Craig Wisner

Shape shifters, ghosts. (Los Padres, 12/3-12/4/2016)


The first rabbit I flushed was in this brush.  I hadn’t had a round chambered yet…and made the mistake of dropping my eye to grab the bolt.  It left tracks in some snow and I thought I had it holed up in another bush…but it vanished right under me the way only rabbits can.


I descended this main canyon, making my way to ridge in the distance, then west (right), out of the image.  I love the twinge of uncertainty mixed with excitement when dropping into unknown canyons like this-alone.

Long shadows in golden grasses, sun dipping behind a western ridge. Slowly working my way through a field of sagebrush on a bench above a damp creek bed. There’s a glimpse of movement in my periphery. And then there’s a rabbit head and ears in the grass about 30 yards out. Clicking off the safety and shouldering the rifle, the dark silhouette is in my crosshairs. A squeeze of the trigger and an obscene crack shatters the canyon air.  Its head pops and disappears beneath the grass. Lowering the rifle, jogging now, crunching sage and winding my way to where it lies. There is nothing there but a burnt brush stump and a few splinters. I shot a piece of wood, not a rabbit.




Spot the rabbit.  I couldn’t either.

Everything is a rabbit when looking for rabbit. I’ve taught myself to look for eyes, to look for movement, but everything still looks like a rabbit. And sometimes the rabbits turn to wood, sometimes stone. A clump of grass with a stick behind it can become a rabbit, and then you approach and the rabbit becomes a ghost.  Shape shifters. Illusions.  Nothing left but a breeze.


I realize that with a .22 in this sort of country I’m hunting them the hard way, but I enjoy chasing ghosts. It’s good reason to slow down, to spend an hour covering a small patch beside a wash, watching ice crystals shimmering and flashing in fields under morning sunlight. Walking, pausing every three or four steps, looking, walking.  I saw three, took two shots, and came home with nothing. Patience, this has worked before. I suppose certainty is for the supermarket, whereas hunting is full of hope…but also hinges on using the right tool.  It’ll be a 12ga next time; the .22 is better suited for open desert.

I walked miles and miles of canyon and valley, high stepping brush and picking my way through snags.  Hard miles, slow miles, wilderness miles that are a far cry from groomed trails.


Slow walking, sage crunching, morning light.


New favorite breakfast: avocado and instant refried beans on bagel…though a 2o degree nighttime low made the avocado a bit crunchy at first.  Morning was too cold to stay in camp;  I hiked until I warmed up and found sun before eating.  I cannot remember the last time I bought “backpacking food” or a dehydrated meal.

The air temperature is dropping fast, the entrance gates to the area are getting locked. Leaving those who are willing to walk further to find themselves alone in paradise.  It’s my  favorite time of year here.  Solus Rex, the lone king.



Retracing canyons, up and out….

I’ll be back again next weekend, looking forward to the first snows likely to come later in the week.  Thousands and thousands of acres….


Favorite pack to date: HMG Windrider 3400.  Light enough, yet robust enough, a big improvement in functionality and load hauling over my GoLite Jam2.  With two gallons of water, rifle, and cold weather clothing I was easily pushing 40 pounds but it carries well for the size and weight.


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