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Featured 2017-18 Rabbit Hunting vs Rabbit Hunting

Discussion in 'BlueDogs Blog' started by bluedog, Mar 26, 2018.

  1. The 2017-18 rabbit season turned into a perfect example of the two definitions of rabbit hunting in my world. The first definition is pretty standard. Rabbit hunting is a means of going into the fields and woods, finding a rabbit and getting close enough to shoot it for meat on the table. The second definition is what encompasses most of rabbit season for me. It means letting the beagles run rabbits, during the open rabbit season, with me carrying a gun, but only shooting a rabbit if certain rules are followed. Rule number 1 – no jump shooting rabbits. Rule number 2 – only shoot a rabbit after the dogs track a rabbit for one complete circle. Definition number 2 is much less efficient at putting meat on the table but a whole lot more fun.

    First the cast of characters:

    Dottie, 12 and a half years old. Last season there were inklings of old age senility setting in plus she is starting to go deaf. She used to be solidly connected to my male beagle but these days, after the rabbit is jumped, she just goes off on her own and barks at some vague scent of rabbit or squirrel or zombie or I’m not really sure what she barks at. Fortunately the other dogs pretty much ignore her and fortunately she has a GPS collar around her neck. She often is the reason I end up not shooting any rabbits but she has given me so many good memories in the field that she deserves to be included in our excursions as long as she is physically able.

    Buddy, 8 years old. He is a very solid rabbit dog and really the only reason I shoot any rabbits at all.

    Lucky, 5 years old. A female beagle with chondrodysplasia (Google it if you wish) that I acquired 3 years ago. The sweetest beagle on 4 crooked little legs. She does surprisingly well for her disability but has difficulty in high thick grass. She is great on a hot track and is a bit better than Buddy at figuring out the track when a rabbit turns but if she gets too far away from Buddy, she ends of getting further away, and further away, and further away. Fortunately she also has a GPS collar around her neck.

    Rabbit season opens the first Friday in November and once again I managed to get the day off work. The dogs and I headed to some public land for the first official rabbit hunt. That’s when I discovered something so glorious. On this public land, there is a small area of thick brush near the parking area that holds a few rabbits. I often let the dogs run here first before heading over to a much larger brushy area across the road. This year the field next to this small brushy area was planted in field corn. A big grin appeared on face. This would be PERFECT conditions for my crooked leg Lucky dog. When a rabbit is jumped out of brush near a corn field, the rabbit tends to run into the corn field and circle round and round and round and round. The conditions inside a corn field are much easier for a crooked legged beagle to navigate. And so my early season consisted of several trips to this piece of public land. The dogs would jump a rabbit and then circle the rabbit in the corn field for HOURS. I would spend my time doing one of several things. Sometimes I would actually try to figure out where the rabbit would cross a row of corn in some vain attempt to shoot it. Sometimes when Dottie was off tracking zombies and if she got more than a ¼ mile away, I would go find her and bring her back. Usually when I would get back to my post and check the track on my GPS screen I would find that the rabbit crossed exactly where I had been standing while I was gone. One time Lucky got separated from Buddy and occasions such as this, she has a tendency to sit down in the middle of the field and howl. I went and rescued her from the depths of the corn field and when I got back, I checked the GPS screen and found the rabbit had crossed exactly where I had been standing while I was gone. I was kind of sad when the corn field got picked and rabbit season moved over to my own farm. I’m still smiling about what fun I had over there.

    Buddy and Lucky tracking a rabbit through the public land corn field

    Early rabbit season on my farm tends to be concentrated around the pasture behind the barn and the area around the farm pond. We have a few hunters that we allow to bow hunt deer and out of respect for them, I tend to keep the dogs out of some of the thick deer bedding areas until after the rut and after our main gun season is over. So the pasture and an area around the farm pond is my go to rabbit hunting area. Unfortunately, these areas are also full of groundhog holes, old culvert pipe, large impenetrable brush piles and other assorted areas where a rabbit can run in to and never come out. This is where my rule of never shooting a rabbit until the dogs run it on a full circle doesn’t work too well. At least if shooting a rabbit is the goal. The rest of November and well into December, rabbit hunting involved a lot of the dogs jumping a rabbit and the rabbit running right to a hole. And by a lot, I mean every single jump of a rabbit on every single hunt. Finally on December 18th, the dogs jumped a rabbit in some brush growing on a long mound of dirt piled up by the pond. The rabbit ran down to one end of the mound where it turned, got past the dogs who then pushed the rabbit back to where I was standing right next to groundhog hole paradise. Not a very long run but it qualified as a loop, one shot and I ended up taking home the first rabbit of the season.

    First rabbit of the 2017-18 season

    The next week was our trip to southern Ohio for Christmas with family. We have been able to set up what has become known as the Great Holiday Rabbit Hunt with family and friends for many years in a row. I was quite disappointed when most of the past participants were busy and couldn’t make the hunt. Christmas Eve day ended up being just 3 people (my husband and I were the only 2 with guns) and 5 beagles (3 of which were ours). The dogs ended up having some fantastic runs, I think 5 runs total. The people carrying guns never did get in proper position for a shot (looking up innocently and whistling while I type this). All rabbits eventually ended up in holes, or old culvert pipes or brush piles but there really were some pretty awesome runs by the dogs.

    Christmas day was cold and windy. After the traditional breakfast with family and opening of presents it was time to round up everyone for another rabbit hunt. Imagine our surprise when not one single person wanted to go out into the cold windy day. What?!? It’s like they expected hunting to be fun or something. Well hunting isn’t always fun. Sometimes it is cold and miserable. And when you get done hunting on days like that, you tell yourself that you did have fun because weeks later your brain will forget you were cold and will only remember that you had fun. And therein lies the fun. So my husband and I said the heck with everyone else and we went hunting.

    We started off on an embankment that lines a “gully” where the tractor path to the river bottom field runs. My husband positioned himself at the bottom of the gully road while I took the dogs to the top of the road and turned them loose. I hadn’t even loaded my gun when the dogs jumped a rabbit and the chase was on. The dogs veered off into some thick brush on the neighbor’s farm (where we also had permission to hunt) and were working the track hard. Moments later I heard my husband shoot. He’s a pretty darn good shot and while he will occasionally miss, it does not happen often. I walked down the gully road and saw him standing next to a dead rabbit. Cool! That didn’t take long. I unloaded my gun in expectation of the dogs finishing the track and having to leash the dogs to walk to our next area to hunt. But the dogs turned and kept going. My husband had shot what I call an “auxiliary rabbit”. I turned around to see the rabbit the dogs were actually tracking stop 20 yards from me. I scrambled to load my gun but the rabbit was gone. The rabbit returned to the start at the head of the gully and then back to the neighbor’s place. Hoping for another circle I trotted up the gully road and took up position at the starting point. It didn’t take long for the dogs to push the rabbit in a circle once more and this time the rabbit did not make it past me. In less than 15 minutes, my husband and I had each shot a rabbit. We hunted another couple hours and the dogs had an AWESOME run of a rabbit around and around a brushy hillside next to a pond. It ended with the rabbit running up and over a ridge and under a horse barn but it took an hour or more for that to happen. I felt like a popsicle after all that but my husband and I did get 2 rabbits and even more important we had fun. I felt pretty sorry for all those folks that stayed back in the warm house.

    Christmas Day rabbits

    Deboned and destined to be ground for rabbit burgers

    Back at home the usual winter snowfall had begun and rabbit hunting became even more challenging. With only 3 rabbits in the freezer so far, it was time to switch from rabbit hunting to rabbit HUNTING. When hunting near the dogs, the rule about no jump shooting rabbits is always in place but it was time to suspend the rule of needing the dogs to circle the rabbit. On January 8th, I strapped a pair of snowshoes on my feet and the dogs and I headed off through a foot or more of snow to the pasture to start our hunt. First stop was the “dirt mound by the high tunnel” – a mound full of groundhog holes where rabbits go in and don’t come out. The dogs crossed over the large mound and I waited on the other side. The first rabbit to pass by me was a miss but I did not miss the second one as it ran by me on the way to a groundhog hole. One rabbit in the game pouch. After this I took the old dog Dottie back to the house. She was having way too much trouble in the deep snow. Then I walked back out to rejoin Buddy and Lucky. I don’t remember quite how Buddy and I ended up over by the pond next without Lucky but we did. I think the snow was just too deep and she stayed back in the pasture nosing around the dirt mound. In any case, Buddy and I were working through some woods and approached another very large dirt mound with groundhog holes. It is extremely rare for me to shoot a rabbit here. I was able to get positioned at the south end of the mound just as Buddy got to the north end of the mound. A rabbit flushed over the mound and made a fatal mistake of pausing at the entrance to its hole. Rabbit number 2 in the game pouch.

    Buddy with rabbit shot right in front if its hidey-hole

    Buddy and I headed back to the pasture to find Lucky and I was able to get the two dogs together for one final push of the creek bottom. The dogs jumped a rabbit from a thick swamp rose thicket. Buddy and Lucky were right on it. The rabbit circled back to where I was standing and I missed a REALLY easy shot. How does that even happen? The rabbit hunkered down for a few minutes until the dogs got closer and then exploded out of the brush and up the hillside. It was running full tilt and I raised my gun, swung far to my right, shot and rolled it. Now how does THAT even happen? Lucky got mired down in the deep snow in the creek bottom but steadfast Buddy finished the track for rabbit number 3 in the game pouch. Now that is how to put some meat in the freezer. I do believe this was the first time I have ever shot 3 rabbits while I was hunting solo.

    Three rabbit solo hunt with the dogs

    After that I put the circling rule back in place and that pretty much ended getting any more rabbits for the freezer at least on my solo hunts. With all the venison, squirrel and chicken in the freezer, we don’t really need many rabbits. We usually average freezing around 7-8 rabbits per season. My husband did add one more when we got together with my neighbors for a group hunt over on their place. 5 hunters shot 3 rabbits that day. It was a beautifully warm day in late January. We didn’t even have to imagine we were having fun. And that last rabbit gave us 7 for the season which is perfect for us.

    Last rabbit of the season shot by my husband
    hungryhollow and steveOh like this.