Last week, I spent a few days at Willow Oaks Plantation near Madison, N.C., testing the new Sportsman version of Remington's Versamax shotgun. The testing protocol included swinging the shotgun at running rabbits being hounded by a pack of howling beagles. This was my first beagles-and-bunnies experience, and I can't remember the last time I had so much fun in the woods. No pressure trying to kill the biggest rack. No worries about scent or sound. And, if you miss, there's a good chance the dogs will run the rabbit by you again. As one of the more experienced rabbit hunters remarked, "This is the way hunting is supposed to be."
We also all agreed the Versamax Sportsman is what a semi-automatic shotgun is supposed to be: extremely reliable and easy on the shoulder. F&S Shotguns Editor, Phil Bourjaily, has called the Versamax one of the lightest kicking shotguns he's ever shot--an assessment I can't argue with. The new Sportsman is a stripped-down version of the Gen-1 model, with the same innovative gas-operated system that reliably cycles everything from 2 ¾-inch light field loads to 3 ½-inch magnums. In place of the original's over-molded, adjustable stock, the Sportsman gets fitted with a standard synthetic version. The package also comes with just one choke--modified, instead of the top-line Versamax's five ProBore chokes, and is packed a cardboard box, rather than a fancy, hard-plastic case. All this gets you the Versamax's shot-after-shot reliability for a little more than a thousand bucks, or about $400 less than the original.
When I wasn't firing the Versamax at fast-running rabbits or laughing at the pack of puppy-like beagles trailing them, I was considering all the ways to cook up a batch of bunnies. I know this is akin to counting chickens before they hatch, but that's another great thing about rabbit hunting: Bunnies are abundant, so there's a pretty good chance you won't go home empty handed. And we didn't. In two days of hunting, we shot more than a dozen cottontails.
The night after our first hunt, our cook Danny Martin served up some amazing barbecued rabbit. I'll be sharing that recipe with you soon. Some of our rabbits may also end up in one of these five delicious dishes I've written about here. But I want to hear your thoughts on rabbits. Why are they so much fun to hunt, and what's the best way to cook them?