Hunting Traditions Have Little To Do With Slinging Lead

Twelve years of rabbit hunting in middle Georgia has yielded so much more than a tailgate full of bunnies.

Brad Gill | January 30, 2019

I’m a husband, dad, GON employee, director of 30-30 Ministries, Sunday School teacher, Fellowship of Christian Athletes Character Coach…. man, life is busier than it’s ever been for me, and I’m not seeing much change from that path in the future.

Love where God has me, so don’t take the above as complaining, just stating facts.

2016: Blaine, Brandt, Brock, Rileigh, Zak, Alexx and Brad

So despite this fast-paced lifestyle, there is one weekend a year that remains a constant on my calendar. Every January during the MLK Weekend, I pack my oldest daughter and all my rabbit hunting gear in the truck and haul a pack of beagles down to the Dublin area and spend three days and two nights with some of the greatest folks in the world, brothers Blaine and Dale.

Along with Blaine and Dale comes a package that includes their kids, their kid’s friends, a host of work associates and their kids and grandkids… yeah, that list goes on and is never the same from year to year. Just never know who may show up down there.

It was that inaugural hunt on Feb. 9, 2008 that I stood behind Blaine’s oldest son, Brandt, as he killed his first cottontail rabbit in Johnson County. We hurried over and picked his first rabbit up as the dogs drew closer, barking all the way as they eagerly finished out the track.

“Now Brandt, you always want to show the dead rabbit to the dogs,” I instructed the young briar buster.

Brandt thought showing it to the dogs meant hurling it into the middle of the oncoming pack. We’re lucky I was able to nosedive amongst the hounds before they tore that thing into 487 pieces.

Brandt Burley with his first rabbit, killed Feb. 9, 2008.

I was also with Brock, Blaine’s youngest son, when he finally killed his first rabbit. That little project took a few years and at least 2-dozen shots before he connected with fur. At first, Brock started off with a .410. After a few misses with it, he decided he needed to advance upward and through all the different gauges, landing with a 12 gauge complete with a poly-choke on the end of the barrel. Turns out that a poly-choke was also the cause of a few missed rabbits…

Several years ago, Blaine added a couple of culinary gurus to our rabbit hunting line-up.

Head chef Allen hauls his cook trailer down from Chattanooga Tenn., while his sidekick Martin drives up from St. Simons Island for the yearly rendezvous. On this year’s menu was cubed deer and hog steaks swimming in gravy, crispy friend quail, wild boar barbecue, Brunswick stew, hot sausage links from the McAfee Packing Company in Wrightsville, homemade peach cobbler with ice cream, Dale’s secret mashed potatoes, Cajun gumbo, very fresh rabbit stew, and we were greeted each morning with homemade biscuits complete with sausage gravy and all the fixings that go with a full-course breakfast.

Head chef Allen needs some rest in between preparing gourmet meals for a bunch of rabbit hunters.

Their cooking is the best food I’ve ever eaten while visiting a hunting camp, but I’ve learned over the last couple of trips that hungry redneck bunny busters give these cooks the grounds to experiment. Last year it was rabbits cooked using duck fat that had to be special ordered. This year I tasted couscous pasta (very good) and souse meat (don’t ask). One year there was some experimentation with deer ribs, but I don’t think they’ll ever make the menu again…

Rileigh, Daci and Blaine (AKA The Road Warrior) from 2017

There’s been a host of characters come and go through the years at our annual rabbit hunt. Simply too many to name and too many stories to tell, although it is worth mention that GON‘s own Daryl Gay has made an appearance or two, which landed us on the The Back Page one year. After remembering that Daryl’s No. 1 Back Page character was Jake The Hermit, the head-scratching began as to whether we needed to brag about said accomplishment.

Greg, Rileigh and Daci.

Then there’s always those unique little occurrences that tend to happen every year that have you laughing years later. Enough of them over time is what seems to solidify the importance of making an annual hunting trip.

This year the kids found themselves in a heated competition amongst one another. The competition, a game which originated in areas where you find high concentrations of impala deep in the bush of the Limpopo Providence of South Africa, takes technique and a good set of lungs

This year, we awarded Brandt Burley as the 2019 Woods-N-Water Rabbit Such-and-Such-a Champion. As a young man attending the University of Georgia with a bright career in front of him, we’ll save him the embarrassment of just how he earned the title of Champ, although he is expected back in 2020 to defend his status.

I got a feeling that 10 years from now the young man named Cohen, who attended his first-ever rabbit hunt with us this year, will only remember Brandt’s crowning achievement and all the fellowship and laughing that went along with it on that Wilkinson County woods road. Memories like that outweigh a tailgate full of dead rabbits in the long run.

The great Doc Estes, one of many characters who have participated in annual MLK Weekend Rabbit Hunt.

My daughter hasn’t touched a shotgun in three years. And even though she’s not really much of a hunter anymore, she sees the uncanny connection, unity and love amongst people who hunt together over time. That’s not something I can fully teach her. It’s an idea that she must witness from others and then develop in her own mind.

At 14, she already gets it, which is why she has insisted to this point in her young life that she is not missing the annual rabbit hunt. To her, it’s not about the hunting at all.

If you don’t have an annual hunting tradition, maybe it’s time to consider beginning one with family or friends. Over the years, you’ll learn that those times spent together become way more about the important things in life than it does about slinging lead.

Editor’s Note: Blaine Burley is the president of Woods-N-Water, where he sells deer, hog and turkey hunting trips, along with bass fishing opportunities in south Georgia ponds. If you need to begin a tradition on your own, he’s a good one to consider.

Brandt Burley gets his hand raised as the 2019 Woods-N-Water Rabbit Such-and-Such-a Champion!

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