by Joe Newlin
Just as the rain began to fall I noticed the faint movement of the rabbit as it hopped along the old broken-down fence-row. This was the third time that I had seen this very rabbit as the dogs made the fourth circle. As I stood motionless the steady sounds of the pack grew closer and the rabbit was once again on the move. Streaking past me no farther than 10 feet away the rabbit vanished into the cover of a large raspberry bramble. As the dogs passed I “downed” each one, snapping the leash onto each collar while handing out the necessary praise for a fine run.
From the beginning the ARHA Gundog Pack division has struggled with the “reputation” of fostering Beagles that were slow, and unproductive in the hunting environment. Labeled too slow to hunt over by those who interpret line control with a speed limit. In reality the Gundog Pack movement has it’s backbone in rabbit hunting. The same dogs that run in field trials on the weekends are the dogs that are hunting rabbits the rest of the week.
Many people talk about the “slowing down” of the brace style Beagles during the 1960’s. There was a distinct reason for the gradual loss of foot speed that nearly ended the sport of Beagling as we know it. The reason that is most commonly touted is the style vs. progress argument. In the mid 1960’s Beagle field trailing was a growing sport among AKC Beagle owners. As Beagle field trials became more popular, a trend developed that was in direct response to the rules that the AKC had adopted at the time. The field trial rules awarded the most credit to the dog with the most “line control”. As in any sport, extremes started to develop (you don’t really think that when basketball was invented anyone ever thought that seven foot men would be slam dunking a ball do you?) and the dogs that never wavered from the footprint of the rabbit was given the most credit. Accuracy was the catch phrase of the day. The dog that would not stray from side to side in a check was the winner.
This dependency on style progressed to the point that dogs were led to a jumped rabbit and staged. The dog was not cast to search for a rabbit, but rather was placed on the line, preferably behind it’s brace-mate, in an attempt to convince the judges that the dog that could “turn the line” behind the front dog should win the trial. And that they did, to the point that the Beagle nearly lost it’s place as a hunting hound. In this case style took precedence over progress. Thus you have the history of how a Brace Beagle or Walkie-Talkie came into being.
Thankfully, there were those die-hard rabbit hunters that hoarded the correct gene pool of true hunting hounds. Those dogs of the mid 60’s that continued to be progress oriented are the root of today’s hunting Beagles. Those breeders recognized the need for progress on a rabbit track and continued to breed for that characteristic.
Today, ARHA Gundog Pack and AKC Small Pack Option are seeking a balance between style and progress. Truly that is what Gundog Pack and SPO style hounds are all about. The combination of style, the characteristic sometimes referred to as line control. The ability to stay on the rabbit track for hours at a time without long losses and breakdowns coupled with the ability to move the track forward at a pace that is controlled only by the dogs ability to smell a rabbit. The patience and perseverance to grunt out a line track by track on tough scenting days and conditions, and the drive to run a rabbit ragged on those good scenting days that we all dream about.
Today there are multiple extremes in style, as well as extremes in progress. Sometimes progress gets in the way of style, when a dog’s desire to catch or chase the rabbit outruns his ability to smell the rabbit. And sometimes style gets in the way of progress, when a dog’s desire is not to pursue the rabbit but merely to follow it.
Somewhere in the middle is the ability to follow a rabbit as fast as scenting conditions allow, without making the types of mistakes that cause extended losses and dead tracks. That is the dream of every Gundog Pack and SPO hound owner. The perfect balance of style and progress.