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A shot for freedom?

June 28, 2005|JIM MATTHEWS

WE'LL HUNT this spot, my sons and I, in the brush-lined washes in the Cajon Pass beyond San Bernardino, where we can walk game trails instead of suburban bike paths and fill socks with foxtails. I always scout before opening day, looking for elevation where I watch animals as they feed. Rabbit season opens Friday.

Rabbit hunting is an Independence Day tradition for me, refined over 30 years of hunting in California. The act of leaving at dawn with a .22-caliber rifle and bringing home three or four cottontails for a family dinner has its roots in the founding of this nation.

The United States is one of the few developed countries where gun ownership and hunting can be practiced by most every segment of the population. Wildlife is managed as a resource for the public, not the property of a ruling elite as it was in much of Europe when colonists arrived.

I may well have had ancestors who were poor, brazen poachers who stole onto the king's moor to snare a hare. In a break from a tradition of land and wildlife ruled by lords, America established public lands and game management, blending individual rights with the common good. And the 2nd Amendment guarantees access to firearms.

So it seems patriotic to celebrate our freedom and enjoy a barbecue of wild rabbits taken with rimfires each Fourth of July.

We prefer to hunt at the beginning of the long rabbit season. Why? Because young rabbit is delicious. The limit is five brush cottontails, pygmy rabbits or various hares per hunter per day, not more than 10 in possession at any time, although it only takes a few for a meal.

Our prey moves during the seams between light and dark, the times of day when hunters are most alive. I typically leave the house with my son at zero-dark-thirty and this year will head to the spot where I earlier scouted young rabbits. We will sit on a hillside above a flat with some clover and peer through binoculars for movement. We often watch hawks, coyotes and bobcats pursuing their meals, and we humans smile knowing we are part of a kinship. One of us will stalk a rabbit until we get into shooting range, then spook it while kneeling for the shot.

I recall one hunt, watching my younger son, Kyle, as he sat quietly 10 yards away. He was looking at a small rabbit through his rifle scope, finger off the trigger, just getting the feel of the gun, seeing if he was steady in case a shot presented itself, enjoying watching the young rabbit. He looked like my father.

When we return home, we will soak the meat in teriyaki sauce and fire the grill. I will pull off my boots and return the .22 to its case with a renewed sense of liberty.

I wonder if a not-too-distant relative in England had gone through similar motions after evading the gamekeeper and returning from poaching a monarch's land. I remember my grandfather's clipped British accent, and I understand in part why he came to this country years ago.

Not everyone can understand or appreciate this. But if you could, I'd be happy to share some succulent rabbits, browning on my barbecue.


Jim Matthews is a freelance writer based in San Bernardino.

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