s I slide Pastor Bob Ford a fresh PBR, I notice that his hands look like he’d just wrestled a meat grinder. The day before, Ford had shredded his hands on cactus and barbwire while chasing mountain cottontails. “I hope they heal by Sunday,” Ford says. “My parishioners don’t like taking communion from bloody hands.” Methodist pastor Bob Ford, nicknamed the Beagle Bard for his fondness for writing about the hounds, is from State College, Pennsylvania. He’s hard to miss even among the grizzled journalists at the writer’s event where I met him in Montana. With a stature reminiscent of his days as a tight-end playing college football and a beard suggestive of ZZ Top, Ford’s passion is rabbit hunting. I’d first heard of mountain cottontails only a few days earlier. I’d never known that the species even existed. Turns out, it’s a little lighter in coloration than the Eastern cottontail and lives in the Intermountain West. Ford was very familiar with these rabbits—and he was determined to ship one back home. I had bumped into him in the hotel lobby while he was looking for a cooler to do just that. “I shot [a mountain cottontail] yesterday afternoon,” Ford told me. “About three hours from here, I saw a good-looking ranch and knocked on a rancher’s door to ask to hunt. ‘Lord have mercy,’ the rancher said. ‘An answer to my prayers. I’ve lost so many damn cattle to broken legs that I don’t care how many you shoot. Kill ’em all, and let God sort ’em out.’ I don’t think he knew just how ironic that statement was. “My dog Duke chased four, I killed one, so I’m sending it back to State College via FedEx.” Atop Ford’s bucket list of hunting achievements is what many hunters and anglers might think eccentric: harvesting one of every rabbit and hare species in North America. He was missing the mountain cottontail. That’s why he and his wife, Renee, had packed the Beagle Mobile—a 2010 Toyota Tacoma with nearly 200,000 miles on the odometer—and headed west.
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