You probably didn’t know it, but ‘rabbit hunting tavern tournaments’ are about as Wisconsin as beer, cheese, and the Green Bay Packers. Known nationally as the Boone and Crockett Whitetail capital of the world, the cottontail hunting of Wisconsin often flies under the radar. However, take one step into any local watering hole during the month of January, and instead of a big buck contest, you’ll soon discover the “underground-esque” nature of local rabbit hunting tournaments.
This one, in particular, was hosted by Kirchhayn Country Club. Don’t let the name fool you, this is anything but the typical type of country club you’re envisioning. KCC, as it’s often referred by the locals, is a quaint old bar with pilsner stained floorboards, friendly folks, a few small deer racks, and of course, the classic pull tab dispenser up against the wall. Head into the men’s room and there, tacked to the corkboard over the urinal, hangs a sign…
K.C.C. – a true country club (Photo: Joe Spingola)
A quick call to the boys and we had a four-man team chomping at the bit – February 3rd couldn’t come soon enough. You see, once deer season ends around here, there’s just not much else to look forward to during the dog days of winter. You can ice fish and coyote hunt some, but aside from that, winter outdoor action gets a little slow and sparse until shed season begins. Over the years, this rabbit hunting tournament has become akin to “Opening Day”. It’s the one thing we look forward to as a group coming out of deer season.
The tournament was slated to start at daybreak with weigh-in at 3 pm sharp, leaving roughly eight hours for the teams to collect their limit of twelve rabbits. While tournament rules can vary depending on the tavern or event, this specific rabbit tourney had pretty loose rules: 4-man teams with no specifics on weapon type (some require the use of .22 calibers only). The legal bag limit in Wisconsin is three rabbits per hunter, thus, a full bag limit of twelve would certainly put the team in contention to win.
Early on, the hunting was tough. There was no snow, and the rabbits would flash like lightning. By the time you could get your gun up, they had disappeared into the brown surround. We started with high hopes as we were pushing a notoriously lush rabbit patch. Those hopes quickly faded as we went 0 for 5 to start and realized just how hard it was going to be to hit 12 rabbits without the help of a white background. As luck would have it, the heavens answered the call. Snow started to fall around 8 am and by 9:30 the forest floor had just enough of a white blanket to help. It was time to get our act together.
After a pathetic start, we high-tailed it to another known honey-hole. We had our fingers crossed that no-one else had pushed the small island yet. We pulled up to the dairy barn, knocked on the door of the milking parlor, and to our surprise, permission granted! A quick push through the small island of brush, swamp grass, and old machinery yielded a quick two for the bag. On to Location #3.
Is a rabbit in the hand worth two in the bush? #GetThemGloves
The ice had been broken at location #2 and we were finally on the board. The snow continued to fall at a rapid rate, which meant any track we came upon was guaranteed to be super fresh. We pushed a few brushy pine rows and tallied up a few more – still 8 more to go. The next push led us through a frozen swamp and a flurry of ammo, but no rabbits. After tracking a few of the ones we missed around the country, we had to hand it to the cottontails and move on.
By now, we had a lethal system in place after watching many of the morning’s rabbits bust out far ahead of any of our gunners. The lack of snow had these fur balls ready to run, so much so, that we had to be quiet sneaking posters into position before hopping on the first brush pile. Essentially, we were doing deer drives for rabbits.
The next push was sure to flush some rabbits. It was a 50-yard-wide gully chocked full with bush honeysuckle – a favorite of the hasenpfeffer. Three of us pushed, while one posted at the end. The setup was deadly. Not a single rabbit escaped and five more were added to the game pouches of our blaze orange vests. One final push through a skinny ditch laden with juniper bushes had us tagged out by noon. You could say the day took a quick turn for the better, much in part to the timely gift of snow from Mother Nature. Now, we had to see how the weight of quarry would hold up to the other teams.
Weigh in time! (Photo: Joe Spingola)
3 O’clock rolled around and you’d never seen a team so ripe with angst and anticipation. This was for all the marbles. The winner would be crowned RABBIT HUNTING CHAMPIONS OF KCC! As teams began to trickle through the door with their heads held low, it became apparent, it was a tough day of rabbit hunting. Only one other team of the 15 that entered had filled their limit and ultimately would contest for the crown.
The winning bag
The weigh-in was full of drama. It was a photo finish so-to-speak and it all came down to the very last rabbit. As they set the final rabbit into the bucket on the scale, the weight rose rapidly . . . would the other team have enough to overtake our total of 39.4 pounds? Seconds felt like minutes…and the numbers slowed and then came to a halt . . . 37.7 pounds.
We had done it – 2018 RABBIT HUNTING CHAMPIONS OF KCC!