Rabbits, coyotes, thorns and sheds

Up until about four years ago, each winter I would load up whatever golden retrievers I had at the time (Star, Pearl or Ice) and head south to Green County.

Over the years, I took all three of my stepsons and sometimes my nephews. What I did on these annual getaways was hunt rabbits, sometimes pheasants and even coyotes.

Over the years, I witnessed some truly incredible pheasant hunting, killed a coyote that I called to within 10 feet of where I was hiding, and between the pups, the boys and myself we harvested dozens of rabbits.

Saturday, Feb. 27

High 56, Low 35

I have friends that have farms north of Monroe. One farm, which Vick and Rita Benkert live on, is made up of woodlots, old-style fence lines (20 yards wide and totally overgrown) and a creek. Much of the land is in its last year in the Conservation Reserve Program.

Vick and Rita are longtime family friends, are lots of fun (I stay in Vick’s “man cave”) are super hard workers and just as importantly, have lots of rabbits on their property.

My other friend is Dave Geiger. Dave is related to the Benkerts by marriage and his family is in the cat business. Dave lives on a 300- acre farm that also is teeming with wildlife but as I would find out has gone through some distinct changes due to the loss of CRP acreage and many of the overgrown fence lines which wildlife thrive in.

So, at a time when “last ice” ice fishing should just be starting the ice is vanishing and I am wearing a T-shirt as I head south for two days of bunny whacking, coyote smacking and filling the bed of my truck bed up with shed antlers.

I arrive at the Benkerts. No one appears to be home and I load up a daypack and sling a loaded 30:06. (I really need a better coyote rifle but my income sucks and I carry a 12-gauge loaded with a four-shot).

First observation, every type of thorn invented by God is on this farm and is constantly grabbing and tearing cloth and flesh, and is making, seeing and swinging on a running rabbit as realistic as the Brewers winning the 2016 World Series.

After some serious sweating and a feeling of hopelessness, I worked the wind and did a coyote setup by using my dying rabbit mouth call. No luck on that but the rest was nice.

As far my rabbit dog, Fire, about all I can say is that she does not have a ton of experience (like none) hunting rabbits but she is my buddy and as this experience progressed she became quite good at finding and fetching.

I realized that I still had my swing when I was in some crazy thick, thorny brush and my hands were bleeding like a slaughtered pig. I still had my swing when a cottontail took off for the hills and I made meat with one shot.

When I was a kid growing up and hunting rabbits in Columbia County, I was very good at harvesting rabbits – almost always coming home with my limit. When Fire fetched rabbit No. 1 to me, some of those hunts from over 40 years ago came flooding back to me.

I made it back to the “Man Cave” at dark and I had two bunnies in my game pouch and once again realized that walking in this country with a bit of a load through dense brush is a killer on the flesh and energy level.

I butchered my rabbits on my last coyote setup and the next morning that is where I was at daylight. Coyotes that were too smart for me had eaten every bit of the rabbit intestines and heads that I had left for them.

I hunted at the Benkerts until noon (I did take a snooze on a grassy knoll) and harvested two more cottontails, and then headed over to Dave’s family farm.

By now, Fire knew how to play the game we were playing and it did not include successfully finding any sheds or calling in any coyotes. As I said earlier, the Geiger farm has changed as far as the lay of the land goes. As much as I wanted to harvest a third rabbit for the day, we did not see one.

As I write this, my sled-pulling, backpack-carrying, duck- fetching and rabbit-chasing golden retriever “Fire” is coming into heat. If I choose to have her bred, it will be the last time. I will keep a pup and some people have casually mentioned that they want one (I may have misplaced that list).

I needed this hunt and want to thank the Benkerts and the Geigers for once again letting me explore their properties.


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