Hunting the Velveteen Rabbit
by William E. Allendorf
Property of William E. Allendorf and Black Hole Productions, 1985 All Rights Reserved
There was a time in my life when the harmony of man in nature eluded my understanding. Having grown up as a junior technocrat in the womb of American suburbia, mother nature had always seemed the capricious wench. There was only chaos to be found in nature no portion control, no pleasing packaging, and no reassuring aftertastes. I hated going outdoors, preferring to spend my Saturdays camped out on the earth tone shag in front of the television. Mom liked it that way too; my clothes always got too dirty when I played outside.
At first, the thought of going hunting dredged up all these childhood biases. My nose filled with the smell of half remembered leaf mold. It had been years since I had gotten out and actually killed something. So when Roger Carlton called me up to invite me along when he took his kid hunting, I begged off. Roger persisted, and when I came by the house on the next weekend to pick Roger up for the Miami Valley Bazooka Quarter Finals, Ed, his kid was waiting for me.
"Dad says you're coming hunting with us!" Eddy said as he gave "Uncle Bill" a big hug. Eight years is too short a time for a kid to have picked up all the skills of a world class wheedler; it must be racial memory. Roger and I were both eliminated early, so we packed up our bazookas went home to his house to plan the trip. Roger had been checking out all the possibilities spring bear in Ontario, Tennessee boar, wild turkey, but it all seemed like too much of an expedition to be toting around a kid. We had one brochure that seemed just right:
HUNT MICROWAVE VALLEY year round season easy access deer, dog, rabbit no limit hunting
There was a toll free number, so we called the local chamber of commerce and got the number of the local Holiday Inn as well as the address of a couple of guides. By the next weekend, Roger, Ed, and Uncle Bill were off to Microwave Valley in a borrowed camper. Roger and I believe in roughing it, but Holiday Inn was going too far.
Microwave Valley is a well populated area about an hour's drive from downtown Cincinnati. One of the big defense contractors took over the largely strip mined area and built a test range for anti personnel beam weapons. Local boys from all up and down both sides of the Ohio River drove hours to come and work at the plant. Related industries cropped up. The local women discovered that pies left out to cool on the window sill acquired an odd color. Soon, it was realized that there was ready source of free radiation coming from the range and a boom started in the irradiated foodstuff industry. Left in the open air racks, sealed food was made tastier and germ free. A pouch of single serving stew could be sealed, radiated and left for years on the shelf and then re heated. The taste was improved, and spoilage was unheard of.
Another side effect from the test range was that, contrary to warnings by the EPA and its entourage of do gooding private environmental groups, the wild life thrived. Most all native species grew in amazing numbers. Whitetails roamed the woods in large herds reminiscent of the western Muley. Fox, squirrel, pheasant it seemed like someone had taken the essence of Midwest sport hunting and given it a dose of flavor enhancer everything the same only more so.
When the boom in defense spending hit the skids a few years ago, Microwave Valley went bust. The people left in droves, but the game remained. Trailer parks were deserted, and besides the buildings, the inhabitants left behind another legacy: dogs. Man's best friend had undergone the same transformation as his wild brothers. Large packs roamed in search of deer. The state wildlife commission had retaliated with poison and chopper hunts, but the problem got out of hand. In the end, they called upon their friends, the hunters, to bail them out. Unlimited hunting was declared three years ago, and Microwave Valley quickly became the slobbering hunter's paradise.
We found decent accommodations in the parking lot of the K Mart at the edge of the Steinmetz National Forest what they called the test range now. There was an arcade next door, so we flipped Ed a five spot and let him go shoot up the Pac men while Roger and I put the finishing touches on our armament.
Roger's Heckler and Koch M91 was having problems. He ripped off a few clips into the field in back of the store and discovered that the it jammed up on the three round burst setting. That disappointed Roger full auto was working but that seemed wasteful. The semi auto setting worked okay too, but that cut down on the kill ratio. While Roger fussed over his piece, I pulled out my two: a SPAS 12 Shotgun for close in, and a 50 cal. SLAP (Sabboted Light Armor Piercing) in case I had to reach out and touch something at a mile or more. After running a silicone mitt over each one and getting my bandoliers loaded, I reminded Roger that he had better drop the M91 and check out the kid's gun.
Roger grumbled and went into the camper. He was back quickly with a Enfield 5.56 mm Bullpup with laze aim sights. I commented that it seemed like a lot of gun for an 8 year old, but Roger shrugged and explained that Ed had cried to take his "Star Wars" gun along. I might have argued about the safety of giving an expensive Bullpup to a third grader, but I caught myself when I remembered that this was the son of the top dog in the state for SMG Silhouette. Little Ed was shooting sub machine guns before he had started school. We joked around, tossed down a few, and then retired to the camper's Jacuzzi to mellow out.
Ed came back after ten o'clock that night. We went out to Pizza Hut for dinner and then tucked Ed in with Ernie, the stuffed dinosaur. Ed asked if he could take Ernie along on the hunt. Dad explained that we needed both hands free for keeping balance in the rough country.
Around noon on Sunday, we got up and got going. We went into town and picked up a guide at one of the greasy spoons. Larry Amburgy was a tall, lanky fellow, with the off color suntan that marked him as one of the locals. He asked us what we wanted to hunt, and we asked him what was moving.
"Now some guys come down here and have fun lobbing grenades on the doggies," said Larry. "But you guys seem to be into something with a little more finesse." I was about to correct him when Roger agreed.
"I want my son here to have the thrill of stalking something," Roger said. "It's his first time out, and I want him to get the right feel for hunting."
"I tell you what," Larry answered after picking his nose and thinking a bit. "We'll just head off and see what we see. I've got a hunch we might hit some dog on the way that's always good for the scatter guns. If you want to take that big bore along though, we'll be all day looking for something big enough to shoot. What sort of artillery is that anyway?"
"Fifty caliber sabboted light armor piercing,". I replied. "And I don't care what's left to take home. Just give me a herd of those glow in the dark deer "
"That's just it, the deer are pretty sparse right now, and they don't glow. That's just a lot of bull some outdoor writer cooked up. He wrote in a magazine that the deer glowed so bright, that you could shoot all night. The story caught on, and before you knowed it, they came up and cleared out most of the herd. Naw, what we're after today is velveteen rabbit." He winked at little Ed, whose eyes nearly popped out.
"The Velveteens are a sight different from your cottontails. They have a blue cast to the fur. They're wary little buggers, and they get meaner with age. There was this story about Ol'Blue, the biggest bunny of them all. He took to ambushing hunters a few years ago. People was coming in all tore up telling these tales about getting jumped by a rabbit with a crooked jaw and big bald patch on the top of his head."
"How did he get that way?" Ed asked, falling for the story.
"People say he was used as a target for those particle beam weapons the Army was working on," Larry said. "He must have gotten away, and all the abuse he received from Man made him go mad."
We drove in Larry's jeep several miles into the national forest. Along the way, we stopped occasionally to have some fun with the weaponry. I let little Ed mow down a stand of maple with my SLAP. It looked so good, Larry wanted in on it, so we loaded up and drove till we found another stand of good sized trees and let him clear off a few acres.
The woods were fairly scarce of people. Once while Roger was worrying a pack of dogs from the back of the jeep, we heard a few shots come whizzing over our heads from the direction Roger had shot. Larry brought the jeep around and whipped out a worn and rusty shotgun.
"Best way to handle gettin' shot at," Larry said as he emptied the magazine. "Is to return fire." The shooting stopped.
We passed by some of the block buildings left over from the test range. Most of them had been pretty well gone over by homebrew demolition nuts. Roger wanted to stop, but Larry wouldn't. He said there was too much of a danger of falling into one of the pits dug for the underground storage batteries.
We finally got to a place where Larry wanted to take us. It was a small hill overlooking one of the abandoned trailer camps. From here we had a good view of the valley. A small creek ran down the far side, and close to us was a concrete bunker, now overgrown with brambles. Larry had us get out and check our gear while he fussed with a spotting scope he was setting up on the hood of the jeep.
There was a nice breeze blowing. A few birds flew over, and Ed spotted a squirrel or two high in the big trees on the crest of the hill. He was all set to pick them off when Larry reminded him that he might scare the rabbits away. After twenty minutes of waiting around, Larry motioned for us to come over and look through the scope.
"Them velveteens are out," He said. "Looks like a buck and two does."
"Is it Ol' Blue?" Ed asked excitedly.
"No, Blue's too mean to have a harem. He'd just eat 'em," Larry answered. "But this is a good size buck. You see how big he is compared to the does." Ed peered through the scope and nodded."
I looked through the scope too, and sure enough, there were three bluish rabbits about the size of cocker spaniels milling around the bunker eating grass.
"How do we take them?" I asked.
"Well, why don't you two sneak down the hill here on the left," Larry said, pointing at a line of stumps and brush that afforded good cover. "Ed and me will go around the hill a little bit and come up so we're hidden by the bunker."
"Save the buck for me," Ed said. We all agreed before parting company.
Roger and I crept down the hill behind the brush piles. Roger is pretty agile for a pencil pusher. I was pretty much ashamed at the noise I made, but after we reached the bottom of the hill and took a position in a small depression, I checked the rabbits, and they seemed totally unconcerned with our presence. One of the smaller ones even came up as far as twenty yards to look us over. I held fire so as not to spoil it for the kid, and shortly the doe returned to the bunker. She ducked inside for a moment before returning to her feeding.
I wondered out loud in a whisper what would happen if we had to get them out of the bunker, and I wished at that point that I had brought the SLAP, but Roger showed me three clips of armor piercing 30 cal. he had for the M91 and told me that we could take turns blowing them out through the walls.
In short order, Larry and Ed had infiltrated to the far side of the bunker. We watched as the guide herded the kid with hand signals so that he would be able to shoot at the rabbits, but still be out of our line of fire. Larry pointed at the buck, and Ed put his bullbup to his shoulder and tweaked on the laser. The young bull spooked and dove behind a rock. Ed raked the boulder, and that scattered the does. Roger and I opened up. I think I might have wounded one doe, but in the excitement, it was hard to tell.
Quiet. After we ceased fire, all we could hear was the wind and our hearts pounding. Larry held up his hands in consternation, and we sat back against a log. Roger offered me a Ju Ju mint, and we realized it was time to drop back ten and punt.
Somehow, we just missed what was going on. It was like a wave of blue fur. They poured out of the bunker by the hundreds and drove a wedge between us and the kid. It was a trap. By their coming through the middle, we couldn't shoot for fear of hitting each other in the crossfire. It was all we could do to run out of the way. We looked back and Larry was pointing as he ran uphill towards the jeep. Ed was close on his heels.
Between the weight of the weapons and the heavy brush and brambles, Roger and I fell behind. The rabbits saw us struggling uphill and turned away from Ed and Larry. At least that gave us a clear shot at them. Roger tried firing from a low angle so as take out as many as ten or so with each shot. I kept blasting away with the shotgun, but ten rounds barely put a dent in the herd. I had no time to reload, so I slung the gun over my shoulder and ran. Roger laid down covering fire, but soon he was backed into a pile of fallen trees. The rabbits were on him quicker than anything.
I stopped when Roger screamed. He had rabbits all over him climbing up his legs and jumping from the branches onto his back and face. I realized there was nothing I could do for my friend as he sank to the ground under the weight of rodents. I fled.
Larry met me halfway up the hill. He had yanked a tear gas gun from the back of the jeep and he threw me a bandolier for my shotgun.
"You cover my ass, boy." he shouted, as he ran down to my friend. Part of the herd around the brushpile broke off and charged at him as he fired three canisters into the main body of rabbits. The pile seemed to convulse and then quickly dispersed. I kept blowing away at anything that came close to the guide. When the gas had become a good sized cloud, Larry pulled on a gas mask and ran into the pile. In a few seconds he was out again, with Roger in a fireman's carry.
We retreated up the hill, my eyes were watering badly from the gas, but luckily, the wind was taking it down the hill into the rabbit reinforcements. Back at the jeep, Ed had mounted my SLAP gun on the back. He turned to his own bullpup and laid down covering fire as we came up. Roger was unconscious, but still breathing. He was missing a couple of fingers, his ears and part of his nose. Larry threw him in the jumpseat and turned over the engine. As we sped away, I reached for the SLAP and was going to open up on them.
Larry yelled from the wheel. "Don't fire anymore, you'll only make them mad!" I just watched the rabbits converge on our tire ruts. Larry drove about a hundred yards and then stopped. The rabbits stopped too, hundreds of glowing green eyes glaring at us.
And then we saw it, a rabbit twice the size of the others a patch of grayish white scalp showing between his ears. It was Ol' Blue himself, and I just shit my pants and stared. Larry tipped his hat to him, and the rabbit seemed to understand. He kicked his back legs high in the air, knocking one small rabbit senseless and scattering the others. Without sound, the back ranks withdrew, and then Ol' Blue was left with his entourage of field commanders. A chill ran through me as Blue stood on his hind legs and batted the air. His head flew back and his gaping mouth showed gleaming incisors. Over the wind we could hear him hissing defiantly.
Rather than risk getting surrounded on the hill, Larry put it in gear and drove the jeep off the hill. Ed cried as I held him in my jacket. Roger would come to now and then, but he was delirious.
We got Roger to the hospital in time. They patched him up, and then flew him back to Cincinnati for reconstructive surgery. Roger's wife told me the doctors think they can give him a pretty good new face. Ed is getting treatment through school; he still has nightmares and bouts of incontinence.
Larry called me collect a week ago and told me he and some of his friends had gone in with flame throwers and retrieved Rogers HK M91. They had found the bunker deserted and seen no sign of Ol' Blue. I wired money to ship the gun back.
So much for hunting Microwave Valley.
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