I have taken quite a few big whitetails, but none can match this prize from many years ago.
My most prized trophy did not have a sweeping rack or massive body. It did not even have a long, white tail to flag. It did, however, have white adorning its backside, and that was in the way of a little furry ball from which it gets its name.
My greatest trophy was a cottontail rabbit.
A trophy is not always measured by its size or status in the record books. A young person’s first deer is in every case considered a trophy – not only by the hunter who shot it, but by his or her parents as well. A trophy can also be measured by the degree of difficulty involving in harvesting the animal, or by the harsh elements that had to be overcome during the hunt. The companionship and memories that went along with taking the animal are other factors that can figure into the equation.
I guess there are two main reasons I call this rabbit my most prized trophy. First, I cherish it because of my companionship. My late father, whom I loved dearly, was with me. The second reason I call this rabbit one of my greatest hunting accomplishments is because of the shot. I have taken many animals at long range and others that were moving at great speed, and the shot I made that day had a large measure of both.
One frosty morning in November 1982 my father, Arlis, and his hunting partner, Charles, arrived at my house, ready to collect some rabbits for the table. I recall my father making the comment, as I walked up to him with my bow in hand, that he and Charles were after meat.
“I am also,” I said.
Dad always had a comment about my carrying a bow on a rabbit hunt, because his main purpose for the hunt was to get meat. On most occasions I would manage to shoot one to three rabbits with my bow, while my father’s take with his shotgun would be five or six.
On this morning my beagles were jumping and running one rabbit to its demise, then moving on to the next. As I recall, my father had taken two or three and his partner had shot one. I had been lucky enough to arrow a couple.
The beagles were again hot on the trail of one of the brown bunnies. We were standing on a hill in a large pasture field, waiting for the dogs to run the rabbit through the field in front of us. My father was standing a few steps in front and to one side of me, Charles a few feet to the other.
Things did not play out exactly as we had planned. The rabbit ran out into the field well over 100 yards from us. It lay down a trail, then backtracked on it and jumped to one side, where it hunkered down in the fescue grass.
I knew what soon would follow, for I had watched it play out a hundred times on past hunts. The beagles busted out of the woods in full cry, following the hot scent trail the rabbit had laid down. The cry of the dogs then went silent as they reached the end of the scent, where the rabbit had made an about-face. However, that trick was nothing new to my hounds. The older dogs began to make ever-widening circles, beginning where the trail ended.
I do not remember which beagle jumped the hidden bunny; however, nine out of 10 times it would have been Rascal. Whichever dog jumped it was a moot issue a few seconds later, because by then all had joined in the chase.
The cottontail was running full speed across in front of us, my beagles slowly losing ground behind him. All my hunting partners could do was watch, for the rabbit was well out of shotgun range. But as soon as it jumped, I raised my bow and drew, then pulled my arrow at least 90 feet up over the speeding cottontail and a lot farther than that in front of it.
What happened next defies belief. As the rabbit covered ground with long strides across the field, my arrow covered the distance in the air. After what seemed like several seconds the two moving objects met, my blunt-tipped arrow buried in the rabbit’s shoulder. The hit sent it flipping head over heels.
Before the cottontail came to a stop, my father looked around at Charles and me and with a confused look on his face said, “What in the world happened to that rabbit?”
Charles replied, “Bobby shot it.”
My father stood there in disbelief a few seconds before speaking. “I will never tell it,” he said, and as far as I know, for the rest of his life he never did.
That rabbit is and probably always will be my greatest trophy. I am not sure how far away it was when it met with my arrow, but to my best recollection it was somewhere around 125 yards.
Was it luck that I made the shot? Of course. Was it totally luck? Probably not. I have always had a talent for hitting moving targets with a bow. I do not believe it can be taught to or duplicated by someone who lacks the natural ability. I did not give myself this talent; however, I am thankful for it.
I made many of my greatest shots back before learning the “proper” way to shoot a bow. I killed countless rabbits running in front of my beagles back in the late 1970s and early ’80s. This was witnessed by many of my friends who hunted with me at the time. I have also shot squirrels after they had bailed out of trees and were nothing more than gray blurs speeding across the ground. As noted in Chapter 11, I have even shot skeet and quail with a bow, and occasionally a running deer.
I know a lot of you will not believe my rabbit story, but that is of no concern to me. The ones who know me best, my family and friends, will not doubt that it happened just as I have written it here. I have included this story because of what that cottontail still is to me: my greatest trophy.