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.
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.