More than a harvest

Sunday, March 20, 2011

This column originally appeared as a Discover Nature blog on semissourian.com/blogs.

Often it's not the harvest but the experience that gets someone excited about hunting. Robyn Martin of Cape Girardeau joined a group of 22 women who participated in the Discover Nature Women, Rabbit Hunting with Beagles Clinic last month at Duck Creek Conservation Area near Puxico, Mo.

Conservation agent Mic Plunkett said the women-only hunting events began in the 1990s when the Missouri Department of Conservation saw there were women who wanted to learn to hunt but didn't have someone to teach them. Martin said she fit that description. Before the clinic, she had no experience hunting and no one in her immediate family had hunted before.

"My friend was talking about this clinic coming up, and I thought it sounded like a good idea to help me learn how to handle a gun and also to try something new in rabbit hunting," Martin said.

The clinic began with an introduction to rabbit hunting at the conservation area headquarters, where the group was instructed in rabbit species identification, hunting techniques, safety and regulations. Rabbit species identification is important, Plunkett said, because there are different limits on harvesting cottontails or swamp rabbits. Swamp rabbits are larger than cottontail rabbits and lack the white markings on the feet and rump that are seen on cottontail rabbits. The daily limit for rabbits during rabbit season is six, but no more than two of those six may be swamp rabbits, Plunkett said.

"If a hunter takes their limit of six total rabbits in a day, it's very important to keep an eye out while you're hunting and make sure you don't harvest more than two swamp rabbits," he said.

The group also learned that beagles assist in hunting rabbits by following their scent and barking when they're on a successful trail. When chased by beagles, rabbits will typically come out of their hiding place in a thicket and make a loop to come back to where they started, Plunkett said.

Next, the group went out and tested their shooting capabilities with outdoor skills specialist DeeDee Dockins. One by one, they took their shot at clay targets that rolled on the ground, simulating a shot at a moving target.

"The target shooting was really helpful," Martin said, adding that she appreciated the one-on-one time she had with Dockins. "She walked me through how to safely handle a gun as well as aim and fire it. The first time I shot the clay disc I was so excited, I thought, 'Wow, I can really do this!'"

Then it was time to hunt. Hunting parties of two to three women went with their assigned guides to try their hand at harvesting rabbits. Some were successful; others weren't. They all shared their stories around the dinner table back at Duck Creek when the hunt was over.

Martin was one that didn't come back with a rabbit. However, she had plenty to be excited about. While outdoors she saw a bald eagle and an armadillo. She said the eagle was "amazing."

"It flew along for a while and then landed in a tree, and just looked at us," She said. "It was so beautiful and so big. I'd never seen one in the wild so close before."

Plunkett said the camaraderie, the shared adventures and the excitement women have shown in the clinics over the years is an encouragement.

"These clinics have become the most rewarding part of my job over the years," he said.

And Martin can no longer say she's never been hunting.

"Every part of the clinic from the educational classes and target shooting to the hunting itself, and even learning how to properly clean a rabbit was easy to understand and extremely useful," she said. "It helped me to understand why we hunt and how it is helpful to the environment. It helped me have respect for hunters and I learned hunting rabbits isn't as easy as you would think."

Martin added her appreciation for the guides that spent a day imparting their knowledge on the less experienced hunters.

"I really appreciate that they shared their knowledge, resources and experiences with me," she said. "And I can't wait to see what the next clinic will be about."

Information on upcoming Discover Nature Women clinics can be found at mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/programs/discover-nature-women.

Candice Davis is the media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservations Southeast and Ozark regions. Though raised to appreciate the Missouri outdoors, Candice is discovering nature on a new and exciting level as she gets up close and personal with snakes, insects and Southeast Missouri's diverse landscape. Her goal is to share her learning experiences and show Southeast Missourians how they're directly connected to their land.

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