back down on the following claim: I love to hunt and eat rabbits. I cut my teeth on mid-winter rabbit hunts in Michigan and Illinois, something I’ve come to miss in recent years. This past weekend, however, I got my fix out at the beautiful Duren Family Farm in the famed “Driftless Area” of south-central Wisconsin.
I became buddies with Doug, an ardent conservationist and land manager, a couple years ago after he sent me a cold-call email asking me to join him on a January whitetail hunt. That was a miserable and cold endeavor, and we figured that we’d follow up the good times with an end-of-February hunt for the elusive cottontail rabbit. And, if we were lucky, a barn-busting pigeon shoot.
As it turned out, we weren’t lucky with regards to pigeons. Doug got up bright and early on the last day of the month and walked out to his hay barn on a scouting trip for pigeons. The thirteen birds that had been in the barn’s cupola the day before had been replaced by a sleeping raccoon who’d likely cleaned up on pigeon eggs and/or hatchlings (they’ll breed year round, if they’ve got food and water) and was now sleeping off the meal.
We then headed off on foot from Doug’s farmhouse. We had a whole big crew of local guys: Karl Malcolm, a hunter and trapper from Traverse City, Michigan, who’s completing his PhD in wildlife biology at The University of Wisconsin; Pat Durkin, a controversial and rabble-rousing outdoor columnist who covers the politics and lifestyle of Wisconsin hunting; Tyson Hall, a former military reservist who just back from the Persian Gulf; and Paul Neess and Mark Boardman, two Madison-area hunters who work for the scope and binocular company, Vortex Optics.
We killed eight rabbits using a classic rabbit-hunting strategy: First we’d identify pockets of thick cover, some no larger than a house or two, that had a lot of rabbit tracks coming and going in the fresh snow; then we’d have a few of us sneak around to the far end and position ourselves near likely escape routes; then the rest of us would go into that thick stuff, kicking around and making a ruckus. We flushed rabbits from brush piles, tangles of cockleburs, old mounds of junked cars, nearly impenetrable patches of nasty briars and vines, and beneath beautiful old apple trees that seemed kind of dignified in the way there were falling down but still alive.
We ate rabbits that night. I parted each into five pieces—four legs and one back—and dusted them with a box of prepackaged seasoning called Shore Lunch. Then I browned them really good in Crisco and popped them into the oven for about forty-five minutes at 325 degrees. Rabbits don’t necessarily taste like chicken; if anything, they taste like what chicken ought to taste like. It really is the perfect white meat: firm, flavorful, complex. Doug served a quart-sized jar of pickled beets from his wife’s garden to go with the rabbit, along with a big loaf of bread. Along with our meal we drank beer, wine, and whiskey, and talked about women, the business of muskrat trapping, parenting, our dads, international travel, the military, the business of making rifle scopes, hunting for big bucks, the business of managing a farm, hunting for meat, going into bear dens to tranquilize and tag the inhabitants, good recipes, the films of David Lynch, calling turkeys with box calls versus diaphragm calls, how gorgeous Naomi Watts is, and other stuff like that. It was one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time, and one of the best hunts.
Here’s me, barely escaping an attack from a horse. This guy recently broke the leg of his owner.
Tyson Hall with a trophy-class cottontail.
After gutting two rabbits and washing them in snow, I shake them dry.
Frying rabbit in Crisco with Karl Malcom, a bear biologist.
The hunters, from left: Pat Durkin; Paul Neess; Tyson Hall; Doug Duren; Steven Rinella; Mark Boardman