The south-central Florida muck farm I grew up on had a clay and grass road running along the east side, from the hard road north to the far end of the property, just about a quarter of a mile. Our house set back maybe 30 feet from the ditch on the west side of the clay road, about a hundred yards from the hard road. Another hundred or so yards north of our house, and on the same side of the road, was a small unpainted wooden house. That’s where Dad’s mother’s lived; Grandma’s House!
To the east of the clay road was deep woods, jungle I suppose you could say, with gum and bay trees 70 or 80 feet high — maybe more than that because they looked mighty tall when I was about 6 years old. In the places where some of the trees were a lot shorter, grapevines would grow over the little trees so thick that the spaces underneath the trees looked like cool green caves. I always looked through the holes in the vines as I was walking past to see if I might see a forest creature in there. During the daytime, when you could see in there, about the only thing you might see was a hungry possum rooting in the leaves for some grubs or a tender root, maybe a rabbit, and sometimes a six or seven foot Eastern Indigo Snake looking for a possum or a rabbit.
One day I’d had lunch (we called that meal “dinner” back then) with Grandma, and as I was headed back to my house on the clay road, trying to see in those dark holes under the grape vines, I thought I saw a movement right at the base of a big old bay tree. At first I didn’t see anything but the tree, then I saw something sorta twitch real quick. When I finally got my eyes focused on the spot, there was a full-grown brown swamp rabbit sitting just as still as that tree, and the same color as the leaves on the ground. That rabbit figured he wasn’t seen as long as he was still, so even though I was only about ten feet from him, he just sat there looking straight ahead.
Being a brave young woodsman, I thought real quick that it was time for me to shoot my first rabbit! I slipped slowly toward the house for as long as I could keep from running (probably 10 or 12 feet) then took off like a shot. Dad was just getting up from the table as I stormed into the house, and he asked me what was the matter. I told him about the rabbit by the tree and that I wanted to shoot my first rabbit. He said that even if that rabbit was still in that part of the county I’d never hit it with a .22 rifle, so I’d better take the shotgun. Dad had shown me how to shoot it, but I never actually had.
Dad kinda smiled at me and said that if I brought that rabbit home, he’d clean it and Mother could cook it for supper. He loaded a birdshot shell into that long-barreled 16 gauge shotgun, and I scooted back up the road, maybe 150 feet, to where that rabbit had been. I couldn’t see it at first but when I got about 10 feet away, there it was, still in the same spot. I raised that big old gun up, pointed toward that rabbit and pulled the trigger.
Now, I knew a shotgun would kick, but not THAT hard! I decided that maybe hunting with a shotgun wasn’t really much fun. During supper that night, Dad told me that when shooting rabbits with a shotgun from up close, to always make sure you aim at the head. He said the full load of #9 shot through the belly of that one sure did make it messy to clean.