Fun in sun starts with rabbit, squirrel hunt

Our timing was perfect! My wife and I left Saratoga Springs for our two-month visit to the Sunshine

Our timing was perfect! My wife and I left Saratoga Springs for our two-month visit to the Sunshine State just before I would have had to shovel the driveway again.

Since we started doing this several years ago, the fun of this 1,182-mile drive to Flagler Beach is watching our automobile’s outside temperature gauge rise, and for me, it’s waiting to see the first fishing boat with short-sleeved anglers wetting a line.

This year, the first was while crossing a bridge over Lake Marion at Santee, S.C., and it was no surprise that it was a bass boat. It was then I knew I’d soon be fishing soft water in the Florida Intercoastal Waterway behind our rented condo. That’s exactly what I do each morning and late afternoon.

But on the fourth day this year, I did something different, I went small-game hunting in jeans, short sleeve shirt, hunter-orange vest and hat — and snake boots. I never go in the woods in Florida without my knee-high boots.

This hunt was the result of a note on the door that said: “Howdy, plenty of bunnies and squirrels just waiting to be stewed. Call me. John”

I met John in Al’s Bait Shop in Flagler Beach several years ago, and he invited me to hunt squirrels and rabbits on his property. The hunting there was absolutely outstanding. However, in the rush to go south, I brought only two rifles, a .223 for my turkey hunt and my .50-caliber CVA muzzleloader for my Florida boar hunt.

In winter, these are two of my favorite small-game targets, but when I told my wife I didn’t bring a shotgun, her eyes widened and she had that “He’s going to buy another gun look” in her eyes. Fortunately for both of us, when I called John, he said he had a single-shot 20-gauge H&R I could use, and this year, he was going to hunt with me. Last time, he had to work, and I hunted alone. He also said he was going to show me how to car-kick a rabbit.

When I arrived at John’s house that morning, John handed me the single-shot, a box of No. 7 low-base ammo and said that it may not be enough.

The Florida daily limit for squirrels and rabbits is 12, but rabbit season is open year-round. Twelve of either one of these seemed like a lot for the pot and his new recipe. Six or seven of each would be fine.

The woodlot we were hunting was about 200 yards wide and a half-mile long, and I knew those woods held plenty of squirrels. We got about 100 yards apart and entered the woods together using a stop/go sneaking peaking method. I wasn’t in the woods more than 10 yards when I heard a shot and a “Got one” yell from John.

It wasn’t long before another shot and confirmation yell that he had No. 2. And when I looked in his direction, I saw two squirrels running together headed right at me. I was hoping for a two-for-one shot, but they separated and I had to settle for one. As I was reloading, I watched the other one run up a tree. Just in case, I sat down to see if it would come back down. Twenty minutes later, it did, and at about 20 yards I had my second squirrel.

We worked the same pattern for the next hour and a half, and between us, we had 15 squirrels.

The rabbit field I hunted along last year looked the same, just a bit more overgrown around at least 50 junk cars scattered all over. John called them “rabbit houses.”

His plan was that we would take turns kicking or banging on the cars with a stick while the other stood on the other side watching for them to come out from under the cars. This is similar to what we do back home to brush piles and juniper bushes when we don’t have beagles.

When we approached the first car, I walked up about 20 feet on one side of the car and got ready as John started kicking the car on the opposite side. Sure enough, three rabbits broke out in front of the car and I shot the first of the day. It was then we realized that the watcher needed to be carrying the semi-auto shotgun, which held three shots.

On my turn to kick the next car, an old ’57 Chevy, one shot out before we got in position, but John was on him quickly and then we had two. When I banged on that old Chevy, two more broke and John was right on target again.

Two cars later, we had a little more excitement than we expected when we walked up to an old pickup truck. It was John’s turn to get on watch, and as I watched him moving alongside the truck, I heard him yell and saw him jump and get off two shots. I thought perhaps the rabbit had bumped into him, but I soon found out that he almost stepped on a good-sized rattlesnake, but nothing several hundred No. 7 lead pellets couldn’t handle. That’s why I wear high boots.

It was 70 degrees, and the bed of this truck was a good place to take a break for a cool drink and a PB&J sandwich. After an hour of enjoying the weather, food and telling several exaggerated hunting and fishing tales, we went back to hunting.

I started out the opposite side of the field banging on an old VW bus, but this time, two rabbits broke out on my side and I got my first-ever “two rabbits” with one shot with the single-shot gun. John looked at me and said, “Nice shot,” and I couldn’t resist telling him: “Do it all the time.”

Unfortunately, two cars later, I missed one that was standing still. It must have been too small.

At about 3:30 p.m., we decided to call it a day, and it was a good one with 15 squirrels and 14 rabbits. Time to do some cleaning. During the cleaning, I learned about his new recipe, stewed rabbit or squirrel, but he combined them both. The recipe calls for three rabbits or squirrels, and will feed four to six people.

I found out the next afternoon just how good that stew really is. I have several jars of it in the refrigerator, but they’ll be gone before I leave Florida. If you’re interested, here is the recipe for for stewed rabbit or squirrel with rice:

One rabbit or squirrel

Four strips bacon, diced

Two tomatoes, peeled and diced

One med. onion, chopped

Half-cup of uncooked rice

One tbsp. of green pepper

Two cups of rabbit stock

One tbsp. of minced parsley (optional)

Cook cut-up rabbit or squirrel in salted water until tender. Remove from broth and cool. When cool, remove bones and cut meat in small pieces. Saute onion and bacon until onion is brown. Stir meat, tomatoes and pepper in stock and bring to a boil. Add rice. Cover skillet and simmer until rice is tender. Stir just enough to prevent sticking. Add parsley. Serves four.

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