Rabbits like to sit out and try to soak up some sunshine, even on cold winter mornings. I tried to remember this as I shivered on a 19-degree day.
My hunting clothes were not quite as inadequate as my boots. Worn, uninsulated leather boots don't offer much warmth when it's below freezing. My hunting buddy had on fancy (he thought) rubber boots, also uninsulated; his feet were colder than mine. We didn't really fret much about this - it was a Saturday, we were free from the bonds of school and we would wring every last minute we could out of this day.
Our partners were a couple of hard-hunting beagle hounds, Mike and Lou Lou. They did not care in the least about boots, cold feet or hands, or anything of the other things that seemed to bother humans. These hounds had one mission: find and chase cottontail rabbits. If the kids who fed them and hauled them to the hunting ground wanted to come along, that was fine and dandy. If not, the eager beagles would go hunting anyway - and maybe see the kids later.
A multiflora rose thorn grabbed me by the ear, drawing blood and me back to reality in the present day. It was still 19 degrees and a pack of six beagles was on a hot rabbit track, but for some reason it was a lot harder to walk uphill and bust through the briars than I remembered.
I glanced down and checked the safety on the over-and-under shotgun for the 10th time since leaving the truck. It was a fine gun and was more than up to the task of taking a few rabbits. My insulated boots protected me from the cold, and if anything, I had on too many high-tech clothes. Standing in a brushy draw in Monroe County, West Virginia, I listened to my buddy's pack of beagles pound this rabbit track, and it dawned on me that I didn't know any of the little dog's names.
I didn't need anyone to remind me that chasing rabbits on a cold winter day was one of the simple pleasures of hunting that I had been absent from for far too long. Some raring-to-go beagles, a shotgun of your choice and a thicket with some cottontails is about all you need - simple, less complicated, the kind of thing that seems to grow rarer every year.
Mike the beagle ran past me in the brush. He was nose down, making loud sniffing noises looking for the next rabbit. Both his ears and the tip of his tail were bloodied from beating the brush, but right now he was the happiest beagle hound in Monroe County. He was doing what he was born and bred to do: chase rabbits. I figured he would be a good rabbit dog for years to come.
When you are 16 years old, you don't think about your dog getting older and how things will change for them and you just a few years down the road. At that age, you live more in the moment and don't worry about the future, much like your beagle hound. We get older and dwell on the past and the future; more is the pity.
Fifty years after hunting with bad boots, a cheap shotgun and Mike and Lou Lou, I am standing on a Monroe County hillside listening to a rabbit chase, just like I did so long ago. The first day of rabbit season, a Saturday, we always hunted in Braxton County. The following Monday (there was no Sunday hunting then) was the only day of the year I was allowed to skip school and join the adults to go hunting. This trip was always to Monroe County.
It was a longer drive, much farther away, and since I didn't know much about it, more mysterious. I couldn't have been more excited if we were going to Alaska.
The rabbits are out there, and though you may have to look a little harder, they may be in numbers that will surprise you; it did me. You still have some season left, so go get you some scratches in the briar patch and take a kid along so they can make some memories and reminisce 50 years from now.
"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at email@example.com.