Tuesday, March 02, 2010

End of the Season

Louisiana's rabbit season is over. I put my hawk up for the molt this weekend after a hunt with friends in New Orleans East. The place name refers to rural parts of Orleans Parish north of Chalmette and Arabi, two St. Bernard Parish hamlets that border the 9th Ward and spent weeks underwater in 2005. I haven't been back but a few times in five years, but I cut my teeth there as a young falconer in the mid-80s.

The area looks like 1988 all over again. It's deserted (in a good way) and full of rabbits. We hunted on a former golf course gone wonderfully feral, with just a hint of a concrete path around the ponds and hillocks. Ducks paddled ahead of us and blue herons floated in behind. The greens are covered in a mix of weedy pasture and rabbit-grass, not yet wholly wild but getting there. The overpass is closed, the neighborhoods it used to serve are destroyed and cleared away.

Across the 510 highway (still in use) stand the skeletal remains of Six Flags New Orleans, five years locked up and grown over. It is quiet there now. An age is gone by.

If there were more people in the city today, New Orleans East would be too dangerous to hunt in, a power vacuum and cadaver repository. It was like that just before the storm, almost tipped entirely into the hands of the Mafiosos. Strangely, the hurricane saved a part of that place from a kind of destruction almost no one would have noticed or documented: For years an industrial service area and rural playground for New Orleans gangsters, the golf courses and car dealerships were fast crowding out even the thugs. A strange succession ecology.

The future in New Orleans East is a question of inertial forces and the confidence of actuaries. Building has resumed in places, powered in large part by spirited nonprofit groups who can operate on a shoestring. The new homebuilding may literally pave the way for the profit motive to take hold and for the condos, etc., to pop up. But right now the inertia is firmly held by swamp rabbits and blue herons, bless them.

We caught about 16 rabbits between us, saw 60 or more, ate cold po-boys on the tail gate and made hay while the sun still shines.


Heather Houlahan said...

In the midst of Katrina recovery in Mississippi, all that devastation and human suffering, all those works of man obliviated, still, the cheerful thought:

Nature Bats Last.


The rabbits will always be waiting to come back, no matter that humans think their alterations are permanent.

mdmnm said...


Glad to see you posting, and good post! Hope the rest of the season went as well. You falconry guys sure do stretch them out.

Matt Mullenix said...

hi guys,

Rabbits have a good business model, no question about it! :-)

We saw plenty this year, thanks in part to our first cold winter in at least a decade (several dips into the teens and three snows!). The cover stays so think in a normal year you can barely see your feet, much less a rabbit. This winter, after dozens of hard freezes, the fields have been much easier to navigate.

Anonymous said...

Lovely piece of writing, Matt, and a comforting picture of resilience by nature and humans alike. Maybe I can watch it again someday when my calendar is driven by seasons and not meetings and projects.

Annie H

Matt Mullenix said...

Thanks Annie---greta pictures you took down there last time!

Retrieverman said...

I've seen only tracks of rabbits this winter. Many have spent the winter in groundhog burrows. When it gets very cold and snowy, Eastern cottontails go to ground. This species of rabbit doesn't breed in burrows or dig them. But if it gets cold and snowy enough, they will use old groundhog dens.

In the old days when it was legal, you could take a ferret to these burrows and catch many rabbits. All you needed was a ferret. You catch the rabbits as they ran out, dispatch them with a blow to the neck.

Now, this practice is illegal, at least where I live. Too many fears that ferrets will colonize the wild, which is kind of nonsense. The ferrets used for this sort of work would have their canine teeth removed. That would prevent the ferret from killing the rabbits underground and staying there until he was done eating. It would also mean that the ferret couldn't survive in the wild.

Besides being useful for rabbit hunting, most farmers kept ferret near their granaries and silos to keep the rats under control.

Steve Bodio said...

I used to use (illegal) ferrets i New England, as many did.

They can be neutered-- never saw the problem.

In NM where they can bring plague- bearing fleas out of burrows I have more reservations.

Anonymous said...

I, too, am a great ferret afficiondo. I took my ferrets out in the woods all the time, but it wasn't illegal, because I wasn't "hunting", I was just letting my ferrets "play" and giving them some off-leash excercise! It is illegal to "hunt" with ferrets all over the U. S. now, and that's what I have always heard/read too, that the Wildlife resources establishment is afraid a feral population will get established and become pests. This is patently ridiculous, as ferrets have been escaping from captivity in the U. S. since colonial times! Also, there used to be catalog companies at the turn of the century(20th century) that specialized in breeding and selling mass amounts of ferrets to farmers to PURPOSEFULLY release on their properties for supposed rodent control! If a feral population were going to establish, it would have long ago! It hasn't because of several reasons--the biggest is that ferrets are just too domesticated to live long in the wild, except under extremely favorable and particular circumstances--none of which we have in this country. Plus, there are a zillion ferret predators out there--four-footed and winged, that would quickly extinguish any tame, fearless ferrets attempts to "live free"!....L.B.