Somewhere in my early childhood a member of my family thought it wise to hang a sign on our cottage wall that is full of outdoor wisdom. Not the one in the outhouse that says "All good things come to he who waits as long as he who waits works like hell while he waits." Rather the fishing one that says "Early to bed early to rise. Fish like hell and make up lies." While the first may seem like the most profound the second is most definitely the most important bit of wisdom for hunters and fishermen. My children have started to learn this as they started fishing at a very young age.
Last December I asked my nine year old daughter if she wanted to go rabbit hunting with me. The deer season had yet to produce any significant results and by December I was starting to lose heart. I thought a nice rabbit hunt would be just what I needed. My daughter leapt at the chance. We tracked down a bright yellow rain slicker in the absence of any available hunter orange. We had to roll up the sleeves because even over all her warm winter clothes she absolutely swam in it. With a flourish and quick runway pirouette she was dressed for success.
I thought the best thing to do, to get her truly involved, was to give her a job. Here in Ontario you need to be 12 years old to be mentored in hunting so she was only going to be able to spot rabbits for me. I dug out a small backpack and told her she was in charge of the snacks. Our plan was to head up to the Beverly Swamp. It's 800 acres of government ground that is good for many things not the least of which is rabbits. We were going to start around 10 or 11 in the morning and we had to be home by 3pm. I realize this is not the prime rabbit hunting time but truth be told it was more an excuse to go out with my daughter. This length of time with a 9 year old necessitated some food to keep us going. My thought was a thermos of hot apple cider, maybe a sandwich or two for lunch and a couple of apples. What I got was enough food to keep us alive for about 6 weeks.
We climbed out of the truck, I shouldered my shotgun and with a groan took on the burden of our provisions and led Ainsley into the fringes of the area we would be hunting. I took a few minutes and gave her the instructions and the rules of how she was to behave at all times as well as where she needed to be in relation to me at all times. With a grin we started through the snow and the scrub trees on our quest for rabbit. Off in the distance in other areas of the park we could hear the sound of beagles as others pursued the same quarry. The first few bits of cover didn't produce anything but soon my eagle eyed daughter spotted a rabbit sitting in the snow through the trees. He didn't linger and bolted for cover. I shouldered the shotgun and made a phenomenal kill. The rabbit was fine but I slaughtered the snow right behind him. I decided to leave the body there because I was pretty sure we didn't have any snow recipes at home to cook it properly.
I slowly started to work my way through the trees. The rabbit had run from left to right and vanished over a hill. We soon had to give up the pursuit as we encountered another group of hunters coming through the bush with their dog. We never did find out where it went but they didn't see it either. We moved deeper into the bush on our quest and started to kick brush piles when Ainsley announced it was snack time. That was fine by me. Slugging a thousand pounds of food on your back is always more difficult than dragging it around in your stomach. While I poured the apple cider Ainsley laid out our mini meal. When finished, she presented me with a chocolate bar for dessert. Apparently we had a lot of candy and chocolate bars for the day. I didn't mind the idea but little did I know that it would be the stick with which she beat me.
We saw lots of evidence on the snow that rabbits lived in the area. We followed more unproductive rabbit trails than I care to count. It wasn't long before her natural competitiveness started to rear it's ugly head. Everything became a bet. Who would see the next rabbit. How many rabbits we would see before I would actually shoot one. By the time our next, hobbit like, second breakfast (or was it lunch?) ended we still hadn't seen any other rabbits. The occasional shotgun blast off in the distance told us they were still around but our efforts weren't getting us very far. She changed tactics and now tried to motivate me with such missives as "no more chocolate for you until you get us a rabbit Dad." It took quite a while for me to negotiate this particular rule into obscurity. I wasn't back on the chocolate list until after she stopped us for our 4th or maybe it was 5th snack.
We never did find another rabbit. After hours of looking, our time started to draw quite short. I think it really was more of a picnic interrupted by the occasional walk. We had a great time though. Ainsley's enthusiasm held up brilliantly as we searched every brush pile we passed. I think she particularly liked her time with the beagle. We met some other hunters as we got close to the parking area. They had more success with a half dozen rabbits hanging from their belts. Ainsley boldly asked them how they got them to hang upside-down off their belt. The owners of the rabbits took a moment and showed her the trick they used and then offered to share their catch with her. Triumphantly she carried the rabbit back to our truck and as we pulled out of the parking lot she looked at me and uttered these profound words. "So what now dad? Hunt like crazy and make up lies?" I smiled and thought of the sign at the cottage. She's so wise at such a young age.