For most of two hours, the little beagle had struck trail after trail, and hotly pursued a half dozen cottontails in circles that wound around broam sedge, cedar thickets and patches of briar and sumac. I had missed one and bagged one. My partner had two. Two other hunters with us had yet to fire a shot. As the latest cottontail led the baying little beagle on a wide swing, all four hunters looked for a strategic spot to wait for the rabbit’s return.
I found a brushpile with a log in the top of it and carefully situated myself atop the mass of branches, many of which sported long sharp locust thorns. I faced west and the little beagle pushed the cottontail toward me from the north. I figured I was about to bag cottontail number two. But the rabbit veered left and I caught a glimpse of him coming down a trail to the east of my brushpile, about to pass behind me.
There was no way to turn, I could do little more than swing my 20 gauge with my right arm, lead him a little and squeeze off an awkward one-hand shot. To my surprise, the cottontail tumbled, intercepted by a wide pattern at 25 yards. We went on to bag several more rabbits in three or four hours of hunting. But the best part was listening to the beagle, almost constantly trailing a cottontail. It is a beautiful sound, if you are a hunter.
If you have a good beagle you are indeed a lucky man. It seems almost certain that when God was creating the animals of the earth, he made beagles right after he made cottontails. Without the cottontail, what would a beagle have to live for?
The shorter and slower the beagle, the better the results as a rabbit hound. The reason for that is … a cottontail prefers not to leave his home area and he runs in a circle when pursued. Eventually, he’ll come back around to the thicket or briar patch where he was originally scented and put to flight. Trailed slowly and methodically, the rabbit will hop along at a medium gait, and travel a much smaller circle. If he feels pushed, in danger of being caught, he’ll look for hollow logs or holes in the ground.
If it’s too cold, with daytime temperatures under 20 degrees Fahrenheit, rabbits will often hole up and move little. If the temperature gets above 30, but stays below 40, that’s when hunting is best. And it’s good to have a little snow because cottontails are easier to see, moving through the cover against a white background. There’s still some time left for beagle and hunter to chase cottontails, with most Midwest seasons remaining open a week or so into February or throughout the entire month. With a good beagle and a few inches of snow, you can forget for a while that spring is two months away. And you can discover, if you didn’t already know, that there isn’t much better eating in the dead of winter than pan-fried cottontail.
But if you ask any beagle enthusiast, he’ll tell you that finding more rabbits and getting better shots is not the main reason he hunts with a beagle. It’s the music of the chase, and until you’ve heard a brace of beagles baying on the trail of cottontail, you haven’t really heard music. It is a song of elation… of pure, free excitement, from a little hound that never stops to think that he is engaged in a chase of futility. He’ll never catch a cottontail but he is rewarded by the hot scent of his quarry and enthralled with the job of untangling a twisting trail before it becomes cold.
The best thing about a beagle is…. it doesn’t need much training. He either has the nose and the ambition to trail or he doesn’t. It seems that most of them figure out their purpose in life when they see their first rabbit. He’s the perfect hunting companion for someone who doesn’t have the time or temperament to train a dog. And his own temperament is perfect for a family environment. The beagle is a gentle little dog, great with children.
In the field he is in search of a trail to follow and that singleness of purpose makes him something to behold. Still and all, to know a beagle you have to hear him and feel the excitement in his voice. You have to stand on a stump in a briar and broamsedge field and listen and watch and wait as the music of the chase goes on.
You can get information on our Saturday, March 9 Outdoorsman’s Swap Meet from my website, larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com. Email me at email@example.com. My mailing address is P.O. Box 22, Bolivar, mo. 65613. The answer to last weeks question about the fastest flying duck… it is the canvasback. Try to look up how the canvasback got its name. You can read that too on my website later this week. This weeks question is…what animal is the Ozarks native marsupial?