It is no doubt a source of unending amusement to all the other creatures in the woods that humans have to walk around on two long legs. When they visit the places where deer and rabbits, foxes, raccoons and pheasants spend their lives, people learn the true meaning of humility and the art of stooping to conquer.
The human head, transported around on this bulwark of two-leggedness, travels at an appripriate height to intercept wayward briers and brambles. The human body is at the right level to forge through skin-shredding thickets and the feet are unhappily ensnared in every brushy tangle.
"We have every kind of brier in the world here," said Tom Hardesty, who barges into the most uncomfortable places he can find every Monday (his day off) of every week of hunting season, from September to the end of Feburary.
Finding the home of every type of brier in the world somehow amuses Hardesty, who regards work as a detective with the Metropolitan Police Department as an opportunity to rest from his misadventures afield.
He's hard core. As a boy growing up in West Virginia, he said, "I hunted every day of the season when I was 14 and 15. I missed five days when I was 16 and 11 days when I was 17."
It is predictable that one of Hardesty's principal pleasures is rabbit hunting, which is a sport for only the stoutest of heart. Of all the thick places in the thick woods, rabbits search out the thickest. And stay there.
Remember the old Uncle Remus story, where the rabbit outfoxed the fox by begging for any end except to be flung into the brier patch, which was, in fact, home sweet home?
"This place used to be impenetrable," said Hardesty, "but the farmer let his cows in here and they made a few trails. Now you stand over there and get ready, because this area is loaded with rabbits."
The farm was a small dairy operation near Frederick in the rolling hills of central Maryland. It was a beautiful, warm winter day. Hardesty took his chew of tobacco, a tiny beagle named Lady and his shotgun, went to the back side of the dark and thorny thicket and plunged in.
For 10 minutes or so, it was quiet in the four-acre brier patch, except for the crunch of leaves and twigs under the feet of man and dog. At last the dog scented a bunny and the battle was joined.
Following the sounds of a good dog chasing a rabbit is, to its fans, one of the great pleasures in life. A top-notch beagle starts to bark (in fact it's more a bawling sound) after it has jumped a bunny and started it running. It contunues to bawl as it pursues the rabbit's hot trail. The hunter's function is to find a spot where the rabbit crosses an open area and take a stand there, remaining quiet. In fact, he often ends up running around after a dog that's running around after a rabbit.
The bunny, obeying instinct, runs in a circle, recrossing its own track and cutting out in a new direction to confuse the dog.
The first rabbit Lady jumped got away. But, before long, inspired by the excitement from her chase, the dog had three hunters stomping through the brambles with her. Things began happening in a hurry.
A cottontail shot out from a brush pile and disappeared into another. Hardesty kicked the brush but nothing moved. "Get in there," he told Lady. "Why do you think I feed you all year?"
Lady crawled in on her belly, the rabbit came out and Hardesty ran after it, finally tumbling it with a shot. Another rabbit blasted out of a different hidey-hole and the third man in our party reported one racing along the creek bed.
For half an hour, the little thicket sounded like a skeet range, at one point drawing a puzzled visit from a neighbor who stood along the field's edge, shaking his head at the sight of three grown men getting their hats, coats and faces shredded while they raced around an almost impenetrable creek bottom in pursuit of some small, brown furry mammals.
The third man in our group predicted that by a little after noon this regimen would wear out even the fittest person and, sure enough, at about 1:30 he and I collapsed in a heap on some honeysuckle while Hardesty thundered ahead.
When he finally agreed to quit there were seven rabbits to take home -- two for each of us and one for the farmer. As we skinned and gutted them by another small creek, Hardesty took stock of the day by checking injuries.
"What's this?" he asked, reaching for my left earlobe and extracting a h half-inch thorn.
"I guess I should have left it there. That's proof you're a real rabbit hunter."