The Swamp Rabbit

I’m not real sure what year it was, but I would say somewhere close to 1983. That would put us both in the 15 to 16 year old mark. Mike and myself had headed out pretty early that day on our usual trek through the woods around our houses.
I had packed my backpack the night before and un-loaded it and loaded it back several times, making sure everything was there and in it’s place.
My backpack was actually an old army issue pack that I assume my cousin, Rick, had left with us, but to this day I’m still not sure where it came from.
My brother is 8 years my elder and even though I don’t have any memory of him being in the boy scouts, I do know he had a GENUINE, Boy Scouts of America mess kit. I can remember unpacking and packing that thing up time after time dreaming of the meals it surely must have prepared in it’s time.
It was metal and the “clamp” that held it all together doubled as a handle for the “skillet” that the bottom doubled as. Its surface was blackened by time spent over a fire. The top served as a plate and the little pot inside had it’s own little cover with a triangle shaped loop for lifting.
Tucked inside the pot was a well used pot lifter, a cleaning scrubber of some type, surely taken from either my mother’s sink or that of Terry’s mom’s. Terry was my brother’s running mate as he grew up. There was also a bar of soap, wrapped in plastic wrap.
Along with the mess kit, there was also several boxes of 22 rifle shells, a couple hunting knives, hot chocolate mix packages, Lipton “cup-a-soup” and a sure enough army surplus canteen full of water. At least one bandana, red or course, an extra pair of socks and a pair of gloves also graced the pack.
Extra gloves and socks were a must, as at some point in the day someone would usually break through some ice or mis-judge the depth of a mud hole and end up with wet feet. The gloves were a given since no matter how hard you tried, you just couldn’t pick stuff up out of the creek without getting the tips of your glove wet.
Mike met me at the corner of our yard, already having made the solo trek of probably a quarter mile, from his house to mine.
We affirmed our readiness to each other and then discussed whether we should go back across the 100 yards of field back towards his house, or go straight back down the fence row that bordered our 4 acres.
We decided that we would walk down our fencerow, then when it ran out we would then turn and return to “his” side of the field to better our chances of encountering game. The harvested bean field wouldn’t present much opportunity for shots at game if we were out in the middle of it.
I can still remember how big that 50-acre field appeared every time I climbed our back fence and started across it. Who would have thought only a few years later we would be the owners of firearms that would be capable of dropping a deer in it’s tracks at that distance and even further.
As of now though, our Marlin Model 60 semi-auto 22 rifles were the weapons of choice. We had opted for them instead of our 20 gauges for this trip due to our fine tuned marksman skills, and I suppose the thrill of the added skill it would take to kill something with them.
Some would say we didn’t have any money and 22’s were cheaper than shotgun shells but I am sure it was the skill thing.
We made the trip to the creek without incident, but we also were only able to get off a couple quick shots and small songbirds as they zipped in and out of the underbrush along the fencerow.
We had a couple good shots but they were at birds perched higher in the trees and since we were shooting our rifles, that would have sent our bullets far beyond the safe range and towards houses in the distance so we had to pass on those.
The creek ran in a Western direction for about 2 miles, then hit a larger creek that flowed due South towards the South Fork of the Obion River. Long before then it went through a bottom that was owned by Mike’s grandmother. We would travel probably 5 miles total to this point, yet as the crow flies, it was only about a mile from Mike’s house.
Not long after entering the creek but before our first culvert crossing I tested the ice beyond it’s limits and broke through. The thought of traveling all the way back across the field to retrieve new socks was disheartening but then I remembered I had an extra pair with me. Luckily the inside of my boot wasn’t wet enough to matter and in a matter of just a few minutes we were back on the trail.
We had traveled all the way down the first creek and made it to where the second creek flows through what we called “Toolas Bottom”. That was Mike’s grandmother’s name, Toola.
We decided to rest for a bit and there was an old barn, or building of some sort there and only the rafters and tin roof remained and they were lying on the ground. There were still a few inches of snow left on the top of it as Mike put his heavy, tired foot on it to rest.
I’m not sure how to explain the noise a rabbit makes as it darts from it’s resting place when flushed, but I call it a swoosh. I heard it and instinctively spun around and pointed the Model 60 in the direction of the rabbit and the safety clicked off at the same time. I had basically perfected this maneuver from performing it countless times on squirrels, birds and rabbits.
What followed however was pure skill, or luck, however you see it. I shouldered the rifle and squeezed off a single round.
The next sight I saw was the huge swamp rabbit flipping head over heels, each contact with the ground kicking up a mixture of snow, water and mud.

To be continued:
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Youth is wasted on the young.