When I started to hunt rabbits as a high-school kid, I remember that I would take my old single barrel H&R sixteen gauge and head out to a friend’s farm. We didn’t own a dog, so I just worked my way through field edges and along brushy tree lines kicking brush and watching for running rabbits.
It seemed there were a lot more rabbits in those days, and it was not unusual to go home with a limit in one afternoon.
Years later, I found out how much more successful one could be with a well-trained beagle or two; now, I’m spoiled, and I enjoy the hunt even more when a beagle sounds off on the trail of a rabbit.
I still don’t own any beagles, but on occasion, I join someone who does. One such hunting friend is George Burgett. He and his wife, Michiel, and their son Matt invited me out to their farm last week for a February rabbit hunt. In case you’re wondering, the rabbit season doesn’t actually end until February 28.
George has been training his two-and-a-half-year-old beagle “Pocko,” and I was anxious to see how he would do.
We were joined on the hunt by Michiel and Matt. This is a bit unique in that Matt is disabled and utilizes a wheelchair, but George and Michiel do not hesitate for a minute to take Matt out fishing and hunting.
When we arrived at our first hunting spot, Michiel and Matt drove up to the head of the brushy ravine and got set up while George and I turned the dog loose at the bottom of the hollow. Within a couple of minutes, Pocko jumped a rabbit from the nearly impenetrable brush, and it headed straight up the ravine towards Michiel and Matt; a shot rang out, and minutes later, Michiel was holding up our first rabbit.
On our next set-up, it wasn’t long again until I heard that welcome sound of Pocko yelping as he jumped another rabbit.
Now, for those who haven’t ever hunted with rabbit hounds, it’s important to understand how the operation goes. Often when a hound jumps a rabbit and starts yelping — signaling it’s on the rabbit’s trail — there’s a very good chance that that rabbit will run ahead of the dog and eventually circle back around to its original location. That circle could vary in distance, and often times the rabbit will stop after getting a jump on the dog and then run ahead for a bit and stop again. Things went as I just described, and minutes later, the rabbit came back around towards its original location only 20 yards from me; rabbit number two was ours.
Pocko did well, jumping and running nine rabbits that afternoon, with several following the big loop routine and returning to the original jumping point.
George sent Pocko up along several brushy ravines where streams had gouged out pockets under mangled tree roots — good rabbit hiding places.
Pocko jumped a rabbit in the narrow ravine on our last set up, and it bolted past me at about ten yards. I couldn’t get a shot, but I knew there was a good chance Pocko would bring it back around. Sure enough, when George and I stepped out into the open field at the end of the brushy ravine, Pocko was still sounding off, and minutes later, the rabbit showed up 30 yards right out in front of me; rabbit number three was ours. Of course, what I failed to tell George was that just before the hunt that day, I bribed Pocko with the promise of some pretty good biscuits if he would send the returning rabbits down my side of the ravine.
Clearly, a good, well-trained rabbit dog is a real plus when hunting rabbits these days, and a little bribing with biscuits may not hurt either.