word “anecdote” is not the singular of “data.” Even so, minus any scientific studies,
jackrabbits don’t seem nearly as numerous in Texas
as they once were.|
I’ve seen the long-earred critters by the hundreds
feeding on roadside grass at night. But these days, at least in my experience,
jackrabbits appear much less common. In fact, until I jumped a couple on my Lampasas
County deer lease recently, I hadn’t seen one in years.
may have played a role in this hare loss, albeit a small one in the grand scheme
When I was in the sixth grade, my grandfather L.A. Wilke edited
the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s monthly magazine. In that capacity,
he handled the logistics for a film crew with Winchester Arms when they came to
the resort now known as Fort Clark Springs in 1960 to shoot what today would be
called an infomercial.
The film would demonstrate the effectiveness of
one of that company’s .22 rifles in knocking down jackrabbits. The folks working
for Winchester thought it would look good to show a kid handling one of their
firearms, so thanks to my granddad, I got to be a child actor.
all I had to do was shoot jackrabbits. I didn’t have a speaking part. And back
then, Kinney County had no shortage of jackrabbits. I shot dozens over a period
of several days, as did the grownups. For a kid who practically slept with his
Daisy BB gun, I considered that South Texas shootout great sport. It took years
before I started feeling bad about it.
While wildlife biologists understand
that all things are connected, and that even the loss of an obscure species of
minnow can alter an ecosystem, the thinking among many used to be that certain
animals no longer deserved to exist.
For instance, early day Texans succeeded
in killing off the wolves once indigenous to the state. Ranchers and farmers also
viewed prairie dogs, coyotes, mountain lions and eagles the same way. Fortunately,
they never succeeded in making those species extinct, though they came close with
In the first third of the 20th century, a common view among Texas
landowners was that jackrabbits were a nuisance. They ate too much grass, not
to mention garden vegetables and other crops.
So, in true grab-your-gun
fashion, Texans set out to exterminate the then ubiquitous jackrabbit. As long
as they were at it, they turned it into what they considered a sport. They called
them rabbit drives.
In the winter of 1925, a West Texas preacher in Robert
Lee who expanded his pulpit by publishing a monthly newspaper called “The Circuit
Rider,” chronicled a rabbit drive in which he participated.
language, W.E. Hawkins, Jr. likened the event to a tactical military operation.
The man running the show was a Captain Casey who owned land near the small Coke
County community of Valleyview.
“Captain Casey took charge,” Hawkins wrote,
“and after helping the men…divide into squads, gave orders to each.” Forty men
with as many firearms marched forth “to kill 40 times 40 jackrabbits.”
Broken by a noon “banquet spread” at the Latham tank, the drive lasted all day.
“We make one drive after another,” Hawkins wrote. “The men are out for
one thing. They have come to kill jackrabbits. The rounds of ammunition go uncounted
and the cost unconsidered. The number of steps taken during that 10-mile tramp
Hawkins then explained why a religious man such as himself,
along with other presumably God-fearing men, would be inclined to kill defenseless
animals by the hundreds.
“The jackrabbit is a pest to ranchman and farmer
alike,” Hawkins declared. “He [the jackrabbit] is universally known as a destroyer
of grass which the cattle need and the crops which the farmer and merchant need.”
The owner of one area ranch, he noted, had even decreed that no more wolves
be killed on his place because they ate jackrabbits.
Rabbit drives usually
occurred in late winter or early spring, Hawkins explained. Here’s how he described
“Each drive lasts the whole day and is made up of several
smaller drives. A circle is formed covering a wide area. The ‘stand men’ go first....The
‘wing men’ circle wide to each side and after reaching a certain point close in
gradually toward the men on the stand. The ‘drag men’ come straight through the
center all the while keeping in sight of the last man on each wing.”
could shoot in front and behind them as long as the circle remained large, but
when the circle shrank, shooting stopped to make sure no one took a bullet meant
for a jackrabbit.
By the end of the day, Hawkins reported, nearly a thousand
jack rabbits had been slaughtered.
The gun-toting Methodist concluded
his article with a sermon advocating a figurative “rabbit drive” to eradicate
something even more insidious than jackrabbits -- wrongdoing.
be joy at a successful rabbit drive,” he wrote, “but it is not to be compared
to the joy of winning victory over sin.”
- December 30, 2013 column
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