The hare is my personal Questing Beast and I am its Pellinore. Known as a jackrabbit here in the United States, hares neither are true rabbits nor are they particularly easy to cook. Maybe that’s why I love them. But under the right circumstances, they are plenty easy to hunt.
Sadly, I have never been in the right circumstances. I have shot a grand total of two jackrabbits in my time.
I see these skinny hares all over the place. I can spot their huge ears while zooming down the highway. Problem is, I am zooming down the highway. When I am out and about, shotgun in hand, they must all be marching in a silent and invisible procession right behind me. It has been frustrating.
What’s the fuss? Most “normal” hunters wouldn’t waste a shell on hares. Most of these folks view jackrabbits as beneath them. While this is partially due to arrogance, I suspect it has more to due with simple ignorance about what a jack is and what a jack is not.
A jack is most definitely not a rabbit. Yes, they are related biologically, but from a cooking standpoint there is a wide gulf between Johnny Cottontail and his older brother Jack. For starters, cottontails (and domestic rabbits) are white meat, as is the chicken they are said to taste like but do not. Hares are dark meat, someÂ can be as dark as venison.
Why? Chase a bunny from its hiding spot and you can step aside to a quiet spot and wait for his return in a half hour. Do that to a jackrabbit and you will be there until nightfall. Jackrabbits run a long way, and have been known to outpace coyotes and bobcats. And they can jump up to 19 feet in a single bound. Hares also live longer than rabbits, up to several years; cottontails typically see only one trip around the sun.
All of this means jackrabbits are meant to be cooked slow and low. Try to chicken-fry a jack like you would a bunny and you’ll gnaw the fillings out of your head. But what they lack in tenderness they make up for in flavor.
I got a chance to hunt hares Monday down on our new friend Michael Riddle’s ranch in Monterey County. This is where Holly shot her first-ever pig, and I wanted to see if we could scare up a few jacks or cottontails on his land.
Let me start by saying that California rabbit hunting can be easy — as it was on New Year’s Eve with our friend Evan — or it can be hard. This hunt would be of the hard variety.
Walking these hills was nothing like the classic stroll around the barnyard looking for bunnies. Nope. These were dusty, huff-and-puff leg-screamers that just…never…ended. And we saw no rabbits of any sort. Didn’t even see tracks. Michael said they’d be around, but this was evening, and I always hunt rabbits right around dawn.
After what seemed like several vertical miles of hiking, Michael rolled by in an ATV. We cruised around in the smoky sunset looking for Mister Jack. Finally, Michael spotted one. Holly jumped out to get within shotgun range, but it hopped away from us.
Depression set it. OK, depression is strong word, but it felt like that my jackrabbit jinx would continue as we drove along some more in the gathering twilight. “Whoa! To the right!” Michael had spotted another one.
This rabbit was closer, and I slipped out of the vehicle and picked up the hare hiding behind some greasebush. He was deciding which way to run when I pulled the trigger, and down he went. It was the only one we’d see.
Back at camp, I donned gloves to skin the jack — California rabbits occasionally harbor the tularemia bacteria, which can give people flu-like symptons. You can often tell by looking at the liver, which, if it looks striated and generally like Mickey Rourke’s liver did in Barfly, you will be thankful that you’re wearing gloves. I have never seen one so infected, and the incidence of tularemia in the U.S. is literally one in a million. Still, better to be safe than sorry.
This hare was skinny. It has been a tough year for people and animals here in California. We are in the second year of a drought, and our many fires have wrought havoc in our state’s wild places. So I was thankful to have him, and he’d make a nice dinner for Holly and I.
Next I’ll tell you how we cooked him…