The jackrabbit

Word went out on the community message board that people were finding dead jackrabbits.  Healthy looking jackrabbits that appeared to have just dropped dead.  There was a plague going around.  A jackrabbit plague.  RHD2.  Rabbit hemorrhagic disease two.  The two distinguishes it from original RHD.  Bad news, a plague of any kind.  Sure enough, a few days later, I saw on the remote camera on the back porch of my cabin out in the Mojave a bird picking at what looked like the muscles and bones of what used to be a jackrabbit.  

I drove out there, and found that yes indeed, this had been a jackrabbit.  Whether it had died of plague, I don’t know, it seemed possible.  I bagged it for disposal, and poured some disinfectant on the ground, as recommended by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.  

The next day, I found another dead jackrabbit.  This jackrabbit did not appear to have been hurt in any way.  Her eye was open to me.  This jackrabbit appeared to have gone into the shade and died.  There was no visible trauma and no blood.  I didn’t want to get too close, but this was the best chance to examine a jackrabbit, up close and at rest, that I’d ever had.  Usually the jackrabbits are fast and on the move.  Once they sense you seeing them, they take off.  

I won’t put a picture of it here, in case a picture of a dead jackrabbit would upset you.  In a way the lack of damage and the animal’s beauty made it much more sad and eerie.  It reminded me of Dürer’s drawing of a young hare.  I read the Wikipedia page about Dürer’s drawing, which departs from the usual impartial tone to quote praise for the drawing’s mastery:

it is acknowledged as a masterpiece of observational art alongside his Great Piece of Turf from the following year. The subject is rendered with almost photographic accuracy, and although the piece is normally given the title Young Hare, the portrait is sufficiently detailed for the hare to be identified as a mature specimen — the German title translates as “Field Hare” and the work is often referred to in English as the Hare or Wild Hare.

Dürer’s drawing of a walrus is less acclaimed:

 

The drawing is generally considered as not successful; and is viewed as curious attempted depiction that is neither aesthetically pleasing nor anatomically true to life. Art historians assume the artist drew it from memory having viewed a dead example during a 1520 visit to Zeeland to see a stranded whale which had decomposed before his arrival. Referring to the depiction departure for nature, Durer’s animal has been described as “amusing…it looks more like a hairless puppy with tusks. When Dürer drew from life his accuracy was unquestionable, but he had only briefly seen a walrus, and had only fleeting memory and an elaborate verbal description from which to reconstruct the image”.

The jackrabbit is very similar to the European hare.  The suggestion of the magical power of hares is a common theme in Celtic literature and the literature and folklore of the British Isles.  We all remember the March Hare. 

Most Americans are confused as to just what hares are, chiefly because we are accustomed to calling some of them jackrabbits. Biologically, the chief differences between hares and rabbits are that hares are born with hair and open eyes and can hop about immediately, while rabbits are naked, blind and helpless as birth.

I learned from this book:

which contains recipes for hares, including jugged hare, hasenpfeffer, and hare civit. 

Jugged hare, source

Of all the game animals you can hunt in California: elk, wild big, bear, turkey, bighorn sheep, deer, duck, chukar, dove, quail, the jackrabbit alone can be hunted all year round*.   There is no season, and there’s no limit. On one of my first trips to California, I was taken out to the desert with the Gamez boys on a jackrabbit hunt.  We only saw a few jackrabbits.  Nobody got off a good shot at one.  I doubt we really wanted to kill one, we just wanted to drive around the desert, shoot guns, and have fun, which we did very successfully.  

During the pandemic I got my California hunting license, you could do it entirely online due to Covid restrictions.  But I don’t intend to hunt jackrabbits, I don’t want to be like Elmer Fudd.  

The meat is said to be quite dry, tough, and gamey.  Most recipes call for long simmerings.  

If you ever find out in the desert where you must hunt a jackrabbit for food, here’s the Arizona Game and Fish Department telling you how to butcher one.  

* non-game animals, like weasels, you can go nuts



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