Sylvilagus Floridanus (Eastern Cottontail)

Webster Groves

There are those who would say that hunting rabbits from a car in Webster Groves is unsporting.

I am not one of those people.

Why?

Well, first of all, it started out as a simple hunting trip to a friend's expansive Kirkwood yard, which, we'd been assured, would provide a plentiful supply of bunnies. We'd brought a flask of whiskey, a BB gun, a video camera to document our urban harvest and, seeing as how it was the day before Easter, I'd even dressed in a pink shirt and robin's-egg-blue sweater. It was cold out, and I figured that if I resembled an Easter egg, we'd have a better chance of attracting our quarry.

But after a half-hour of honing our aim by firing at an empty detergent bottle, the chill, coupled with an utter lack of rabbit sightings, prompted our hunting party to retire to our rabbit blind, which, when you factor in the floral-print couches, potted plants and breakfast table, might be mistaken for a sunroom.

Fortified with a plate of olive-studded bruschetta and an infusion of good coffee, we concluded that the rabbits simply weren't biting (as it were) in Kirkwood. If we were going to have an urban Easter feast, it was clear we'd have to look elsewhere.

So we piled into the car with the gun.

By this time I was formulating a hypothesis. The critters we'd been seeking in Kirkwood were probably more along the lines of your rural-type variety, easily spooked by a biped. Heading for the slightly less pastoral environs of Webster Groves would, I surmised, put us in proximity to urban rabbits. This species would be less likely to fear pedestrians, but would maintain a healthy fear of automobiles. Ergo, drive-by hunting would give the rabbit a fighting chance.

But all the chances in the world couldn't have helped the creature we spotted munching tulips just off Elm Avenue. Going about his rabbit business, the little bugger hardly looked up as we rolled up. In fact, as I lowered down my window and drew a bead on him with the rifle, he started in on a bloom to his right, helpfully exposing his flank.

One shot later — a clean one straight through the lungs — he was crumpled over dead.

Maybe I was a little lightheaded from the experience, but as we drove off down Elm in search of more rabbits, I could have sworn I heard a flurry of kicking from inside the cooler on the seat beside me.

Visions of GoodFellas rumba-ing in my head? No, this was real, horrible kicking, and it was coming from a real bunny, who'd been dead when I placed him in the cooler. But as we debated whether to stop the car and dispatch him with a pellet through his eggshell skull, the kicking stopped.

Executing a mortally wounded rabbit in a cooler would have been grim work. But can it compare to prying the head off that same freshly killed animal? Skinning the thing? Bleak as those tasks were, they paled next to the act of pinching the rabbit's flesh above the diaphragm, inserting a sharp blade and flaying the still-warm creature straight down to the groin.

The tightly packed innards blossomed forth from the wound, a wormy riot of gray intestines. But freeing them from the carcass was another matter. That takes more than mere gravity. That takes...digging.

The wild multitude of organs — the pouch of stomach, the twisting intestines, the kidneys that cling obstinately to the rear of the abdominal cavity — gave me pause, and caused my girlfriend to vomit before swearing off meat forever. Then there was the smell, a menstrual redolence. (Oh! And mind the bladder: One slip of the knife and you've soaked your dinner in urine.)

Of course, most of us gut an animal every day, if only by proxy. But unlike the sanitized and shrink-wrapped abstractions we consume — the boneless, skinless breasts, the hermetically sealed steaks, the "luncheon meats" — this animal was not anonymous. As we trimmed away the damaged meat and cleaned the carcass, this rabbit, whose death we'd planned so lightheartedly, became the sole focus of our conversation, its life and death the object of our increasing shame and admiration.

Inevitably, of course, the rabbit was transformed into the object of our delectation. Marinated, grilled, then topped with a wild mushroom and thyme demi-glace, the meat was rich and mellow, if slightly tough, and nicely complemented by oven-roasted potatoes and flash-fried fresh green beans.

 
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