RUSSIA — Thursday will be a Thanksgiving Day Brayden Monnin, 11, Landon Monnin, 10, and Cain Monnin, 7, of Russia, will always remember.
It’s the day they each shot their first game. Braydon got a squirrel and his brothers each got a rabbit.
Hunting on Thanksgiving Day has been a tradition in the Monnin family as far back as Brayden’s grandfather, Denny Monnin, of Russia, can remember. Denny would go out with his father and uncle. Father and uncle probably went with their father, the grandfather who had died before Denny was born.
Later, Denny and his brother carried on the practice. And when Denny had a son of his own, the tradition moved to another generation. Thursday, Denny, his son Aaron, of Russia, and Aaron’s sons, Brayden, Landon, and Cain, were in the woods before breakfast.
Brayden and Landon each have apprentice hunting licenses. Cain was “walking along.”
“I started walking along with Dad when I was about 5 or 6,” Aaron said. “I didn’t get my license until I was 10 or 11.”
Henry Cordonnier, also of Russia, is another hunter who has carried on a family tradition of heading to the fields on Thanksgiving morning.
He’s been doing it for about 60 years.
“I grew up on a dairy farm. I’m the youngest of eight boys. My dad loved hunting. Back in the early ’60s — that’s when I can remember — I would walk along with my brothers with a stick and try to get a rabbit to run out of the bush. We didn’t have dogs,” he said.
Cordonnier, Aaron and Denny all bemoaned the loss of habitat for rabbits. In the “old days,” farmers kept animals and had fence rows to keep the animals from straying off the farm. Grass and scrub brush would grow up along the fence rows, creating thickets for rabbit warrens.
“People got rid of fence rows. The landscape has changed and hunting has changed,” Cordonnier said.
The Monnins would agree.
“Basically, every woods I hunted in, there’s a house there now,” Denny said. Aaron added that his father used to talk about that when Aaron was little and now, it’s a whole generation worse.
“When we go today, we hunt in the woods, because that’s where you find (the game),” Cordonnier said.
On Thanksgiving Day, the season is open for bow hunting of deer and gun hunting of squirrels and rabbits. The older men used to kill pheasants and quails, too.
“There aren’t any anymore,” Denny said. He echoed Cordonnier, who noted that the terrible blizzard of 1978 killed them all off and they have never returned.
This year, Aaron was out just before dawn with his bow, waiting for deer.
Chad Bumgarner, of Sidney, also goes out early on the holiday to look for deer. He carries a bow, too, but, should he come across a buck or a doe, he’s just as likely to shoot it another way — with his video camera.
“If I see the legs moving, I’ll grab the camera. It it’s close and I see the antlers, I grab the bow,” he said. “I filmed one buck at 3 feet. I filmed this big buck coming up behind me. It’s impressive what you can get away with.” He, too, has been hunting on Thanksgiving since he was a boy.
“I won’t miss a time. It’s extremely important to me,” he said. Bumgarner hunts from the ground, not a stand. He makes his own camouflage and his own thermals.
“You sit there and you don’t move. I had a mouse on my boot once. I’ve had squirrels jump on my chest and birds sit on my arrow. I prefer to get as deep in the woods as I can. You’re not going to have a raccoon come up to you or a possum in a field or even in a stand,” he said.
Brayden, on just his second hunt Thursday, discovered the attraction a woods can have.
“I thought it was going to be boring because you just sit around, but then you saw the birds and the squirrels in the woods. And I shot one. Then it was fun,” he said.
Aaron made his boys stop and listen to the woods after the killing.
“We’ll be sitting there, quiet with nature, birds, nature all around you. After we shot, it was all silent. It stays silent for maybe 15 minutes. Then you hear nature coming back,” he said.
Aaron prefers gun hunting, but admitted that bow hunting is more relaxing. And grandfather Denny likes to be out with dogs.
“I enjoy hearing the dogs tracking and working. When you get in the thickets, a lot of times you never see a rabbit unless you’ve got a dog barking and tracking,” he said. The dog will sniff out a rabbit and scare it into running out of its hiding place.
“A rabbit runs in a circle,” Denny said. To train a dog, Denny shares the spoils with him.
“I’d give him the heart,” he said.
Cordonnier and his sons had four beagles. Just one, Pearl, is left.
“I take Pearl out. If there’s a rabbit, she’ll find it,” he said.
Almost always now, these hunters pursue their game on their own property or that of friends and always with permission.
“Years ago, people would come up and park along the road and jump the fence and hunt your property. Dad got upset if they didn’t ask,” Denny said. “One year, two men came up from Dayton. They knocked on the door and asked if they could hunt and Dad said, ‘Sure.’ They no more than walked behind the barn than BOOM right away. They had shot one of Dad’s banty roosters. They thought it was a pheasant. They offered to give Dad a couple dollars for it, but he said it wasn’t worth much anyway. They should just keep it. They shot a chicken,” he laughed at the memory.
While those long ago Dayton guys probably had chicken for dinner that night, Cordonnier and the Monnins always eat the squirrels, rabbits and deer they catch.
“You’d clean the rabbits and mom cooked ‘em up. My wife’s a good cook. She roasts those rabbits and makes rabbit gravy. I’m a very fortunate man,” Cordonnier said. He and his wife, Ann, celebrated their 38th wedding anniversary on Thanksgiving Day this year.
Denny’s wife, Joan, fries the rabbits and squirrels for him.
“Mmmmm. I love squirrel,” Denny said.
All the hunters follow about the same holiday routine: out early, hunt for several hours, clean the game, eat Thanksgiving dinner and doze off while watching television in the afternoon.
“I can still remember my brothers lying on the living room floor, falling asleep watching football,” Cordonnier said. “That’s great memories.”
This year, the Monniers looked forward to spending time together in the outdoors, making memories with the next generation. They would no doubt agree with what Cordonnier says about his Thanksgiving hunts now with his three adult sons:
“My boys and I — rabbit hunting is one of the greatest happinesses we have.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.