Rabbit at Rest

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It was back in December that we were trying to trap the raccoons that were gnawing at the boards of our chicken coop. After much discussion about the best method to kill a raccoon, we decided on a high-powered air rifle, so we bought one. It’s a Benjamin 22-caliber break-barrel version, and it’s said to pack enough oomph for small game.

Unfortunately, the only thing we managed to trap before raccoon season ended was one hapless opossum, which we let go. But Kevin’s been practicing with the air gun.

Last night, just at dusk, he went out to lock up the chickens and spotted a rabbit coming around the side of the garden. I happened to be watching out the kitchen window, and he pointed to the rabbit and motioned for me to get the gun. I brought it out.  The rabbits regularly maraud through our garden, and are single-pawedly responsible for the complete failure of our bean crop, so I’m in favor of reducing their population.

The rabbit went behind the barrel we use as a firebox for the smokehouse, and then peeked its head and forequarters out so Kevin had a clear shot, under ten yards.

He took it, and the rabbit went bounding away into the leaves. “I was pretty sure I hit it,” Kevin said, and we went off in search.

We looked under the rhododendrons, we looked in the turkey pen, we looked anywhere we thought it might be, but we couldn’t find it. We figured he missed it after all, which meant that the “thunk” he thought he heard was probably the pellet hitting our truck tire, which had been inches from the rabbit.

Great.

This morning, though, in the full light of day, Kevin found the rabbit. It was under the rhododendron where we’d looked, but a rabbit in leaves at dusk is easy to miss.

He pulled it out, handed it to me, and got in the car to go to his office. He couldn’t miss the market opening, so I was on my own with the rabbit. I wasn’t yet fully caffeinated, so I poured a second cup of coffee and sat down to watch a few YouTube videos on skinning and gutting a rabbit. It didn’t look that hard.

I finished my coffee, donned latex gloves (in case of tularemia), and got some twine, a scissor, and my trusty poultry shears. I hung the rabbit on a tree by tying twine to a hind foot, running the twine around the trunk, and tying it to the other foot. A convenient branch ensured that the rabbit wouldn’t slip down.

I used the poultry shears to lop off the head and front feet, and made a cut around each hind ankle to release the pelt. Then one cut, ankle to ankle, and the pelt came off like a glove. So far, so good.

I’d been wondering whether it was safe to eat an animal that sat out all night but, because the temperature was well below freezing, I figured it would be fine as long as the rabbit hadn’t been gut-shot. When I pulled off the fur, I saw that the pellet had gone right through the chest and vital organs – the intestines were intact. Seeing the wound, I was amazed the rabbit could have moved at all after the shot; it must have died very quickly.

In the video, the gutting looked pretty straightforward, An incision down the underside, and everything comes out easily. But I don’t think I paid enough attention, because I struggled with the pelvis. Birds have a different skeletal system, and when you open the hind end you can pull the innards straight through. But mammals have a pesky pelvic bone between the chest cavity and anus, and I couldn’t quite figure out how to get everything out in one piece. I botched it a bit.

This was the first mammal Kevin ever shot, and the first mammal I ever processed, but it didn’t feel momentous. Maybe it was because it was a rabbit. Had it been a grizzly bear, or even a deer, and had artillery heavier than an air rifle been involved, I think it would have felt like a bigger deal.

But I also think we’re getting used to the idea that meat necessarily comes from actual, genuine animals. In order to transform them from animals into meat, you have to kill them. There’s no way around it. The only thing at all remarkable here is that I have gotten to the point that, when Kevin hands me a dead rabbit and drives off to work, I tell him to have a nice day dear, and have it skinned and cleaned before breakfast.

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Comments

  1. Congratulations. Skinned and gutted before breakfast is certainly brag-worthy. That looks like one hell of a setup for skinning a rabbit. Yes, I too find the pelvis pesky. Inquiring minds want to know how the rabbit got cooked.

    (Can I mention here that I passionately hate Updike’s Rabbit character, and that his writing doesn’t do much for me?)

    • Kate, the rabbit is now definitely resting — in a bowl in the fridge until tomorrow night. I want to let rigor work its way through. I haven’t decided what to do yet, but it’ll probably be a long braisy-thing, to guard against tough wild meat and stray bacteria, given the less-than-ideal slaughter conditions.

      As for Updike, I liked hating Rabbit in Rabbit Run, but I think the books went downhill from there.

      And if anyone’s got a good trick for dealing with rabbit pelvises, Kate and I are all ears!

  2. I’m with Kate. I might even learn to shoot myself if there was a Rabbit Angstrom season.

  3. And I thought I was the only non-Updike aficinado. Feels good to get that off my chest. (While I’m in sharing mode, I’m not a big fan of Shakespeare either.)

    That’s some good protein-based calories for your 20.12% challenge. I know quite a few people who can’t stomach rabbit guts, let alone pre-breakfast. I’ve never heard of Tularemia, and I have a real penchant for learning about animal diseases (fills all that free time I have left from not reading Updike and Shakespeare)

  4. I second the vote on published cooking notes.

    We’ve still got that hare in the freezer. It’s been in there so long, I’m starting to consider it part of the freezer’s natural permafrost. I read the recipe on “Jugged Hare”, but with defrosting, that’s about 3 days preperation time.

  5. Hmmm, not sure I could do this! It’s all I can handle to clean fish. LOL Kudos to you! As for cooking it, how about the ubiquitous 18th century “Jugged Hare”?! Yum and HUZZAH!

  6. The only good rabbit is a dead rabbit. We have a four foot chicken wire fence around our garden with an electric fence outside that about six inches off the ground. Pesky buggers chew the shrubs instead and have killed a couple of apple and pear trees. We put a scope on the .22 rifle just so we wouldn’t miss!

    • Followed the link that Brenda provided and have copied this quote: “But just because an animal is healthy and eating right doesn’t mean it’s free of bacteria or parasites harmful to humans, Hopkins says. Cooking the meat properly, to 165 degrees, would eliminate almost all risk, she says. “What I’d be worried about is getting it to the cooking stage.” Trapping and skinning an animal could expose a person to disease. Hopkins recommends protective gloves, goggles and a mask.”

      I actually did a LOL … I remember holding the hind-legs of rabbits that my Father shot while he skinned them. We ate all sorts of wild game … rabbits, squirrels, pheasants, partridges, venison, etc.

      Thanks for reminding me that I need to get those old recipes from my Mom before she passes and the knowledge is lost.

  7. Congratulations to you both! I don’t air rifle hunt rabbits as often as I’d like to so its good to live vicariously through you two.

    Can I recommend soaking the rabbit in just running salty water, if you don/t eat them often the wild ones can seem a bit gamey, and soaking gets the blood out, making the meat much more like farmed rabbit

    Bon appétit

    SBW

  8. Wow, all before breakfast? Busy lady!

  9. Excellent work. Alex says he decided to marry me the day he shot a bird and I enthusiastically agreed to stick my hands in the still-warm body cavity and gut it. Plucking gave me a run for my money, so maybe next time I’ll ask him for a rabbit.

  10. Ha! Hank and I have lots of those little dialogues too. Mostly we don’t think about it; sometimes we just look at each other and laugh.

    I would like to laud your incredible skills – not just in dressing the rabbit, but in taking a photo in the middle of this process.

  11. I think the easiest way to skin/clean a rabbit is to watch your Dad do it a 100 times while trying the various stages of skinning, gutting, cleaning under his tutelage. You weren’t that fortunate but I will have to say you did an excellent job.

    We typically just use the knife to break the pelvis open and pull out the “poop tube” but we are all about speed, not necessarily pretty. Then we put the pieces in a salt water soak before freezing.

    If you want to know the best way to cook it, Follow Hank Shaw’s buttermilk fried rabbit. But frankly, it’ll be good regardless of what you do.

  12. Don’t make the mistake of thinking possums are “hapless” ; they will rip your chickens to shreds just as fast as a raccoon. And they can be just as destructive in your garden. I am talking from experience.

  13. Respect.

  14. Hoosierbuck says:

    I say the knife or game shears to split the pelvis. I end up splitting them anyway when quartering the rabbits for cooking prep. Quick and easy small game: marinate in wine overnight in fridge; pat dry; coat in flour/salt/pepper/seasonings; brown in skillet with oil; finish them in pressure cooker. Faster and easier than cooking them all day to get them tender. The kids love this when I do a mix of rabbits, squirrels, birds.

    Well done, Tamar and Kevin.

    HB

  15. There is a LOT easier way to skin a rabbit. Make a cut in the fur perpendicular to the backbone. Tuck your fingers into that hole and with a strong tug, pull in both directions at once. Skin will almost completely come off.

    Pelvis? Kitchen shears are your best friend. No kitchen shears? Wire clips.

    And there is no tularemia in the East. In winter, cottontails are not usually bothered by parasites like botfly or tapeworm, but rubber gloves is never a bad idea. I typically eat the kidneys and heart of rabbits but not the liver, as in the West, you do need to worry about tularemia…

  16. mike henderson says:

    About the time between getting shot and dying, nearly all the deer I ever shot (either rifle or shotgun) went another 100 yards or so. So, that’s about 3, maybe 4 seconds? Chest shots leave a big blood trail, so finding it was never a problem. I’d guess your rabbit lived only a few more seconds as well. I shot all my rabbits with a shotgun, which stops them pretty well.

    Pelvis. When dressing a deer, we would pull the inards out on the ground, then press on the bladder to empty that. Get hold of the intestine inside at the lowest end, and gently milk any contents backwards. Cut the intestine, leaving several of the now empty inches still attached. We took care of the rest in the barn where we skinned and quartered them so they could cool over night.

    I mostly hunted in PA in the norther tier of counties, so it was often below freezing all day. Never the less, when dressing a deer, I always took off enough clothing to get my arms bare, so that when I reached up into the rib cage to cut the esophagus and trachea, my arms got bloody, not my coat sleeves. Bring lots of paper towels. There is a lot of fat in deer blood, and getting the red off is the easy part. I wonder if a credit card would have helped with the suet….

    Some in our group elected to leave the lungs until skinning. We generally gave them a hard time about that, but the the farmers dog didn’t seem to mind.

    BTW, I was probably 35 when I shot my first deer.

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