by Chuck Holden
It's a regular Michigan day and the weather is a mess. Rain is falling but us die hard rabbit hunters still get up a little later than normal. I get up and get my hunting gear together and start to load the truck. As I go get my dog box loaded 'Ali' my two year old female sees the box and knows it is hunting time. 'Sport' my eleven month old male is not to sure what is going on but he hears Ali and knows it has to be good.
They start with the excitement that a pair of good hunting Beagles, getting ready to go on a hunt, generally exhibit. A good houndsmen feels bad when a hound has to be left behind but 'Brandy' my year old black-n-tan does not understand why she can't go hunting today, and raises just a bit of a fuss.
Well, I finally get loaded up and head towards one of my best rabbit hunting spots. We make a quick stop for a cup of coffee and a donut and some jerky for my dogs at the corner gas station. The manager asks me, "Are you going hunting in this nasty weather.", and I tell him "You bet, it will take more than a little rain to stop me and my hounds."
After a short, five-minute drive, we arrive at one of my favorite rabbit hunting spots which consists of 2,200 acres of state land that has some real good bunny hunting. It is now 9:00 AM (EST), I unload the dogs first and then grab my trusty Savage 20 gauge and were off.
We head out across a tall grassy field and at first the dogs look at me like "Your nuts, why are me out in this nasty weather." All of a sudden Ali starts to get happy on a fresh sent, and then there goes a nice size Michigan cottontail with Ali in hot pursuit. Sport, my youngest male, goes right to Ali and it is 'Katie bar the door'. Ali with her squall mouth leads the chase with Sport's big, ball mouth breaking the air like a freight train. They go down the tree line, hammering the track hard and fast.
They make there turn and start to really turn on the 'afterburners'. If you've never heard a couple of Beagles from the Branko bloodline run a rabbit or hare, then you are missing a real treat in life. After about five or six minutes, I spot the rabbit streaking down the hedge line. I shoulder my shotgun loaded with number 6 shot and fire at the rabbit. I know I hit my target because I see Mr. Rabbit turn a flip. As I walk over to pick-up the first bunny of the season, I realize that this is what life is all about -- a nice day of rabbit hunting with my Beagles out in the great outdoors. By the time I get to the bunny, Ali an Sport have arrived all wound up like an eight day clock. I take a moment, tell them "good job" and let them account for the game. I then put the bunny in my game bag and we are off again to get the next rabbit.
It did not take us long to get another race going. This time it was Sport's turn and he jumped up a nice bunny out of a brier thicket. Quickly, Ali came to his aid as fast as she could, but had a hard time catching up to her nephew. They must have put too much pressure on that one and the rabbit went straight to a hole. They came back too me and I told them "That happens, no big deal!", I gave them some praise and we stopped for a short break. We then went back to hunting and they hit one right away. I watched the dogs run the trail as they hammered after that bunny. All of a sudden I saw a bunny bust out of the brush, I shouldered my shotgun, and fired. The bunny went right down! I then kept standing still because I knew that was not the bunny Ali an Sport were running, but rather a different one that got scared up by the sound of the hard-tracking hounds that were getting too close for comfort.
This time the bunny they were running was a veteran that was trying every trick in the book to lose the hounds that were in hot pursuit, but to no avail. After a half hour or so they finally got him out of the thick brush. It was a very large cottontail for a state land bunny, so that is when I decided to let this one pass. I wanted to leave this large, smart bunny so it could produce more just like itself for next year's hunting season. I went and caught Ali and Sport off the track and told them "Job well done!". I was very proud of my dogs this day especially since this was their first hunt of the season.
We got two bunnies and had some real good runs. To all you bunny hunters, take this to heart and occasionally let the large, wise ones get away to help make a new crop of bunnies for next year's hunting season. With all the rabbits that are out there, it doesn't hurt to let some pass. If anyone can make it to Michigan take time to hunt our bunnies. We have some real good cottontails just about everywhere and also some great snowshoe hunting in northern Michigan. Please, look me up and I will take you for a real good rabbit hunt!