Three Beagles Become a Pack
For awhile after my old girl Gabby passed on, I was quite content with just having two beagles in the household. But by the end of last year’s rabbit season, I found myself missing the sound of three beagles tracking a rabbit through the thick brush of the creek bottom behind the house. Eleven months ago, a few weeks after the close of last year’s rabbit season, I brought home a 2 and ½ year old female beagle to join my other two. With warmer than normal temperatures last summer, I did not do nearly as much summer running of the beagles as I usually do. It really wasn’t until October that I started regularly running the three hounds all together. Not many of those early runs were very pretty. There is nothing like throwing a new dog into the mix to upset the balance of a good working team. Rabbit season started in November and while the dogs and I were definitely having fun chasing rabbits and while there were occasional glimmers of hope, there was very little cohesiveness in this new pack of three. The signs were there though and so the dogs and I, well, we kept plugging along. The first weekend in February everything all came together. Finally. A perfect hunt on Saturday and a perfect run on Sunday. Oh if I could just clone days like those.
The Perfect Rabbit Hunt
My definition of a perfect rabbit hunt begins with the jump of the rabbit. The dogs track the rabbit for at least one full circle without straying and the hunter completes the hunt by making a good shot. Every season I’ll have a hunt or two that fits the description, but the truth of hunting is that more often than not things do not go as planned. The rabbit goes in a hole. The hunter misses. The dogs lose the track. But when everything comes together just as it should, there is no better high for a beagler.
Saturday was quite mild with temperatures in the upper 30s. In fact the entire week had been mild and only patches of snow remained. I had only put 3 rabbits in the freezer so far this season due to the fact that I love running the hounds more than I love shooting rabbits. At least half the time during rabbit season, I don’t even carry a gun. But February brings the realization that the end of rabbit season is drawing near and I do like eating rabbit, so on Saturday I brought my gun along.
I turned the dogs loose in the pasture behind the barn and then I went to do a few barn chores. It only took me about 15 minutes to collect eggs and fill feeders and then off I went to join the beagles that were already barking up a storm in the area of the old high tunnel. By the time I got over there, it was apparent that a rabbit had retreated to a series of groundhog holes in a mound of dirt. I rounded up the dogs and we set off to find a new rabbit. The next rabbit was hiding in a clump of tall grass along the pasture fence. Two of the three dogs saw it and a wonderful sight chase ensued that ended with the rabbit going down a groundhog hole not 50 yards away. So I rounded up the hounds again and we walked along the creek bank checking brush piles.
At the opposite end of the pasture from the old high tunnel, a rabbit sprang from the brush. I had no thought of shooting it yet. I hunt with dogs and the dogs are the reason for the hunt. Plain and simple, I never jump shoot rabbits. The rabbit took off running straight for a giant pile of brush called the “burn pile”. The pile is large and deep and it is extremely rare that the dogs can get a rabbit out of that pile. I tried to run at the rabbit to make it veer from its course but it made it to the pile, ran around the backside and disappeared. Dang it. But the dogs’ noses knew more than I did. They followed the track to the pile, around the backside and kept going up to the overgrown fence line along the north edge of the pasture. The rabbit had kept going. The circle had begun. The dogs pushed the rabbit to a blackberry thicket and then the chase slowed way down. The hounds were having a bit of difficulty figuring out the track. As I watched and waited, I saw the rabbit work along the far eastern fence line on its way back to the creek bottom. I could tell this was going to take some time and so I climbed up on the giant burn pile of brush, sat down and just relaxed. I’m not quite sure what the hold up was but 10 minutes later the dogs straightened themselves out and were back on track.
The dogs got to the creek and then after a short pause, they crossed to the other side. I always smile when they figure out when the rabbit has made the leap across the creek. I climbed off my seat in the brush pile, stood up and waited. Often the rabbit will cross back over at a spot near where the dogs first jumped it, but the snowmelt had the creek running a bit high so the rabbit chose to run over to the tractor road over a culvert and cross on dry land. The dogs had done their job. The rabbit had made a full circle. The next part was all up to me. I am not very good at running shots. I prefer to shoot rabbits that are sneaking through the brush where I can finesse a shot to the head and keep most of the meat free of pellets. But this rabbit was intent on covering the ground between the culvert and the safety of the north pasture fence line with blazing speed and there I was standing in between. I took a huge breath, gave myself the quickest pep talk ever and shouldered my gun. Aim, follow, follow, follow (another really quick pep talk) and pulled the trigger. Boom! The rabbit tumbled over from a perfect head shot. Holy jiminy crickets! The dogs were just figuring out that the rabbit had crossed the culvert so I was able to take some video of them finishing the track. I laughed at the dogs when they got the spot of the shotgun blast and lost the trail with the rabbit laying 5 feet from their noses. It’s amazing how little they use their eyesight when tracking a rabbit. The pack had done well. The hunter had even done well. This is the stuff rabbit hunting dreams are made of.
The Perfect Run
My definition of a perfect is run is one where the hounds circle the rabbit through multiple courses through the woods while the beagler listens and ponders how a little hound can follow the track of a rabbit using nothing but its hound nose to guide the way.
Sunday’s weather was even milder than Saturday and my neighbor called to invite me and the beagles down to his place. After an hour and a half of stomping through the brush behind his house, there was not a rabbit to be rousted anywhere. From there we decided to drive a quarter mile down the road to another piece of property we have permission to hunt. My neighbor had his bow and I had my 20 gauge. We walked down the edge of the wheat field to a thick corner of woods. We stepped inside the edge of the woods and in less than 60 seconds, a rabbit popped out from the brush and the chase was on. I left my neighbor near the start of the chase and I moved 30 yards over around a right angled bend in the woods. For the next 90 minutes neither of us moved.
As is typical the first circle or two the rabbit made were fairly small. The second time I saw the rabbit, it hopped through the woods and crossed in front of me not six feet away. I was really hoping it would cross in front of my neighbor for a bow shot and besides it was way too early in the chase to shoot. I watched the rabbit hop past. Each circle became a little bit larger as the rabbit tried to fool the dogs with its twists and turns. At one point the rabbit popped out of the woods and traveled the edge of the wheat field. I didn’t even know it was there until it entered the woods fifteen feet behind me. I heard a rustle in the leaves and turned to see the rabbit. Unfortunately the rabbit saw me too and in a flash it ran and disappeared into the thick dense woodlot. Except on a few rare occasions, the dogs were mostly about one to two minutes behind the rabbit. One particular circle carried the dogs further and further away. I could see where they were by looking at the screen of my Garmin but for the most part I could not hear them. I sat down and my neighbor and I chatted with each other from our respective positions in the woodlot. The dogs seemed to be having some trouble and I was worried about the possibility of the rabbit finding a hole. My neighbor seemed doubtful that we would ever see that rabbit again. But something told me to just stay put. Then after a good 15 minutes or more of not hearing the dogs, the sound of the pack of three beagles could be heard again. The sound grew louder and louder and the beagles were on a direct track toward us. In a few minutes I spotted the rabbit crossing through the woods but well out of gun range. A few more minutes and the hounds passed through the crossing as well.
The rabbit circled one more time after that and then took the dogs up to near where we had parked the truck. There were some oil well tanks up that way and so this time when the dogs quit barking, I knew the rabbit had found a hole. One hour and 30 minutes of listening to the sweet sound of a pack of beagles. As my neighbor and I walked back to the truck, I lost track of how many times he said “Wow!”. The rabbit got away but the hunters were all smiles. I must admit I said “Wow” inside my head a few times as well. There is no greater high to a beagler than the sound of a pack working together as one.
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