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Bubba learns what's fair game during the hunt

July 06, 1998

Tim Rowland

Living in Western Maryland, I felt I had a sacred obligation to take my boy out and teach him how to hunt. I reckoned him to be old enough, although developmentally he's further back on the curve than Dale Earnhardt with a broken strut.

Being a city cat, Bubba hadn't had much experience with the outdoors, or much of a resume for killing that didn't involve arachnids. But when forest-owning friends went out of town and pegged me to housesit, I told him the time had come for him to quit squawking and start stalking.

Trouble is, his first stalk involved a resident of the house, a wizened old tailless cat named Pretzel. With a disposition like the Queen Mother, only not as cheery, Pretzel immediately responded to the advances with a few well-placed, claws-out swats that seemed to baffle Bubba - and persuaded him that other cats, not rodents, were the enemy.

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This perfectly suited the designs of the passive-aggressive Pretzel, who teamed up with Bubba to engage in a feline rein of terror against any and all neighborhood cats against whom Pretzel had conceived a spite over the past decade.

They were almost like the stereotypical police partners. Pretzel, reserved, cerebral and cagey; Bubba, wild, brawny and beyond stupid. Where Pretzel knew to stop at the property line, Bubba would keep on stalking, deep into enemy territory. I would watch him lurk, slow and low to the ground, continuing the pursuit until he was out of sight.

About 10 minutes later, there invariably would be a loud report (a raucously barking dog or screaming housewife, as a general thing) and the black and white streak of the cat would come tearing back into the yard, ears and tail streaming straight back like laundry during a West End tornado.

After enough of these adventures, Bubba seemed to conclude that more modest prey was in order. I tried to help him. I actually heard a mouse rooting around under some groundcover and kicked it out into the open where I bounced it on my foot like a game of rodent hackeysack, him squealing in protest.

I stepped back, foolishly assuming the cats would move in for the kill. But when I looked up, there were Bubba and Pretzel all right, but instead of fixing their attention on the escaping mouse, they were staring at me as if I were nuts to be wasting my time with this fur-encrusted squeal.

This is why women and cats get on so well - they're both so freaking hard to impress.

But the killing instinct must have engaged Bubba all at once, because Saturday morning I came out the door to fine not one, but three little mousie carci on the patio.

So we sat outside that morning, me with a book and Bubba basking in the revelries of the kill. But his thirst for blood was unquenched, because in an instant, as I watched, he spanned the yard, hunkered down, quivered all over and pounced.

Triumphant, he returned to the patio with the poor little creature wriggling in his jaws of death.

Young as he is, Bubba has a weakness for the classics and he sat down to a traditional cat game of chase and catch. He spit out the rumpled thing, gave it a bat - and watched in pure amazement as this mouse spread its tiny wings and flitted away into a tree, where he unleashed a barrage of bird profanity at the stunned cat.

Never has a carbon-based life form been more mentally uprooted than was Bubba over this Flying Mouse. He acted hurt. He looked up at me like "can they do that?"

So far as I know, that was his last hunt. He seems to have soured on the process. If they can't play fair, he won't play at all. Because of that, I believe he'll be happy to come back to the city - assuming he doesn't encounter any flying spiders.

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