The 20 gauge looks huge next to my oldest boy. The single shot is his now, a gift from grandpa, and we are trying to get him his first rabbit. Or hare. Or, whatever. The goal is for something that hops, has big ears and eats well.
Ok, so to be clear…the Black Tailed Jackrabbit is a hare, the cottontail bunny is a rabbit and the Snowshoe rabbit is also a hare. The differentiation of rabbit and hares is not at all confusing, especially to my 10 year old. However, the best way that I found to explain the difference is ear size. Big ears that make the bunny look funny, is a hare. Little ears, rabbit.
With that out of the way my boy and I are out seeking the oft shot but seldom eaten black tailed jackrabbit. These are big-ol-bunnies that weigh from 3-7 pounds. For years the moss backs would tell me that a jackrabbit is tough and inedible. I never questioned the wisdom of my elders until recently. I have started eating jacks in recent years and found that they are delicious. The meat on a jackrabbit is dark red and flavorful, not like the chickeny meat on a cottontail. The way I figure it is if I want chicken I can buy chicken. I don’t want my game meat to be bland. A big jack is tough as nails, but the little ones are very tender. I try to only shoot small jacks but field judging a jackrabbit on the run is kind of hard.
My son and I are being less than silent walking through the waste tall sagebrush. We are deliberately trying to spook the jacks into running, or at least moving. It is not possible to sneak on a jack; those ears are custom tuned to locating predators. Unless you are a ninja the rabbit will probably hear you approaching before you see it. That said a running shot on them is not uncommon.
We spooked several from right under our feet and several where seen running at around 100 yards. The nice part about jacks is that they typically only run short distances when they are not being perused. I will normally whistle or clap to try and confuse the jack into stopping. When they stop running I tell the boy to shoot. I always try and keep a close eye on the rabbit when it stops. The coloration on jacks makes them virtually invisible under sagebrush. If they loose you in the brush look for eyes, black dots, not for body outlines. Our brush banging is paying off and we are scaring a large number of rabbits. Safety is the biggest concern, so the total number of shots thus far have been very limited. I don’t let him shoot at moving targets just yet.
The best gun that I have ever hunted jacks with is an over-under .22/ 20 gauge. It had the range when needed and the scatter gun for up-close running shots. Currently I use either a side by side 16 gauge or an open sight single shot .22. The 16 is for when I want meat, the .22 is for when I want to go for a walk.
The boy finally lands a shot on a bunny stopped under a tall bush. The shot rolls the bunny, perforating its ears, hurting it enough for the boy to catch it in the bush with a little effort and some lost skin. The glow in his eyes as he hoists his first rabbit, I mean hare, or whatever, is infectious. I think I just have created the local bunnies’ worst nightmare.
How to break down a rabbit.
Skinning a rabbit is a non issue. The fur literally peals off like a banana. I make a small cut on the back of the bunny and then simply pull in both directions. The bunny is skinned.
However, the fur must be examined for little creatures early in the season. In early fall I tend to find warbles under the skin of cottontails that I shoot. Warbles are larva from a certain type of fly. They lay an egg under the skin of the bunny and a maggot looking creature grows under the skin. I have seen warbles the size of my index knuckle before. Yuck. Now, the warbles are not typically in the muscle of the bunnies but the meat does tend to be bruised under the infected site. I cut away the bruise before eating. Eating bunnies with warbles is safe, according to the NationalWildlifeHealthCenter.
Ticks are also commonly found on all types of bunny. They are typically off the rabbits shortly after the first hard freeze. About October in Southern Idaho. When I shoot a bunny in tick months I make sure to skin and gut them before I place them in my pack. I carry plastic grocery bags with me for just this reason. I have found several ticks latched on to my upland game vest and even a few latched on to me when I forget to remove the skin. It is also a good idea to use an anti tick spray on the dog if using hounds to hunt the bunnies.
Another good idea to cook most rabbits/hares to well done, 150 degrees plus. The reason for this is that rabbits can pack a few nasty diseases with them. The one that I fear most is the Dog Tape Worm, Taenia pisiformis, the concern is not for me but for my mutt. If the gut pile is eaten by the dog it can get a nasty case of worms. Cooking them to well done insures that almost all diseases on the animal are killed. According to the NationalWildlifeHealthCenter rabbits and hares are edible year round, yes, even in the summer.
When breaking down a hare I get four separate cuts of meat. Two front legs, two hind legs, two loins and bones for stock. First, I dearticulate the back legs by first “popping” out the ball joint on the hind legs then sliding my knife above the ball. The leg should come cleanly off with one cut. The front legs are easy as well; they are not even attached with bone. I simply slide my blade into the armpit of the bunny and make a quick cut. The leg should come cleanly off.
To get the loins off I run my knife on either side of the backbone from the base of the neck to the tail. The blade should stop on the ribs of the hare. Then press the meat away from the bone and slide the knife under the loin. It should come off in one large section. Think of it as a tiny little backstrap. The remaining bones and stomach flaps make great stocks and flavoring for soup.
For a rabbit I do the same process except I do not remove the loins. I cut off the ribs at the back bone and then cut “saddle chops”. A saddle is simply the loin still attached to the back bone.
On a rabbit I will fry all the separate pieces like chicken. The meat is white and tender. On a hare I serve each section at different times. They all take different amounts of time to cook. The big back legs I will make soup or slowly roast. The loins I will cube and use like chicken in pasta. The front legs get saved until I have enough for a braised (crockpot) dish with sausage and potatoes.
Chicken Fried Rabbit (or Hare, or whatever)
½ cup milk
½ cup ranch dressing
½ cup flour
½ cup corn starch
1 cup crushed fine cracker crumbs
1 tablespoon Ms. Dash Original Seasoning
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon cumin
Fresh black pepper
½ cup canola oil
1 lime, Juice and Zest
2 gallon Ziploc Freezer bags
In one bag pour in the milk and the ranch, mix together thoroughly. In the other bag add the flour, cornstarch, cracker crumbs, Ms. Dash, Paprika, salt, pepper, and cumin. Mix well.
Rinse the rabbit sections under the tap to wet them down. Add them to the cracker and seasoning mix. Remove to a dry plate. Then add them to the ranch mix.
Remove to dry plate and then add back to the cracker crumb mix making sure to press some of the dry coating onto the flesh. When coated completely remove the rabbit sections. The coating will last for up to three hours. So breading them ahead of time is ok.
In a medium sauté pan add about ¼ inch of oil. Heat the pan for five minutes on medium low heat. Add one section of the coated bunny, if the pan does not sizzle considerably than remove the section and turn the heat up a little.
Brown the bunny sections, about 3-5 minutes, then flip. Most pans will have lost a considerable amount of heat by now so I make sure to turn the heat up to medium when I flip the sections. This will allow even browning.
When brown on both sides turn the heat down to low and pour off the remaining oil. Grab the largest section of rabbit and cut to the center to check doneness. Keep cooking if the meat is pink. The internal temperature needs to reach 150 + degrees to make sure that all food bourn illnesses are destroyed.
Right before serving the rabbit sprinkle on the zest of the lime and then juice the lime over the top of the bunny. This will give the fried rabbit a little extra kick.