By Gabriela Zaldumbide
One of the reasons why I became a hunter was so I could source my own food. In the last two and a half years, I’ve had the pleasure of hosting many wild game dinners, adoring the opportunities to share my elk, venison or small game with friends.
Unsurprisingly, after attending some of these “family dinners,” my friend Anna became interested in harvesting an animal herself. She had harvested a whitetail doe with her dad before in Alabama, but that was long ago. She was interested in the mentorship I had to offer. It being January, we decided a small game hunt was best, and I knew exactly where we were going.
Anna had to work at the Vail resort in Crested Butte the morning of our hunt, so we left Gunnison and headed south as soon as she got home in the early afternoon. We hadn’t yet made it out of Cochetopa Canyon when we spotted a large bighorn ram in the middle of the road. His nearly full-curl horns shimmered gold in the sunlight bouncing off the snow. We slowed down and pulled over; 12 mature rams were feeding, pawing the grass free from under the snow just off the road. A handful of them decided it was time to snack on some sagebrush, and they climbed a vertical rock wall with ease. We couldn’t believe our luck! No traffic, a bluebird afternoon and all the time in the world meant we felt like we could watch this bachelor herd forever. They didn’t blink twice at us photographing and gaping at them from the windows of my RAV4.
Eventually, the fact that the sun was now descending dawned on us, and we decided to keep on moving towards my cottontail spot.
You can see the rabbit highways through the snow from the road. We parked in my favorite pull-off, right in front of a fence crossing, and post-holed into the willows. Fresh tracks, nibbled plants and tons of scat reassured me that, yes, the rabbits were still here. It was only a few minutes before we saw our first one. Not ready to shoot quite yet, Anna told me that I should get it. I put the rabbit in the scope of my .22 and pulled the trigger.
“Anna, you should go see if she’s dead,” I said, knowing the rabbit was, in fact, very dead.
She slowly walked up to the rabbit, its fur blowing softly in the breeze. She cupped its body in her hands. “I can’t believe how soft she is.”
“Do you feel ready to shoot the next one?” I asked.
“I think so.”
It didn’t take long to see the next one, either. Hidden in the lowest branches of a willow was a small, young cottontail. We moved a little closer, looking for a better shot, and the rabbit spooked. The willow it was under was so large, it simply ran to the other side. We couldn’t see it anymore.
“Anna, you stay down there! I’m going to climb up this hill and spook him back towards you,” I said.
It worked. I waded up the small hillside, gaining access to the other side of the tree, and found the little rabbit again. I jumped towards him, running him back down the hill.
“I see him!” Anna shouted.
“Shoot him!” I shouted right back.
She raised my rifle and got him in the scope. There was a loud bang, and right after, “I got him!”
I tromped back down the hill, my boots filling with snow. I turned around to a beaming Anna; she had a stick in her hair, my rifle in her right hand and her first cottontail in the other. Agreeing that it was getting cold and dark, we headed back to my car, cottontails in hand. We had a quiet car ride home as we watched the sun set behind the mountains, the sky turn a velvety lavender and a big muley buck feed with a doe outside of town.
We made quick work skinning and cleaning the rabbits on my dining room table. We kept both of our hides, and now we have matching brain-tanned parka ruffs. We felt pretty cool walking into our graduate school classes together donning our new and improved jackets.
For the next family dinner, we had rabbit with mustard sauce. Anna cooked up her first cottontail herself; frying it until it browned, cooking down the sauce and dishing everyone up. I know that for her, feelings from our afternoon together resurfaced during dinner. I don’t think she stopped smiling once. She’s less inclined to go to the grocery store for meat again, too. Why would you when you can get fresh rabbit down the canyon?
Gabriela Zaldumbide is a BHA chapter leader in Fort Collins, Colorado. She is the community manager for the hunting apparel company Hunt to Eat, enjoys jigging for big lakers under the ice and lives to chase squirrels and rabbits with her .22.
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This article first appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of Backcountry Journal. Join BHA to get 4 issues a year right in your mailbox.