byDon Nichols, Sr.
Along about nine-thirty in the morning on a late January day this past year, I called my friend Wayne Weaver. After exchanging pleasantries about our state of mind and body, I got down to the reason for calling and asked him if he would like to go rabbit hunting. He readily agreed and we decided upon a time to meet at my house.
This would be Wayne’s second rabbit hunt with Beagles. We had gone a week or so before this and had had a very enjoyable time. I had killed a swamp rabbit and two cottontails. Wayne had shot at one and failed to connect. He had hunted various game all of his life but had never hunted rabbits with dogs. He said that he enjoyed our first hunt very much and was eagerly looking forward to going again.
I work for the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture in their Forestry Services. I am a Forest Resource Specialist (Forest Ranger Crew Chief) and my primary job is wildland fire prevention and control. On this particular day, my partner had taken the day off and I was kind of at loose ends. Recent rains had decreased the fire danger and I didn’t have much to do on the job. I had thought about just taking the whole day off and spending it in the field with my dogs.
After talking to Wayne, I called my supervisor and made arrangements to be off for the rest of the day. I had told Wayne to be at my place at ten o’clock. As soon as I got off the phone I changed clothes and loaded the dogs.
I decided to take an all female crew on this day. I selected my oldest female, Kiss’s Blue Maggie to lead the pack and Nichol’s Misty Blue because of her ability as a jump dog. I rounded out the foursome with two nine-month-old pups out of Maggie and my bluetick male Nichol’s Blue Buckshot. One of the pups was a liver and redtick and I called her Ginger. The other pup was a pretty Bluetick with an almost solid black back. I named her “Molly” later on and she was the subject of a previous story in this magazine.
I had the dogs loaded and was almost ready to go when Wayne arrived. Wayne is a retired mechanic from Oklahoma City. He and his wife Virginia moved down here into the mountains of southeastern Oklahoma several years ago. They had had a weekend/vacation cabin near Clayton Lake for a number of years before they retired and decided to make it their permanent home.
I had already picked out a spot for us to hunt. It was about ten miles southwest of my home in Clayton, OK. It is located in the river bottoms, along the Kiamichi River, in an area known as Pine Spur. The property belongs to some friends of mine. I have been hunting there for many years and it usually had good numbers of both cottontails and swamp rabbits. I had not hunted this particular place this season and was anticipating a good hunt.
I was hoping that we could access the spot by crossing the river at an adjacent fiord, but we were surprised when we arrived at the fiord and found the water a little too high to cross. There is another way to get to this property that involves driving an additional five or six miles. We would have to drive down the river to a bridge and then back up the other side. After a very bumpy ride over the last two miles we finally arrived at our destination.
The weather was cloudy and overcast with a fairly light breeze and an occasional gust of wind. I figured that the scenting conditions should be excellent and expected the dogs to be able to run well.
After talking to Wayne earlier that morning I had called back and asked his wife to remind him to bring his rubber boots. I told her that we would be getting into a lot of water where we were going. She said jokingly that Wayne could not swim and I said, “I don’t plan on getting into that much water”. As we were getting our gear on and preparing to head out from the truck, I noticed that Wayne was wearing his regular leather hunting boots, yet I had seen him throw his rubber overshoes into the back of my truck earlier. I reminded him about his boots and he said, “Oh, I think that these will be alright. They are pretty waterproof.” I nearly always wear high top rubber boots over a couple of pairs of thick socks. I like to hunt the bottomlands and there is usually plenty of water to contend with. Wherever you find swamp rabbits you will find water close by.
We were going to start hunting around the edge of a large pasture that lay along the river. Immediately to our left was an area of five or six acres, that was situated in the bend of the river, with a fairly deep channel that the river had cut across it many years ago. It is covered with timber and switch cane and usually has a few swamp rabbits in residence. I didn’t plan on going into that area but I knew that if we jumped a rabbit anywhere near it that he was very likely to head there for cover. I wanted to hunt some brier patches and thickets scattered along the edge of the meadow. I knew that if we got a rabbit race going that we would at least be able to see it every now and then and have an opportunity to get a shot. I wanted Wayne to have a good chance of getting one.
We had gone about a hundred yards along the edge of the pasture and the dogs were investigating a thicket of sweet gum saplings and saw briers. Misty let out a squall that said, “I’ve found something’ and the other dogs responded to her immediately. They all liked what she had found and expressed their feelings very noisily. They headed straight for the switch cane on the cut-off and all of them were sounding off every time their feet hit the ground. They were running so hot that I thought that they were running a deer. Whatever they were running took them to the far end of the cut-off before they began to circle back. I decided about then that it had to be a rabbit. They circled a couple of times and made a loss or two, but only momentarily. Once they got the rabbit race underway, Maggie took over the lead and her machinegun, chop mouth made the woods ring.
Wayne and I took up positions along the top of the bank overlooking the channel between us and the cut-off. The dogs were still running as hot as I had ever heard them run. It sounded like they were sight running but I knew that the rabbit had to be too far ahead of them to be seen. I told Wayne to keep a sharp lookout well ahead of the dogs because if it was a swamp rabbit it could be fifty to a hundred yards ahead of them. About that time I heard the dogs turn and start back toward us. I felt sure that one of us would at least get to see the rabbit and I was hoping that it would be Wayne.
Just as I figured, the rabbit was well out ahead of the dogs when it crossed the channel down in front of us. Neither of us could see it yet because of the switch cane. The smaller pup with the black back happened to be out ahead of the other dogs and she found where the rabbit had crossed the channel. I could see her when she struck the trail, and had to laugh when she opened up frantically and tore out across the creek and up the bank toward Wayne. The other dogs were right behind her and I knew that one of us were going to see the rabbit at any second. About that time, I heard a loud “Boom” and then a second “Boom” coming from Wayne’s direction. Wayne was carrying a Model 110, twelve-gauge shotgun with #6 shot.
I yelled ”did you get him?” And Wayne proudly said “I sure did”. I climbed back up the bank and went to him. He was holding a big swamp rabbit and smiling. He said, “Maybe I shouldn’t have shot him that second time but he was trying to crawl off.” I said, “Sometimes it’s better to make sure. Although I usually just let the dogs catch them if they are just trying to crawl off? It does the pups a lot of good to get to feel and taste what they have been chasing”.
We sacked the rabbit up and started on up through the thicket. We had hardly gotten started when Misty opened up again off to our right. Maggie and the two pups went to her as fast as they could get there and another race was underway. Maggie again took over the lead and they were pushing the rabbit hard. This one went the opposite direction from the first one and crossed an old road and went into another thicket with a stream running down the middle. This rabbit acted like he was an old hand at evading anything that might want to eat him. He circled a time or two in the thicket using the water to his advantage. The dogs would lose him for a few minutes at a time. Sometimes Maggie would find him first and sometimes it was Misty. The rabbit finally sneaked all the way to the other end of the long thicket along the stream, slipped out across the old road and headed for the river or the cut-off. The dogs found where he crossed the road but could never figure out where he went from there. We never got a look at this particular rabbit and after giving the dogs plenty of time to figure it out, I called them off and headed on up the edge of the pasture.
Let me digress a moment and talk about my dogs. Maggie, the leader of my crew on this day, is out of Jeff Kissinger’s Red Lighting dog and her dam is Fireball Country Blue. I bought her from a friend of Jeff’s who said that he had not hunted her very much because she was too fast for the rest of his dogs. When I started her I could see that she had not been hunted much. She would hunt some but she would not always honor the other dogs and could not circle a rabbit on her own. I was disappointed with her but I decided to be patient (something that’s hard for me) and give her some time to improve. She did improve before the season was over and now I have had her for four seasons. She has gotten better every season and I am very pleased with her.
The backbone of my kennel, at that time, was Nichol’s Blue Buckshot. I bought him from Jeff as a puppy. He was out of Morning Star Blue Buck and Mitchell’s Charlet. He started young and advanced rapidly. I liked him so well that I told Jeff that I wanted a female out of the next litter if he made that cross again. He called me the next year and said that he had a pup for me if I still wanted a female. I immediately said that I did and a few days later I went up to Springdale and picked her up. I named her Nichol’s Misty Blue. She also started young and circled her first rabbit at about six months of age. I bred Maggie to Buckshot twice and each time she had six puppies. I kept one out of the first litter for myself and sold the rest. I have checked on most of the pups. All of the buyers that I checked with were very satisfied with the pups. After checking with the buyers I decided to make the same cross again. I had been hunting the pups regularly and had not really tried to sell them. They are all doing very well. I was hunting two of them on this hunt.
I am completely sold on Jeff Kissinger and his kennel. He has been very honest and fair in all of our dealings. He called several times to check on the pups that I have bought from him and to see if I was still satisfied. I would not hesitate to buy another dog from him or to recommend him to anyone who wants a good dog and likes to deal with an honest man.
The pasture that we were hunting around is about a half-mile long and we went all the way to the end of it before finding another rabbit. I put Maggie into a small brier patch in the edge of the field and she began to check it out. I could tell by her tail action that there had been a rabbit around there recently. About that time I saw a cottontail scoot out of the brush near her and head for another part of the patch. The rabbit ran out of the west side of the brier patch and almost over one of the pups. The pup opened up with much frantic bawling and the race was on.
They circled that rabbit around and I was able to get a look at it but it was too close to shoot. The rabbit circled a couple more times out in some larger timber away from the meadow and managed to lose the dogs. I finally went in and caught Maggie and Misty and led them away from there and into another brier patch further out into the field. All the dogs checked it out thoroughly and pronounced it rabbit free, so we moved on a short distance. We got into a blackberry thicket along the edge of the field and up against some bigger timber. I had killed rabbits on several occasions there.
Sure enough, it wasn’t long before Misty opened on another one and we had a race going. I suggested to Wayne that we ease out into the timber a little way where we could see and just wait on the dogs to bring him around. There was a lot of water standing in pools due to recent rains and the dogs had to really work after this one. I just knew that it was a swamper from the way that it was running, but when they finally pushed him around to me it turned out to be another cottontail. He cut across in front of me and headed in a direction that would have taken him well out in front of Wayne. He was traveling at a high rate of speed and my first shot had no apparent effect except to speed him up a little. With my second shot I hit a tree dead center and finally rolled him up with the third shot. I was using my Winchester Model 1400, 12-gauge shotgun with high brass #7 1/2 shot.
The next and last rabbit that we ran pulled a sneaky on us. We had crossed a very wet area and were checking out more blackberry briers along the edge of the field. We had gotten almost through this area when Misty opened again. The dogs were all together at this time and after a very short run in the briers they came out into the open field. I didn’t think that the rabbit could have gone there without us seeing him but they continued to trail him farther and farther into the field. There was another huge blackberry and greenbrier patch over a hundred yards from us across the field, and this was where the dogs were headed. They got into the thicket and began to circle the rabbit. I told Wayne to stand there in the area where the dogs had first jumped the rabbit, and I would move over to the north far enough to be out of his way. The rabbit had ideas of his own though, and continued to circle and get further away from us each time. We waited there for almost a half-hour and I finally decided to ease over toward the thickets where the rabbit kept circling. I called to Wayne and suggested that he move up closer to the same place that I was headed. We moved up closer and waited for a while just knowing that we would be seeing the rabbit momentarily.
By this time it was getting close to four in the afternoon and the temperature was dropping. Wayne’s feet had become thoroughly soaked and he was miserable. He came over to me and said that he needed to go to the truck and warm up. I said, “I’ll catch the dogs and go with you.” He said, “No, I don’t want to spoil your chances of getting this rabbit. You go ahead and stay here and I’ll wait on you in the truck.” I gave him my truck keys and he headed back down across the meadow. I moved on up to where I could see the dogs and they were having a little trouble figuring out just where Ol’ Bugs had gone. It was about this time that I decided that the warm truck seemed like a good place to be. I caught Maggie and Misty and headed out after Wayne. The pups were still working on the rabbit and were not ready to go. The dark one soon caught up with me and Ginger showed up shortly before we reached the truck.
We didn’t have a sack full of rabbits, Wayne had wet, cold feet and we both were tired. The dogs were wet and tired but if they could have talked I think that we all would have agreed that we had a good time. We made it home before dark and I gave my rabbit to Wayne. All and all it was a very good day.