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Desert Diary
Culture/Rabbit Drive


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Thanks to movies and TV, everyone is familiar with cattle drives. But what about rabbit drives? Picturing cowboys guiding a herd of rabbits across the plains? That's not exactly what we're talking about. Rabbits are plentiful in grasslands and deserts—for ranchers and farmers, they are a plant-eating nuisance.

For Native Americans, they also were a welcome source of meat, and the rabbit drive was both control and hunt. Since cottontails tend to head for the nearest burrow or thicket rather than run, drives really were for jackrabbits. A U-shaped line of people whooped it up to spook the jacks into running in front of them, with the arms of the U preventing escape to the sides. Taking advantage of topography, the drivers funneled the fleeing animals into a constriction where gatherers laid in wait with clubs, and sometimes long nets, strung across an apparent escape route, concentrated animals, making for easy pickings.

Efficient? In historic drives by farmers in the Great Plains, the piled harvest could rise higher than a person's head. Hasenpfeffer anyone?
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.