by Dave Fisher
One hunting season I was on 57 rabbit hunts. This year I am about to reach 40. That’s a lot of rabbit hunting! During the course of the season, however, there are some, as in the trial schedule, that seem a little more special than others. Ya know like it’s the National’s or something! Even as I write this it is even hard to limit it to three great hunts, because I was on one yesterday that yielded three loooooooong and spectacular runs … ahhhh, the dogs did just a wonderful job! Anyway, I sure thank The Lord that He has allowed us another great season. Here is the second of three great hunts from this past season.
“Come On Mimi!” Tony yells for the sixth or eight time already this morning; and we haven’t gone 50 yards. Mimi doesn’t seem to hear any of us, and now my dog Amber wants to chime in on the “action”. Geeeeeeessssssh, I think to myself … it’s just like last year!
My “adopted” cousin, Tony Rinaldi, stops in here once a year for our annual hunt, and we were just getting started. Since Tony wanted to run his two dogs, Jake and Mimi, I reluctantly left Bowser home and took Amber, Sammy and Chase.
After a few more false alarms and a very short rabbit run, we finally get a hot one up from under a tangle of wild grapevines. Tony follows the dogs down hill to make sure they get on the right track and quickly reports the rabbit has gone in a hole. Not sure why he said this because Chase opens with his giant brawl and the rest of the pack slide in behind. They go straight north up a steep hill and onto the flat where we just hunted through. It’s a good chase and since this is the first rabbit of the day, I figure the pack will work out … well, they do sort of.
Bob Clarke (Bob get testy when I don’t mention his last name!) and I stay put on the west rim of the steep bowl near where we jumped the bunny. He’s coming, I can feel it …as the hounds swing left and begin to march our way. Man, this is a good run and it sounds like Chase is still leading.
I had borrowed Chase, a Flat Creek Joshua, hound, from my buddy Al Notarnicola in New York in 1999 and after he was here and I ran him for a few months I had to return him. I liked the dog and offered Al a good price, but Al wouldn’t sell. Back in the summer of 2000 when Tony and I both had Run-Em-Over Tank pups, I offered Al two “Tank” pups for Chase. It was an offer he could not refuse, and in September I went to New York and brought him home. I have been disappointed in him because on some days he will not hunt at all. He’ll simply stand around and wait for someone to jump a rabbit. Other days he hunts fairly well, and does stick to the run or rabbit like glue once the chase is on. He’s also a very good-natured animal, listens impeccably and his biggest asset is he loves to run down wounded rabbits and retrieve them. The jury is still out on him, but after he had an exceptional hunt a few days ago, I have decided to keep him for the 2001 fall season. We’ll see.
I could easily tell Chase was still in the lead, as none of these dogs were speedsters by any means. It was an easy run for the dogs, almost a perfect arc right back to where Bob and I are sitting. Bob and I are both scanning the hillside below us when I look up and see the big male bunny coming straight down a deer path directly in front of Bob. I give a low whistle and just stick out a finger in that direction. Bob swings over that way, touches the trigger but the cottontail’s momentum carries him over the rim and he begins sliding down the steep and snow covered hill like a sled. It takes quite a lot of effort for Bob to retrieve him, as I’m yelling to get the rabbit back to the deer path so I can take a picture! Try as I might, as soon as the dogs see the rabbit is dead they go wandering off and I can’t get any of them in the picture. But we have taken the first rabbit of the day and it’s a nice run on snow covered ground.
We work around the hill, and we don’t jump any rabbits where I usually do. There has been a lot of snow and deer hunting in here, and the cover is smashed down and obliterated. We find several deer carcasses.
Finally the dogs jump a rabbit and drop down low on the hillside. I sit down on a log to wait, (I’m trying to be gracious and let Bob and my guest Tony shoot. I’m not the game hog they always accuse me of!) It’s a fairly nice run … a little choppy, but they are getting the job done. Finally Tony shoots from the tram road below.
“I got him!” Ummmm, well, it’s a start.
I catch up with Tony on the road and take a few pictures as he field dresses the rabbit. The dogs drop off the road again a short time later and I see two rabbits scoot out to the left … I watch one descend the entire hill and go into a horse feed shed near the only house around. The other rabbit also goes into a hole a short time later.
We break for a quick lunch, give the dogs crackers and cookies, then start east down the tram road toward the truck. We won’t make it until 4:30. The dogs jump a few more rabbits. The road we’re walking on splits the area in two and it’s a perfect set up. The rabbits have to cross the road either going up, coming back, or are shot in the open woods headed down hill to cross the road.
I never seem to be in the right position, but right after lunch I see a rabbit coming up the hill from the lower section. The dogs are only mildly in pursuit and I take my time and wait for a good clean shot. It breaks into a nice opening under a small clump of crab apple trees and when I touch the trigger it cartwheels nicely. I go scoop him up before hard mouth Chase can get a hold of him. Tony has taken another rabbit so we now have four.
The dogs continue to run, hole a few rabbits. Tony says how well he thinks the dogs are doing. Bob and I both look at each other and shake our heads. We miss Bowser, “the pusher” … the maniac; although I promised I wouldn’t say it out right. But Tony is having fun and it is a perfect day for hunting. One of the highlights of the afternoon was when the dogs jumped two rabbits at one time. Both cut across the road but just out of gun range. The dogs lock onto the far rabbit and proceed up the hill … after a choppy, hit and miss run Tony kills the bunny sneaking back down the hill.
I call the dogs and do my best to get them on the other rabbit, but no one is quite sure exactly where that is. I’m fairly sure, but can’t get any of these dogs to show any interest! Finally I am watching Jake closely, and although he wants to keep it a secret, I see his tail twitching excitedly. I call Mimi and Amber over and walk them up the hill. They finally bark and Chase and the others jump in. After crossing the top of the hill several times the rabbit jumps the road farther out and the dogs push him right up to where Tony is waiting. He has killed both the rabbits we have seen and has taken a Pennsylvania daily limit. He’s pretty happy.
It’s late and the sun is now low and it’s downright chilly. Tony swings the dogs around a small cemetery and I see a rabbit top out across a grassy knoll. I direct Tony, who has most of the dogs in tow and a hot chase begins. The cover is sparser here and this rabbit is really moving and so are the dogs. It could be the best chase of the day. I take a position just off the grassy road in an open grove of wild cherry trees. I know how the rabbits run here and know he’ll be back if Tony doesn’t shoot him first. He swings way around Tony and the dogs are coming around the hill again and they are really moving!
I see the rabbit hit the edge of the cherry grove and try to line him up while he is still in “less damage” range. But he’s flying and within seconds he’s just 10 yards above me, speeding left. I touch the trigger, mostly just instinctively, and he cartwheels end-over-end. This is usually a good indication I probably hit him up front and I’m hoping I didn’t tear him up too badly. I hate that! It’s the seventh rabbit of the day and the last one we’ll get today.
The owner of the property comes out the road with his young beagle just as I jump another rabbit. We get the dogs on him and this really is a spectacular chase. They go all the way back up the steep ridge we hunted in the morning and drop out of hearing. Only the low echo bouncing from a higher ridge a mile to the south tells us they are still running. The rabbit eventually does come back, but we never see him, and when the dogs get close at hand we gather them up. With the sun almost down we meet at a fence line and shoot a few quick pictures … what a day … a long one!
This is always a two day hunt, so on Monday morning after resting (for the dogs benefit of course!) and going to church, we hit another nice spot Bob and I had hunted back in November. It held lots of rabbits and we had some very nice runs there.
We had Bowser with us this time, Sammy, Chase and Jake and Mimi. Amber and Storm were home, both in heat. I thought Bowser would speed things along and get the chases fired up, but it was a very unevenly matched pack. (And Bowser had howled and stayed up all night trying to get to Amber and Storm!) Jake way behind sometimes, Mimi and that incessant cold trailing; Sammy, Chase and Bowser, just seemed lackadaisical, and out for a stroll.
We run a few rabbits … Tony misses a couple early on, and I finally kill the first rabbit at 1:00 in the afternoon!
Finally we have a pretty nice chase and the bunny stays out of the heavy rose bush for the most part and sticks to more open woods. Bob finally kills the rabbit a very large male, about 2:00. It is the only real highlight of the day and we head in the general direction of the truck. Tony and I head up a very thick, steep ridge and it takes us a half-hour to reach the top. The dogs have taken a rabbit out and jumped the powerline where we hunted most of the morning, but never return with it! We’ve killed only two rabbits, but have missed three or four.
Sammy gets a rabbit up on top of hill … I blast at it in perfectly open woods and miss! Then to add insult to injury, I can’t get the dogs to stick to this rabbit! None of them! I’m pretty disgusted with the whole pack by this time and I announce “I am going to the truck!”
The great steak meal that night was much better than the hunting!
On Tuesday morning Tony and Diane leave early for New Jersey. Although I wish the hunting had been a little better, It’s been a nice weekend, and at least we had a camera! We can only hope that we’re all alive and we can do it all over again next year!