When I was younger, I used to go rabbit hunting with my dad. It was one of my favorite of all the hunting genres because it didn’t require you to be quiet, and you got to walk around and do what you want for the most part. We would also bring along all of our hunting beagles (Andy, Alison, Gunner, Jimmy, Ed, and Coleen… the WIVK on-air staff) and they’d run around and bark and sniff things and when dad wasn’t looking I would pet them or try to feed them leaves… you know… because it’s funny to watch dogs eat leaves, especially when you’re bored. But it wasn’t until I got older that I realized how much I learned from going on these trips with my dad. Though I never got the itch for going out and shooting things, my love for stretching metaphors and meaningful life experiences ended up making the hunting trips way more applicable than I thought they would be.
The lessons would always come up in the most unpredictable of ways, and it was senior year of college that I realized exactly what it meant to be a good rabbit hunter. When it come to running around with a gun in the woods, I was always a little overly cautious–I always had a fear of shooting my dad in the face, or more likely, shooting one of the dogs. Once I actually shot a rabbit, I told my dad I was done; I kind of considered it more of a feat that I shot a rabbit and nothing else, and that’s kind of the way that I went about the rest of my life. Get in, get out, call it a day.
And that’s the exact approach that I took to my last Cinco de Mayo. My senior year was winding down quickly and after thesis and comprehensive exams were over, there wasn’t really anything to do but show up to class and then celebrate with people in our spare time. The drink of choice at Maryville College is arguably a toss-up between boxed wine or margaritas at a local Mexican restaurant and considering that it was Cinco de Mayo (and a Saturday, mind you), margaritas were the obvious choice. I had decided that because it was too predictable for seniors to get drunk and make bad decisions, I would tread lightly in Margaritaville, but it didn’t take too many margaritas for all of us to start reminiscing about the three years that had gone by. Then, someone inevitably said that we were all probably never going to be in the same place again at the same time, and that’s when we all ordered more margaritas and ended up posing “Last Supper” style.
But after the initial margaritas, I had decided that tonight was the night: the night to go rabbit hunting. I was fresh out of a relationship and had been eyeing someone in particular for some time. I knew the follow up party that I needed to go to, and I knew that this would probably be my last chance to even solidify a decent conversation, let alone anything further than that, so I set off for the chase. Once the party had started, I wasn’t sure how I would accomplish my goal, and like most of the hunts that I went on with my dad, I was pretty much ready to give up and go home after thirty unsuccessful minutes. Even as a senior, chasing after a freshman rabbit, I didn’t have much confidence, and I didn’t believe in my hunting skills. After all, this wasn’t just a rabbit. This was a pretty rabbit who was transferring to a college in New York; everyone wanted to shoot this rabbit, metaphorically of course. (Disclaimer: I neither condone, nor encourage, anyone to shoot another person. Maybe I should lay off the metaphor for a bit.)
So as the night continued and the bottle of tequila grew less and less full, I committed to my cause. The funny part about guys is that we’re stupid when we’re interested in someone. We do things and say things that we would never have otherwise, so of course, I made sure that we were interested in all the same things. And I guess, in a way, the same logic applies to hunting. There’s a specific way that you walk when you’re in the woods, even if you’re rabbit hunting. You tread lightly, and you try not to make yourself too obvious because you don’t want the rabbits to run before you get within eyesight of them. And there’s two types of hunting: the kind where you sit and wait, and the kind where you’re constantly moving, and of course, last Cinco de Mayo, I was constantly moving.
After the conversation had run out, I was running around the party trying to entertain in any way possible to keep my rabbit’s attention, but nothing seemed to be sealing the deal. When the rabbit suggested that we should jump into a pool with all of our clothes on, I went for it. And when the pool was only three feet deep and I scraped my knees on the concrete pool bottom, I just kept going because it seemed like that’s what you’re supposed to do. But then, toward the end of the night, I had noticed that the rabbit had disappeared, and there were only two explanations as to what could have happened: the rabbit had left the party or someone else had shot the rabbit.
Disappointed, I went from room to room looking/sulking for the rabbit when I knocked on one of my friend’s doors. He barely opened the door and put his face in the crack and asked what I wanted. Don’t get me wrong, everyone deserves to get with whomever they want, but there’s an ethical code to every hunt, and my dad’s words suddenly shot back into my head: Justin, you should never shoot a sitting rabbit: no matter what. There could be something wrong with it, like wobbles. (Just in case you don’t know, “huntchat.com” explains that wobbles are actually warbles, and warbles are parasites that cause white lumps in squirrels and rabbits. If they have warbles, you can apparently die. Congrats, you learned something today.) So when he barely had the door open, I had this gut feeling, almost like a mother’s intuition, to push the door open farther.
When I pushed the door, I saw a pair of feet laying on his bed; they didn’t look like normal feet though–it was more like, Hey, I don’t know the floor from the ceiling, I think I’m just going to pass out now feet. And when he gave me the “get out of here, I have a job to do eyes,” I channeled my dad the best I knew how and said, You know, my dad told me you should never shoot a sitting rabbit. There could be something wrong with it. I decided not to include the part about the wobbles because it didn’t seem applicable. My friend just kind of stared at me confused, and as he did, I forced myself a little farther into the room to see the girl passed out on the bed, and I repeated myself, It’s not ethical for a hunter to shoot a sitting rabbit. It’s unfair because something might be wrong with it. I looked back over at the girl, You just can’t shoot a sitting rabbit. And just like that, it was like saying “rabbit” three times awoke her from the dead, and she awoke from her slumber and excused herself from the room. I could tell that my friend was about to kill me, so I decided to excuse myself as well, but in the midst of my own hunt, it meant more for me to stop and make sure that we weren’t going around shooting rabbits with wobbles… sure, we were in college and we all know what’s on everyone’s minds, but there’s always a moment when you have to pull back and ask yourself, At what cost am I doing this?
So, I had given up on my own plans for the night, and I was getting my stuff ready to leave when I looked up and saw the rabbit again… my rabbit, that is. I had spent the evening doing shots and taking pictures so that the rabbit could put them on Instagram and talking about things I didn’t care about just so that I could impress someone who ultimately, was just another person. I had set myself up to believe that this was the moment, and after all of that, I didn’t even get to have a truly meaningful conversation, so as I saw the rabbit go into a room alone, I walked in, and announced I’ve been following you around all night doing shots and talking about stupid shit, when all I wanted to do was kiss you. I had caught the rabbit off guard. Look at my knees. This is stupid. I’m going to have scabs on my knees. Why? Because I’m not the person that’s just going to come up and kiss somebody. I jump in pools after people–shallow pools. And then the rabbit asked, So, why didn’t you kiss me? All of a sudden, I began to feel like the rabbit instead, gun pointed at me and everything.
My dad always used to ask me why I never shot at more rabbits, and in the end, it was because I was scared… scared of shooting him or the dogs or just missing all the way around. I thought that maybe if I didn’t shoot at all then it wouldn’t be a failure. If you don’t shoot at anything, you can’t miss. But in the same respect, you can’t take anything home. So in one of the bravest moments of my life, I closed the door, and I went in for the kiss. I. Shot. The. Rabbit. And it was the best fifteen second ending to a hunt in the history of all the hunts I’ve made.
So, in the end, the rabbit ended up deleting me off of Facebook, I went to DC, and the rabbit went to New York. I don’t think my dad’s intended lesson was to draw metaphorical comparisons between shooting a 4×10 and trying to kiss people, but that’s just kind of how life works out I guess. I doubt I’ll ever see that rabbit again, and I’m kind of cool with that because that night of hunting can teach a person a lot. There’s always a code to go by. You can’t just go around chasing anyone you want, especially if they’re unconscious, but on the other hand, for hunters like me… you have to be willing to take the shot. You may not hit the target every time, and even if you do, the target may delete you off of Facebook, but you can’t be afraid of pulling the trigger. After all, you don’t know exactly how many hunts you’re going to have in your life.