The light dusting of snow that covered the ground was just enough for tracking deer. I don’t know why, but when I saw the snow, I thought “bunnies.”
Normally, I’d be following a pack of beagles, but their owners were all still chasing deer, so I decided to give the cottontails a try by myself before heading out for my Texas deer hunt. My choice was actually someplace I’d never hunted for rabbit before. At the writer’s safari last spring, I hunted turkeys on some state land in Washington County where I saw a fair number of rabbits and a handful of grouse, so around 9 a.m., I grabbed my shotgun and headed out.
It was about 10 a.m. when I pulled into the parking lot, and as I was putting on my orange small-game vest and getting ready to load my shotgun, I saw a rabbit disappear into some heavy brush, definitely a good sign. As I followed the direction the rabbit had taken, I came to a brush pile which just happened to be the home of a rabbit. I don’t know if it was the same one I saw, but it fit perfectly into my game bag. Three steps later, and totally unready, a grouse blew up in front of me, and by the time I got the shotgun to my shoulder, it had disappeared into a swamp.
This swamp was difficult to walk in, much less shoot a rabbit, but I thought I’d try it anyway. This is where I needed the beagle brigade with me. I didn’t see any rabbits, but I found an opening about 10 feet square in the middle of the swamp with a number of bear scat piles and several places where it looked like it had lain down. Nice, the bear season is open and I didn’t bring any slugs.
Rather than cross an open grassy field, I decided to work the brush along the woodline edge. It turned out to be a good move, because the first brush pile I came to housed another cottontail and all it took to get it out was a few good stomps on the pile. I actually missed it with my first shot at about five yards and rolled him over with the second at about 25 yards. I saw two other rabbits in the next half hour, but caught only a glimpse of them running through the high grass. Just before I got to the end of the woodline, I saw one coming toward me, but when I started to raise my shotgun, it stopped, turned and headed back the way it had come. But he could not outrun the No. 7 shot, and then I had three.
My next stop was a small field with a number of low lying juniper bushes — always good for a few rabbits. After a quick hunter’s snack — a PB&J sandwich while sitting on a log — I got to watch a turkey parade of about 15 birds make its way across the field. Have to remember this spot in spring.
The junipers had at least five or six rabbits, but they were breaking out early and the three I shot at were all misses. I blamed it on the high grass. The final insult was when I heard what I thought was a pheasant, but never readied my gun to shoot. I stood there listening with the shotgun cradled in left arm and took one or two steps when it went airborne about 20 yards from me. Never got the shot off, and the worst part of this incident was that it was a beautiful cock pheasant. Now that would have been a trophy.
For the next hour, things were slow and after my noontime PB&J, I headed where I had seen a number of grouse while turkey hunting last spring. This was actually the perfect cover for them, with a number of apple trees and thick pines at the other end. And all throughout these areas there were heavy thickets. It was good ground for them and offered not only food, but overhead protection from predators. The only problem was my brush pants were a bit noisy in the heavy cover.
I can’t remember the last time I shot the first grouse I kicked up, but that’s exactly what happened just minutes after I entered the thickets. My shotgun was at the ready and when the grouse broke cover he flew straight away from me and I got lucky. Finally, I had one true grouse kill to enter in my New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Volunteer Grouse Log. But the day was not over.
I flushed two more grouse in the next hour, missing one and not getting a clear shot at the other. At least I got one. It was time to leave and I started back to my truck. I was in sight of it when a rabbit jumped up in front of me. but I was unable to get a shot off before it disappeared. I still had my shotgun in the ready position and when another grouse, perhaps 15 yards to my left, went up. I don’t remember aiming, but I got No. 2 two. Wow! Two grouse in one day. It doesn’t get any better than that. I might have to take the beagle brigade there later this month.
If you’d like to volunteer to keep a 2013-14 Ruffed Grouse and American Woodcock Hunting Log, you can call (518) 402-8886 or go to, www.dec.ny.gov/animals/9351.-html.