THE hare has always been considered the most timid as well as the most tender of animals. "My hare," was the very softest and sweetest phrase in the Roman language. In the days of the empire, mi lepus were the words of endearment breathed into the damsel's ear by the loving youth just ready to don the toga. The reason of this will be well understood by whomsoever has had the exquisite pleasure of devouring a broiled rabbit saddle, served with brown gravy, for breakfast.
The rabbit, or, if we follow the naturalist, the hare; is found everywhere in the eastern part of the United States, from Florida to the great lakes of the north. With us, as a people, the name is rabbit, no matter what the zoologist may say, and no matter how many varieties may be found; but the hunter knows the gray rabbit from the brown hare as well as he knows a woodcock from a partridge; and the epicure is at once disgusted when he finds that his servant has purchased for his table a long-legged woods-hare (Lepus Americanus) instead of the delicately pencilled gray rabbit (L. sylvaticus) he ordered-the difference in flavor and the consistency of the flesh being quite marked.
In the Southern States, where the forests are thickly grown with pine underbrush, rabbits are exceedingly numerous, their paths everywhere crossing and recrossing each other. Taking ad-vantage of this habit of following well-defined trails, the negroes of the South trap and snare large numbers of them.
I will wager you a good bow you miss your first hare, though you may find him crouched in his form not ten paces from you; in fact, while he is a good large mark, he is very difficult to hit before you have learned by experience just how to aim at him.
In still hunting you will generally find him in his form, his body and neck elongated if the weather is fine, contracted if it is cold or windy, his ears pressed flat upon his shoulders, his chin resting on his forefeet; he is fast asleep, with his big black eyes wide open. He looks larger by half than he really is, which is apt to make you shoot carelessly, thinking it easy to hit him. You draw with great deliberation and let drive. Whack! goes your arrow through the grass or weeds in which he lies, but, to your utter amazement, up springs the frightened rabbit and scuds away, like a bit of gray paper before a gust of wind. You do not get another shot at him. He hunts his hole! Upon examination you find that you have over-shot him, and your arrow is sticking in the ground just beyond his form and slanting back, above and across it, towards you. This is your first and most important lesson in rabbit-shooting. Hereafter you will aim low. Yes, entirely too low; for your next rabbit gets up from his form before you see him, and after a half-dozen long, lazy bounds, squats on his haunches and waits for you to shoot at him. You aim low and let fly, and have the chagrin to see your arrow fall ten feet short! The rabbit re-solves himself into an ecstasy of billowy undulalation, outrunning the other one by several seconds on the mile, and you are left leaning on your bow, pensively longing for a shot-gun! The third time is the charm, mayhap; you bowl your game over in fine style, and can never feel prouder or happier. A week or two of daily practice in good rabbit cover will get you well up towards successful shooting at this game.
Rabbits have, especially when wounded, an inexplicable habit of running in a circuit of only a few hundred feet in diameter. I once followed one, according to my notes, seventeen times around the periphery of two acres of brushy land, before I finally secured him, and often in hunting I have found it a good plan, when a rabbit has been wounded and has made one turn round his circuit to stand and await his appearance at any point, while another bowman follows on his track. I recollect a singular incident connected with this peculiar habit, so characteristic of the rabbit that I will relate it as illustrative of its foolish simplicity as well as of the untiring energy and dogged persistence of a weasel. I was standing near a worm-fence that inclosed a small patch of wheat just beginning to head, watching for a cock-quail which I was decoying, when a rabbit ran past me, keeping between the fence and the wall of green wheat. It was too late in the season for rabbit-shooting, so I allowed it to go unharmed. To my surprise, in a second or two, a small brown weasel rushed by on the track of the flying game. I hastily sent an arrow at the earnest little thing, but missed it. A few moments elapsed, and the rabbit, having made the circuit of the wheat, again ran by me. I looked sharply out for the weasel and got another hurried shot at him; but in those days I had had little experience in shooting at moving objects, and my arrow ploughed up the ground in front of him. He did not even halt, but running right over the shaft, kept on in full chase of his intended victim. Round and round that little field went pursuer and pursued, till the circuit had been made no less than a dozen times. Finally, despairing of being able to hit the weasel with an arrow while it was running, I seized a club, and, watching for it again, rushed after it as it passed, intending to overtake and kill it. My movement, while it did not in the least discomfit or startle the weasel, caused the rabbit to break into the wheat and start diagonally across the field, and the weasel following, both were at once out of my sight. In less than ten seconds I heard the rabbit squeal, and knew the race was over, the wheat having impeded the flight of the larger animal without being any hindrance to that of the smaller. Hurrying to the spot I found the rabbit with its throat cut and the weasel complacently sucking the blood from the wound. My cudgel soon made an end of the little vampire.
In a Southern woods, hare-shooting by moon-light is fine sport. You must be able to hit-your game as it scuds past you at a leisurely lope or full run. The spot to be chosen is an open glade where the woods-hares (Lepus Americanus) congregate to play in the sand or to chase each other back and forth. You select a bush for cover and await your chance for a shot. Of course it requires nice skill to enable you to aim just far enough ahead of your bounding game, but you can soon acquire it, and it will be surprising how often you will hit.
Mr. Hansard recommends hunting rabbits with a spaniel trained to the bow. He says: "All the world has probably seen or heard of Britton Ferry, a magnificent sea-view near Swansea, on the shores of Glamorganshire. The road thence to the Ferry passes over about four miles of beautiful velvet turf, called the Burrows; and although patches of yellow blossoming gorse are scattered here and there, in general it is a plain, bare and level as a bowling-green. Thousands of rabbits inhabit this charming spot, and a better situation for an archer to acquire dexterity I do not believe exists. It will greatly enhance the pleasure of this sport, if the archer provide himself with a brace of dwarf spaniels, or beagles of the smallest size, which must be broken especially to the bow, just as the falconer trains the setter for his peculiar sport. When brought to hunt within twenty or thirty yards of the archer's feet, they may be considered sufficiently under command. If a rabbit gets up and runs in a direct line from the shooter, he may aim somewhat before its head the same allowance holds good for a cross shot; but for all this I cannot lay down any precise rules, because the distance varies, according to the power of the bow, which, for flying or running shots, should be rather below the shooter's strength."
The English archers used to keep two choice bows each; one for war-very heavy-and one for hunting-" weak and slender." This because, in war, long range and great penetration of shaft was required, and in hunting quickness of cast and perfect manageability were preferred to great power and consequent cumbersomeness.
From forty to fifty pounds is a good weight for a small-game hunting-bow. If you are very strong and agile, you may use one of sixty or seventy pounds draw.
For rabbit-shooting use light, but broad-headed arrows, sharp-pointed and barbed (see Appendix).