by Bill Cooper
At the roar of my single barreled 12 gauge Stevens shotgun, an enormous cloud of dry dust enveloped the cottontail rabbit bounding full speed across my Dad’s cut soybean field. Rowdy, the family beagle, had pushed the bunny out of a maze of wild cane and blackberry tangles which served as a border between the neighbor’s farm and ours.
Rowdy disappeared into the dust cloud and proudly emerged with the bunny in his mouth. The chubby little beagle mix and I celebrated our good fortune with my shouts of “good boy Rowdy,” and a healthy dose of ear rubbing for him. Rowdy jumped with excitement as I stuffed the bunny into my hunting coat. Then he scurried away to dog the next bunny.
Rabbit hunting with beagle hounds in the 1950s was as American as apple pie and baseball. It seemed everyone owned a beagle or two as both pets and hunting companions and looked forward to Saturdays between October and February when they could hound the bunnies.
Farm families, in particular, were partial to rabbit hunting. It provided a simple but pleasurable sport, and it was an opportunity to escape the long hours and drudgery of hard farm labor. Equally important, rabbit on the table, prepared using one of Mom’s secret recipes, garnered everyone’s full attention.
“Rabbit hunting provided a rite of passage for young farm boys,” said Rev. Phil Cooper, an avid rabbit hunter. “Boys simply could not wait until they could go on a rabbit hunt with the older guys, carry a gun for the first time and learn the language of a beagle yowling on a rabbit trail. And when those boys took their first rabbit, everyone celebrated the event causing the young man to feel accepted.”
Rabbit hunting provides an affordable hunt for many people today, just as it did decades ago. The necessary equipment is simple and inexpensive. You do not have to have a top dollar shotgun to enjoy a rabbit hunt. Nor do you have to go to the expense of owning a whole pack of beagles to hunt rabbits. One or two dogs can get the job done and provide fun packed hunts that will long be remembered. Additionally, one does not have to break the bank account by purchasing a high-bred beagle. Most beagles will happily chase rabbits if introduced to good quality rabbit habitat. Simply look for rabbit sign—droppings, thick cover and teeth marks on young saplings are the things to look for.
“Hunting behind one or two beagles is the true joy of the hunt,” according to Rev. Rob Cassidy. “Listening to my two beagles, Clyde and Rowdy, run a rabbit is what makes it for me,” Cassidy explained. “I thrill at the chase from the time the dogs first jump a rabbit until they bring it back around and I get a shot.”
The first wild yodel a beagle makes after jumping a rabbit on a frosty morning is indeed magic music to a rabbit hunters ears.
“It makes me laugh every time I hear a beagle howling wildly as it chases a rabbit by sight,” said long time rabbit hunter Bill McKinney from Salem, Missouri. “I share the dog’s excitement as it does what it loves most, chasing bunnies. I can sit for hours and listen to a pair of beagles work out a rabbit trail. You can tell by their voices how hot the trail is.”
Hunting rabbits with beagle hounds is simple pleasure, but does require patience on the part of the hunters involved.
“Rabbit hunters often want to shoot the rabbit their dog is trailing as quickly as possible,” McKinney stated. “I have seen guys wade into the thick brush to head a rabbit off to get a shot, when they need to exercise some patience and allow the dogs to work the trail and bring the rabbit around to them. Being patient, listening to the language of the dogs and anticipating the rabbit’s next move is the enjoyable part of the hunt.”
Rabbits will also utilize features such as culverts and water to attempt to throw dogs off of their trail. Experienced beagles will soon figure out the ruse and rediscovery the scent trail. However, the time it takes the dogs to work out the puzzle gives the rabbit opportunity to put more distance between them.
The magic of a good rabbit hunt is the chase and the action involved with it. The dog music, the antics of the rabbits, good friends, family members and the experience of pushing the rabbit hides all combine to provide outdoor fun as good as it gets. But, to put rabbit on the dinner table, don’t forget that rabbits will run a full circle from where they are first jumped. Establish your post there and luck will come your way if you utilize a good dose of patience and allow your beagles to have a good time dogging those rabbits.
The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.