One of my first and most memorable hunting experiences with a Beagle was in 1963, with a Beagle named Smokey. That winter, we had record breaking snowfalls in northeastern Iowa, and coincidentally, some of the best pheasant and rabbit hunting I have ever experienced.
The author's nephew Joe shows his pride when the Beagle locates a downed bird after a long chase.
A kid that lived down the block named Gaty was renowned throughout the county for his ability to bring in rabbits. Gaty was two years older than I, and when you're 14, he might as well have been an adult. My passion for hunting rabbits, squirrels, and pheasants made me want to hunt with Gaty and his legendary Beagle, Smokey, in the worst way, but neighborhood protocol made me bide my time. Finally, one day I was walking back from a day in the field with half a bag full of rabbits when I ran into Gaty in his back yard feeding Smokey. I was able to strike up a conversation about hunting. One thing led to another and he invited me to go out with him the next day.
It was like Christmas Eve. I hardly slept that night and was up way before dawn to make sure all my gear was ready when Gaty picked me up in his jalopy. We drove out to one of his 'secret' hot spots which just happened to be one of my 'secret' hot spots, but for pheasants, not rabbits. I had seen a few rabbits in this area, but wouldn't have picked it as a good rabbit covert. So what did Gaty know that I didn't? I kept my mouth shut and my eyes open.
We began working a stretch of brushy railroad track ditches. It wasn't long when Gaty yelled to me to get ready because Smokey was on to something. The big beagle was working out in front of me when he suddenly jumped into a bush at the base of snow drift. Suddenly, a big, gaudy ring-neck pheasant jumped out of the bush, cackling and trying to put distance between himself and that hound. I was so surprised to see a pheasant instead of a rabbit that I didn't even get a shot off at the bird. My would-be mentor gave me one of those 'I knew this was gon'na be a mistake' look. Later, after my embarrassment and his indignation wore off, Gaty explained that he had trained his beagle to work both rabbits and pheasants. I suddenly gained a whole new appreciation for the capabilities of this breed. Years later, when I finally owned my own Beagle I found out that this was not as mysterious or rare as Gaty made me believe.
Like any dog training, your only challenge is figuring out how to make your dog do what you want him to do only on his terms. As far as scenting is concerned, the difference between a nearly odorless rabbit and any of the upland game birds is like the difference between cottage cheese and limburger to humans. Beagles have more than enough ability to hunt pheasants, grouse, and even quail. They just have to be shown how much fun it can be for them. Here are a few tips that I have learned that can help you convert a rabbit hunter into at least a passable bird dog.
I know this sounds a little elementary, but you have to hunt your Beagle where there are birds. Keeping him in bird covens will help give him the impression that you are looking for something there. He really wants to please you so praise him and reward him when a bird flushes even if he didn't flush it.
After over 20 years of hunting birds with Beagles, I am a firm believer in their value as a bird dog. One of my strongest arguing points is that I have never lost a downed bird when in the field with a Beagle. Not many bird dog hunters can make this claim.
So just when you thought that your Beagle was for rabbit hunting only, take him out after your local upland game birds and you might be pleasantly surprised. Beagles are not just for rabbits any more!!!
Hunting Beagles with other breeds can work. Above, the author with his Beagle Daisy and his hunting partners' golden retriever, Alexis, share a moment with the results of a morning pheasant hunt.