By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 11, 1933
“One of my country friends,” said Jimmie Frise, “has invited us to go jack rabbit hunting.”
“They are getting very plentiful,” I said.
“And big!” cried Jimmie. “I’ve seen them myself over twelve pounds, and I hear they go up to eighteen pounds.”
“It is almost big game hunting,” I admitted. “But as time goes on, I suppose they will get them bigger and bigger. We may expect any day to hear of a thirty-pound jack rabbit.”
“Or fifty or even a hundred,” said Jim, “because you know the way nature goes kind of nutty over these transplanted creatures.”
“Look at the starlings,” I agreed.
“Yes,” said Jim, “and they took English trout down and put them in the streams of New Zealand, so that a little fish that might go as big as five pounds in its natural home develops in those New Zealand waters to twenty-five and thirty pounds.”
“Well, these jack rabbits are the European hare, transplanted to Canada,” I said.
“In time, we might look for hundred-pound jack rabbits,” said Jim.
“I would rather shoot a hundred-pound jack rabbit,” I announced, “than capture Quebec.”
“When can we go?” said Jim. “It’s only a few miles west of the city.”
“What are we doing this afternoon?” I asked.
So Jim lent me his spare shotgun and we went out twenty miles and down the third line and got to the farm of Jimmie’s friends just in time for noon dinner.
The farmer had invited a few friends in for dinner to go jack hunting after, so that, counting Jimmie and me, fifteen of us sat down to table.
The way we city sports go jack hunting, rushing out, poor lean hungry mortals, from the nerve-racked city to chase nerve-racked animals across the country fields, is not hunting at all.
Hunting in the time of King Henry the Eighth had some pomp and beauty about it. And there are still vestiges of the old art of hunting to be found in the country, even as near as twenty miles from Toronto.
Fifteen of us at table, with roast lamb and mint sauce, all the kinds of vegetables there are, including parsnips, and one kind of pie, but it was pumpkin. And they cut a pumpkin pie in four. And as fast as one pie plate was bared, the ladies rushed a new one from the kitchen.
And there was chocolate cake and mocha cake, and home-made pickles in large chunks with that lovely briney flavor, and we finished off with crab apples and thick cream and large quantities of dark brown tea with an aroma city tea never has.
Then we all leaned back in our chairs and put our feet up on the rungs of the chair next to us and looked at one another.
But after the table had been cleared and the ladies stood around looking comfortably at us all sagging back from the table with our eyelids heavy, and nobody even trying to be the life of the party, our host, with a sudden burst of determination, shoved back his chair and said:
“Well, how about a little jack rabbit hunting?”
And heavily, all fifteen of us rose to our feet, patted the collie dog and the two cats, thanked the ladies personally for such a meal, dawdled with our hats and coats, let everybody go ahead of us out the door, and finally, with a sense of great accomplishment, got out into the open air.
Mark you, this was noon dinner, BEFORE we went jack rabbit hunting.
Getting Bigger Every Year
I felt like Henry the Eighth when I waddled out with the rest of the gang into the barnyard where the cars were parked.
With our shotguns, we squeezed ourselves into cars and away we went down a couple of side roads to a vista of plowed fields interspersed with areas glimmering green with fall wheat.
“Ideal country,” explained the farmer neighbor in whose car I was riding. “These big jacks have no burrows. They just spend the winter out in the open, cuddling down in furrows of a plowed field, handy to a fall wheat field.”
“They grow big,” I remarked huskily.
“Huge,” said the farmer. “They are getting bigger every year, too. I saw my first jack about ten years ago. He was about six pounds. Nowadays, I see lots of twelve and fourteen pounders, and they are getting even bigger.”
“Soon be classed as dangerous game,” I remarked, sleepily.
“You have to be careful even now,” said the farmer. “If you shoot a big one, don’t just rush in and grab it as if it was a bunny. It can give you a nasty kick. And I suspect they bite too.”
“My, my,” said I, waking a little.
All too soon we reached our starting point. The cars all pulled on to the side of the country road, and we piled out. Ahead of us spread a lovely misty prospect of fenced fields, pastures, plowed areas with wood lots scattered away in the distance.
The farmer who was our host scattered us in a long line down the road, with about three of us to a field. And at a signal, we started to advance. Jimmie was in the next field to me.
The fences were nearly all wire, and each fence had a strand of barbed wire along the top. Long-legged men can step up to the middle strand of wire and swing their leg over the barbed with grace and ease. But a short-legged man finds it not only difficult but entirely outside the realm of grace. He has to climb to the top strand, balancing carefully, and then, by a series of uncertain and waggling movements, shift himself over the top barbed strand, and leaning far out, lower himself to the ground. With an eight-pound shotgun, it is quite a feat.
We had gone only three fences when I heard a sudden shot and, looking to the west, beheld Jimmie crouched forward, blazing ahead of him. Bounding away was a large fawn-colored animal about the size of a collie dog. On the third shot it rolled over. And the line of us halted while Jimmie picked it up, tied a strong cord to its four legs and hoisted it heavily over his shoulders.
There was much applause and congratulatory shouting.
“Fifteen pounds,” shouted Jimmie.
Slowing Up the Line
On we went. Far to the east and west, the long skirmish line extended, and in about every second field, we would jump a hare and away it would streak, amidst a bombardment of guns.
The fences were getting more numerous and my dinner continued to embarrass me, so that the line of march had to slow up to my speed. But the rabbits continued to fall. Jimmie got another and bigger one, and I was glad to see, that with the animals’ huge forms slung over his shoulders, it was Jimmie who was now slowing up the line. By the time we had gone a mile, and climbed about twenty fences, four others had jacks slung over their shoulders, and I was carrying my hunting coat over my arm.
It was this fact which caused me to miss a very large jack that leaped up not fifteen feet in front of me in a plowed field. It was heavy going. A plowed field is not meant for amateurs.
There was a splutter of dust, something huge and buff-colored slithered out almost under my feet. I had my gun over one shoulder and my coat hung over the other arm. Before I could come to any decision as to what to do, the jack rabbit had bounded ahead across the furrows and had vanished in the shrubbery along a fence.
And there I was standing, with gun over one shoulder and coat over my arm.
“What’s the idea!” they all shouted. “How about coming hunting with us some time? Did you expect it to hobble away?”
“It was about twenty pounds!” I shouted back. “I was observing it, that’s what I was doing.”
Two fields farther on, another got up ahead of me. I threw my coat down and swung my gun into action, but it appears the rabbit had turned to the left after it had gone a few yards, so that my shots, fired straight to the front, appeared particularly ineffective to my comrades.
Jimmie climbed a couple of fences and came over to me.
“Here,” he said, “let me carry your coat.”
“You’ve got two jacks to carry,” I said, but he took the coat anyway.
“Now,” said Jim, “get busy and knock the next one down.”
It was one of those misty autumn days. The sky was overcast. We came, after a couple of fields, to a wood lot, around the margins of which were scattered patches of small brush.
“Watch yourself along here,” said Jimmie, as he left me to take through the middle of the wood lot. “There’s like to be a twenty-pounder around here. If you see one, it will be a big one.”
Unencumbered by any coat, with my gun carried at the charge, I walked carefully up the side of the woodlot. In the distance were spread away my companions, most of them watching me, I felt sure. I lost that Henry the Eighth feeling.
Halfway along the edge of the wood lot, while I had almost given up my fear that there might be a jack rabbit hereabouts, there was suddenly a terrific crash in the bushes beside me.
There, plunging through the underbrush was a huge tawny shape, the biggest jack rabbit ever seen or imagined.
It would not be twenty pounds, or fifty pounds, or even a hundred pounds. It would be hundreds of pounds!
With terrific leaps and plunges, half hidden in the brush, this monstrous rabbit was fast vanishing, while from all sides, as I raised my gun, came wild shouts and cries.
“Bang!” I let go. “Bang!”
Both barrels, dead on.
And amidst a ghastly silence, the monster jack rabbit lay still. And from all across the fields came running my companions.
“Boys,” I cried triumphantly, rooted to the spot, the gun shaking in my hands, so great was the thrill of it all, “I have got the biggest dang-busted jack rabbit ever seen!”
As they arrived, they all plunged past me into the brush to view the world record monster I had slain.
I could hear mumbling and excited chatter.
I strode into the brush to stand over my kill.
There on the ground lay a year-old Jersey calf.
The farmers were all bent down over it. More of them came charging into our midst.
I began to feel like King Charles the First.
The calf was breathing heavily, its sleek fawn sides heaving. It rolled its eye back at me.
“Look out for Bill Bowser,” said somebody. And about ten of the boys got up hastily and vanished into the surrounding brush.
A large stranger in overalls appeared from nowhere and stood looking at the calf, and with one accusatory state that swung around the three of us who remained, he fastened his dark and furious gaze on me.
“That,” he said, “is my prize Jersey.”
“I thought,” I squeaked, “it was an extra large jack!”
At that moment, the little Jersey got up, hind end first and stood blinking its eyes.
“She ain’t hurt, Bill,” said one of my friends.
Bill Bowser stepped up and felt the calf all over very carefully.
“He missed her,” said my friend, as Jimmie came into view through the brush. “The sound of the gun scared her so bad she just fell down.”
Bill continued to feel carefully along the calf’s flanks and down her legs.
“From where I was,” said Bill Bowser darkly, “up near my barn there, it looked as if he was less than ten feet from her when he let fly both barrels.”
“Even so, he wouldn’t have hurt her,” said Jimmie. “He is shooting blanks.”
“Blanks!” we all said.
“Yes,” said Jim. “I lent him the gun and I had a box of blanks left over from a regatta we had this summer. I figured no man should have live shells on his first jack rabbit hunt.”
Bill Bowser turned his back and led the Jersey away.
“You fellows keep off my property from now on,” he yelled back at us. “Wasting time shooting jack rabbits, instead of earning your daily bread.”
And pie and cake and crab apples with cream, I thought.
Gradually the others came out of hiding in the brush and we formed line again after carefully skipping Bill Bowser’s fields.
“Jimmie,” I said, as we started skirmishing again, that blank cartridge business was pretty low.”
“The joke of it is,” said Jim, “they weren’t blank. I just said that to disarm the guy. You missed, that’s all!”
“I couldn’t have missed at that range!” I cried.
“Wait and see,” said Jim, moving away from me.
We jumped two more jacks out on the flanks. Then we jumped another between Jim and me.
“Take it!” shouted Jimmie.
As I swung the gun up, I thought of the long two-mile hike back to the cars. I thought of that great big fifteen or twenty-pound buff streak hung like a millstone around my neck. I thought how sad it would be to deprive this harmless fleeing creature of its life. And anyway the barrels were waving all over in front of my eyes.
“Bang!” went Jim’s gun.
Down went the jack.
So I don’t know whether I was shooting blanks or not.