Bob Boland goes rabbit hunting for the pot and employs a good ol’ recipe from a shearers’ cook
Rabbits were introduced to Australia with white settlement as a food source, game animal and to remind the settlers of home. However, rabbits adapted incredibly well. Indeed, their spread across Australia is the fastest of any mammal anywhere in the world.
Not only did rabbits multiply wide and far, but they also soon became huge pests and continue to be a major problem for both conservation and farming, costing Australia between 600 million and 1 billion dollars each year.
While rabbits have been hunted for both meat, pelt and fur (for instance, Akubra hats), during the Second World War they were primarily taken for their skins which were used to make a military explosive called cordite.
Why rabbits are so successful
Humans have strong binocular vision (a design feature which gives us depth perception and thus enables us to hunt). However, rabbits have 360-degree vision with limited depth perception (grass does not run away). Furthermore, rabbit ears not only rotate 270 degrees they also swell in hot weather and contract in cold to adjust body temperature.
Additionally, rabbits are efficient at absorbing water from their food, as evidenced from both their ability to live in arid environments and the fact they pass hard dry pellets rather than cow pats or horse apples. Finally, as heavy snow is rare in Australia, rabbits can breed throughout the year.
Breeding like rabbits
The average size of a rabbit litter is usually between four and 14 initially blind kittens (baby rabbits), which results after a short 28-31-day gestation.
Male rabbits can reproduce as early as seven months of age, and females as soon as four months. This means in one year a single female rabbit can deliver as many as 800 children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Times that by a lifespan of up to 10 years and the numbers become even more astonishing. Thus, it is unsurprising rabbits have traditionally been associated with fertility and spring (eg, the Easter Bunny).
A flash of the tail
The reason rabbits break their camouflage and flash their white tails when startled is to communicate with land-based predators they have been spotted and the bunny has taken evasive action. On the topic of camouflage, there is more than some truth in the old hunting joke: What looks like a rabbit? A stick! Basically, it’s saying don’t worry about trying to catch me I’m gone. This strategy is also used by some deer and bird species.
Rabbit recipe hunt
This recipe comes from my mate Les who is now 85, who in turn received it from a shearer’s cook in about 1952. As shearers will strike if the tucker is not up to scratch, its history means it’s a great concoction.
The history is also indicated by the fact as it only uses ingredients which are common, non-seasonal and do not require refrigeration. In fact, this meal can easily be cooked in the bush with a camp oven.
I prepared my .22 and checked the scope (the last time I went out I missed everything) but as normal the issue was the ‘nut behind the butt’ not the rifle so I drove to a nearby farm to target some bunnies. Last time at the farm I had seen only two flashing tails, so I was not confident but if you are not out there you won’t land anything.
On the drive in at a large stack of logs I saw about five rabbits, but they were all simply flashing tails, yet at least that was more activity than last time I had been there. When I reached the old and decrepit cottage, I again saw lots of flashing tails but after a quiet stalk I nailed two kittens.
The arrangement with the landowner is to shoot all rabbits and at least they will be tender. After having a chat to the farmer, I slowly and quietly approached the log stack and squatted behind a tree. Being bitten by numerous mosquitoes left me feeling like I was prey rather than predatory and about to call it quits when a good size young rabbit bounded out. That made it three rabbits, which was enough for the recipe.
Port flavoured rabbit
Serves 2-4 people
- 1 rabbit cut into quarters
- Plain flour with salt and pepper to roll rabbit in
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 tablespoon dark plum jam
- ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce (some people may prefer less)
- ½ cup tomato sauce or puree
- ½ cup port
- ½ cup hot water
- Roll rabbit quarters in the seasoned plain flour.
- Fry the onion in the oil until tender, then place it in the casserole dish.
- Seal the rabbit quarters in the pan used for the onion, then place the quarters on the bed of onion.
- Simmer the rest of the ingredients until they thicken.
- Pour the simmered ingredients over the rabbit cover with lid or alfoil and cook in the oven (180 deg C for 40 minutes).