When did you first start hunting with Beagles?
I grew up in Chesterfield, South Carolina hunting rabbits (and everything else) with big hounds. My first experience with Beagles was in the mid-fifties. A cousin had acquired four Beagles – Three lemon spotted and one female blanket back. The female was the only AKC registered and was slower than the males, always bringing up the rear; but she would many times straighten out the hard checks. She was also an outstanding jump dog. These four seldom lost a rabbit. I was in college at that time and would get a three-week Christmas break. Rabbits were plentiful, and we would bring home a sack full.
In the fifties, a veterinarian came to our county who had AKC registered Brace Trial Beagles. At that time these Beagles would move a rabbit and were also good gundogs. He would give puppies to about anyone interested in hunting. With his leadership, an AKC Brace Beagle Club was formed and, in a few years, became very popular with many people ordering Beagles (especially pups) from champion bloodlines throughout the southeast.
In the middle sixties, the slowing down trend in Brace Beagling began. The members wanting Beagles for gundogs began dropping out of the club and it folded.
When and how did you get your first Beagle?
In 1957 my dad acquired a young registered female. My cousin who was a beginner ordered six female pups from field champion bloodlines. He raised these in his kennel with very little human contact until they were about seven months old. When he decided to carry them rabbit hunting (their first time out of the kennel), he could not catch three of them. He offered to give Dad one if he would help catch them. He did, and we acquired our first AKC registered beagle. Her name was Deep Creek Jill. Dad made a pet out of her, and she learned to run rabbits starting by herself around the yard. She made a very good gundog with good hunt and jumping ability. After I got out of college, Dad and I raised a couple of litters from her for our first pack of gundogs. In the early sixties when Dad's health was failing, I took a pack of five AKC registered beagles. I currently have some beagles that trace back to these, although I did not keep the AKC registration up as I wasn't interested in field trials and did not deem it important at that time.
What types of field trails and formats have you and your dogs participated in?
Most of the beagles I have now are AKC and ARHA registered. I am a member of the CSRA Gundog Beagle Club (an ARHA chartered club) here in the Thomson, Georgia area. We started this club in the early nineties. We now hold mostly "progressive pack" hunts with a few "little pack" hunts each year. I attend a few ARHA trials mostly in Georgia when the gun season is out. I am now retired from teaching and can hunt during the week. I have nephews that work and can only hunt on Saturday; therefore, I don't go to trials during rabbit hunting season. I now have four "progressive pack" champions and one grand-champion. I also have two "little pack" champions. I have never attended an AKC hunt, although, I believe I would enjoy their SPO trials.
What types of rabbits do you hunt and what is your favorite type of cover to hunt?
Since my retirement three years ago, I usually run my beagles four to five times a week except in real hot weather. Here in middle Georgia, we have very hot and dry weather that is hard on beagles. When we are getting ready for trials, we usually run them two or three at a time on cottontail rabbits in clearcuts. Here in our area, clearcuts that have been replanted in pines and are from three to ten years old, usually grown up in grass, weeds, and briars and make very good rabbit habitat. We can also find a few "canecutters" in swampy areas. These rabbits look like cottontails except they are almost twice as big and seem to have a smaller tail and larger ears in proportion to their body size. They will run very large circles to start with, but due to their heavy body weight, cannot last as long as a cottontail. South of here where we do a lot of hunting in January and February, we have a lot of "bluetails" or "swamp rabbits". These rabbits are heavy bodied and small legged, and do not run very well. They are usually found in very thick and wet places, love water, and will swim in any water they can find to escape. Slower, more deliberate beagles usually stay with them better.
Describe the various factors you have found to affect the scenting ability of Beagles?
There is a lot written on scenting ability and scenting conditions. I have a cousin who says, "bad scenting conditions are an excuse for sorry beagles." It does seem like his can run a rabbit everytime he carries them hunting.
There is no doubt about the fact that some days, beagles can run the track much easier than others. Very dry conditions usually make tracking difficult.
Some of the best conditions for scenting seem to be when everything is damp with a slight wind blowing. On a good frosty morning with little wind is usually a good time to have a rabbit race. We have had some of the best "beagle music" on days during a light rain or drizzle. It seems they can follow the scent with heads up and less effort then. One day last February, I was hunting with two cousins in South Carolina. We had just started when a light, cold drizzle began. As the day went along it kept raining harder. We were hunting in a large field with about eight foot tall pines and spots of very thick ceressa (lespediza) and briars that were full of rabbits. We had twenty-one beagles on the ground. From the time we turned them loose at 8AM until 2PM, we would have two to five chases going all the time. They do not shoot in this area as they use it for training young dogs. By noon, we were wet and freezing. We wanted to go home but the beagles were having so much fun, they didn't want to quit. They seemed to be tracking rabbits with very little effort with almost no checks. We had to chase them down to get their attention and leash them to get them to stop. I believe if the ground is colder than the air (as the temperature starts warming on a frosty morning) the scenting is very good.
What qualities do you find most desirable in hunting Beagles?
A good hunting beagle:
1) Must have a good nose and enough brains to use it.
2) Hunt enthusiastically and thoroughly in the right places.
3) Must have a lot of stamina and determination.
4) Must be even-tempered and easy to handle. (Goes along with brains).
5) Must be bred to be trash free.
6) A good mouth and knows when to use it.
What are the worst faults in a hunting/field trial Beagle and can any of them be avoided or corrected?
1) Loose mouth (barks all the time) - A little extra mouth in a young dog will usually get better with time, and I have used the training collar to control this. If this is continuously bad, eliminate him.
2) Laziness or lack of desire to hunt - if you run a pup with older dogs with good hunt all the time, the pup sometimes learns to wait on them to start a rabbit. This can be corrected by soloing him until he develops his hunting instincts. If he is just plain lazy, give him away for a pet.
3) Cold trailing - some dogs, as they get older, seem to have more tendency to do this early in the morning. I have tried to control this using the training collar. It is very hard to do this without taking the "hunt" out of them. I have heard that dogs with a good nose will always cold-trail, but this is not true. I believe it is an inherited trait in that their brain tells them not to bark until they have a hot track.
4) Trashy – this tendency is an inherited trait but can be controlled if handled correctly. Here in Georgia, we have a deer problem and two-thirds of the dogs we raise never run a deer, but that's another story.
5) Babblers- this is usually bred in and cannot be controlled.
6) Continuously over-runs his nose- this is also an inherited trait, but a young dog with a mild tendency can sometimes be helped by soloing and bracing (running with one other dog) with a good deliberate older dog.
7) Must run the front at all cost- one dog like this in a pack will be what some people call their "lead dog" and may not be a problem except that he will be doing most of the work. When two or more dogs in the pack have this trait, they are usually racing for the lead and run over the track causing a lot of checks and result in many rabbits being lost.
8) Shyness and hard to handle - bred in. Most experts say this is a dominant trait; therefore, never use this dog for breed stock. The one advantage is that he will never be stolen by a stranger.
Do you hunt and field trial the same or different dogs?
I am mostly a "rabbit hunter" and do some trialing out of rabbit season. I would not own a dog just to trial.
Can a dog be good at hunting but not good for field trialing and vice-versa? If so, please explain why.
It is true that some of my best gundogs are not good trial dogs. The only trials I go to are the ARHA. Mostly "progressive pack". A dog that is "slow to claim" or too "hot-nosed" or will bark on cold tracks will not do well. Some of my best gundogs I do not trial for these reasons.
Do you have a preference as to the sex of a hunting Beagle and do notice any general differences between the males and females?
I keep mostly female beagles. This is as much for convenience in handling as anything else. At this time, I have twenty-four beagles including six pups about six months old with only three males. This means I can put together a pack of eight without males if any females are coming out or going into season. Most males are aggravating about wanting to checkout strange females or any of your females that are about to come into season. As a rule, I think females start easier and are more even-tempered than males although some of the best beagles I ever owned were males.
What advice do you have in regard to acquiring hunting Beagles for someone who is starting from "scratch"?
To start from scratch, I would advise to first decide the type beagle you are interested in (field trial- brace, SPO, ARHA, etc.). If you are looking for gundogs, do you want slower dogs with good line control or faster dogs that will bring the rabbit around quick? Then find someone with your style of good dogs and buy from him. If you can't afford the trained dogs, start with pups.
How do you start and train your puppies?
We have a twelve-acre starting pen. When a litter is about five and one half months old, we start putting them in it four times a week with an older slow but true dog. When they begin to run their own track, we put them in by themselves. As they begin to find and move the rabbit by themselves, we take them out of the pen and begin carrying them outside with a few more deliberate dogs. In a litter of five, in two weeks, two pups may be ready to go outside while the other three may need more time. If any pups haven't started in four or five weeks, we stop for about six weeks then try again.
I am assuming you realize to raise pups, you must handle and play with them constantly. I begin taking my pups for walks at least a couple of times a week from the time they are weaned until they are ready to go in the starting pen. During this time you teach them to come when called and "down" and other good handling manners.
Do you have any general advice on trash breaking, or more specifically, preventing or stopping deer running?
Here in Georgia, we must have deer-broke dogs or we will be chasing dogs instead of rabbits. I have never owned a dog that could not be trash-broke. Purchase your dogs from lines that are trash-free. We use training collars to break young dogs from running trash (we never carry beginning dogs out without a training collar). As I said before, most of our dogs never have a trash problem. Getting his attention the first time he runs trash or a deer usually solves the problem. If you have one that is used to running trash, it will take many sessions to correct this.
What is your opinion on line breeding, inbreeding, and crossbreeding?
A lot of repeated inbreeding will bring out problems – you'll end up eliminating more dogs than you keep out of a litter. Line breeding with two dogs whose traits complement each other is what I usually try to do with an occasional outcross to a line of Beagles that has traits you would like to improve your line. Too much outcrossing will cause inconsistency in your line.