In early December 1997, Gary DeCesare of Lake Luzerne invited a number of his small-game hunter friends to what he called the Bunny Bowl — a simple rabbit hunt with one catch — it was going to be Jan. 1, 1998 at 6 a.m.
I don’t remember exactly how many hunters signed up, but it was at least 20, and only 10 of us showed up. Toasting in the New Year the evening before obviously had taken its toll on many of them. Actually, I don’t think that in the 16 years we’ve held this event, everyone who said they were coming has actually made it.
This Jan. 1, Bunny Bowl XVI, we had six hunters and three beagles ready to go at 7 that morning. In addition to myself, there were four hunters from Glens Falls — Tim Guy, Jamie Guy, Joey Guy and Aaron Goodspeed — and the rookie, Jim Bubb of Clifton Park. Gary couldn’t make this year’s hunt, but sent along 16-year-old Tracker, who was joined in the canine corps by Hunter, 6, and Ben, 3.
Tracker and I, the two oldest of the group, were the original hunters and the only ones to have attended all 16 Bunny Bowls.
This year, we chose a large farm in Kingsbury, Warren County, that we hadn’t hunted in a few years. We decided to start the hunt on the far end of the farm, along a side hill of about 30 acres. The whole area was covered in heavy brush, scattered thorn apples and plenty of blow-downs and brush piles, everything a rabbit likes. Tim and Jamie took the dogs to the beginning of the hill, while two of us stayed on the high side, the other two on the low side, about 15 yards inside the wood line and 100 yards apart. When we were in place, Tim and Jamie turned the dogs loose. The snow was knee-high in some places, but there was quite a bit of old rabbit tracks coming in and out of the woods. Apparently, they, along with some squirrels, were digging out snow-covered corn.
I was standing on a ledge that overlooked the hillside, within 25 yards of a 10-foot-high brush pile, when I heard Tracker (“the Old Man,” as Tim calls him), sniff the first one out. However, at his age, he was quickly passed up by the two other beagles who took up the chase. From the dogs’ sound, the rabbit was headed down the hill toward the swamp. Perhaps five minutes later, I heard a shot from that direction, followed by an unprintable phase, which immediately indicated the shooter had missed.
It wasn’t long after that I heard Tim call out “rabbit up” followed by the howls of our beagle brigade in hot pursuit. It sounded like the bunny was headed toward me, but it turned, and the howls got farther away. I head another shot, and this time, it was followed by a “Got ’em.”
When I saw Ben with his nose to the ground about 25 yards from me, I quickly went back up to the edge of the field and moved another 100 yards down from of the dogs and back into the woods, stopping in an open area where I could shoot if one came my way. I hadn’t been there long when I heard the howls, but they were headed away from me. This was a long chase. This bunny was taking them on quite a trip before finally turning and heading back, which is what they usually do. I estimated that the rabbit was about 100 yards from me when I heard the shot echo through the woods followed almost immediately by that same unprintable phase. Lucky rabbit!
A quick regroup by all the hunters, and we moved into the area we had not hunted and spread out. I was still on my way to the open area near a series of high brush piles when I again heard Tracker’s unique howl followed soon after by the younger dogs’ howls. This one was definitely headed toward me. In every situation, when you post up somewhere waiting for a running rabbit, there’s always a small area where it can get by you, and that’s just what this one did. I saw him coming up the hill angling toward me at 60 yards or so and then it took a slight turn, running on the other side of the brush pile. No shot for me, but Aaron was there and waiting, and rabbit No. 2 was in a game bag.
For the next hour, the dogs sniffed out several more rabbits, but weren’t able to get them in front of one of our guns before they escaped to the safety of their dens. Once again, Tim had to pull Tracker’s head out of a rabbit hole; he just never wants to give up.
On our way back, there was one small wooded peninsula about 100 yards long and 50 yards wide with heavy standing brush and small brush piles that would be our last push. We put one hunter at the point, two on each side and Tim went with the dogs. We hadn’t gone more than 30 yards when one broke out from under a brush pile in front of Aaron, who rolled him over.
When we all got together, I found out that Jim Bubb was the hunter who shot the first rabbit, and he was congratulated by all for his success on his first Bunny Bowl.
All of us were home in time for New Year’s Day dinner and a relaxing afternoon lying on the couch, watching bowl games.