by Dave Fisher
Bowser and Jeanie started barking when we were still 25 yards from the thicket in a cut-over hay field. It was obvious that the rabbit was feeding in the field just a little while before I got there. The two, along with Storm, heated up quickly once inside the thicket and I fought to claw my way in there. I took up a position on a small rise in the woods and listened as the trio took the rabbit out along an old pasture fence and then back into the woods below and left. About 10 minutes later I saw a nice cottontail come up the deer trail I walked in on, but he was hopelessly out of range. I figured the dogs would push him straight out the path to me, but when they got closer they veered off farther right and back into the pasture... "different rabbit", I thought to myself.
Most guys don't like to hunt by themselves, but I relish it. For some reason I have had a great deal of success when hunting solo. I have killed some of my nicest gobblers when hunting alone, and have taken almost all my deer, especially bucks, hitting the woods solo. Of course, it's a different ball game when you're in the woods and brush all by your lonesome. You have to be a little more careful, you have to be a little more prepared, and you should always let someone know where you will be hunting.
In the case of rabbit hunting, I have always enjoyed the time I've spent in the woods, and I've had some of the greatest hunts when it's been just me and the dogs together.
I'll never forget the winter I loaded up the dogs and slipped over into nearby West Virginia and hunted in deep snow. The dogs ran a single rabbit through 80 acres of deep snow for over 3 hours, before I killed it back near the truck. I can still see those dogs swimming in the soft powder and struggling to stay with the huge mountain cottontail. He was only a single rabbit, but a real trophy when finally in the bag, and it was an unforgettable hunt with the dogs. This when I couldn't find anyone who wanted to go rabbit hunting in the dead of winter.
Some of the good things about hunting alone are; you don't have to wait for your hunting buddy to show up in the morning, or you can sleep in and go whenever you feel like it. You can take shots without worrying about where the other guy is, and you can load up the dogs and come home whenever you like.
Of course, hunting alone is not all peaches and cream either. First thing that comes to mind is I'm only one guy, when means in most cases the rabbit has a lot of places and escape routes that I just can't cover. Sometimes this isn't a problem, but at times it can drive you crazy, especially if you've been out a long time, and really want to gather up the dogs, but they are on a hot rabbit. We all know the easiest way to end a chase is to kill the bunny... sometimes it's a little difficult when you're only one guy. But it can be exciting!
Bowser, Jeanie, and Storm kept up the pressure on the first rabbit, and I knew if I was going to get a shot, I had to abandon my position and move down toward the fence. The chase had gone up and down the fence line for the last 15 minutes. When the dogs went far left I made my move. Soon I was standing on a small pile of rocks and the dogs were coming back up through the overgrown pasture to my left. About the time the dogs were directly in front of me, I saw the rabbit come under the fence and dart into the woods. I fought the urge to shoot too soon, then the rabbit sprinted out from behind a big cherry tree and presented an easy shot. It was the first rabbit of the day, and the way the dogs were running, I figured I could get a few more.
Now don't get me wrong, I like having a buddy or two along on any hunt, but sometimes I don't have anybody that isn't working or wants to go if the weather's a little nasty. But if it's rabbit season, I'm going to be out there hunting somewhere! For these times I hold a few small spots in reserve for that solo hunt. These places are usually small out-of-the-way places where I have permission to hunt, but can't really take someone. These small thickets may be hunted only once a year, or even every other year, and they usually hold a good rabbit population.
The thicket I was hunting usually has 20 or 30 head of cattle on it, but for some reason the cattle had been removed and except for the dogs, I was really hunting alone. The pasture is slowly being overtaken by wild rose bush, not multiflora rose, but a wild species native to Pennsylvania. It's greener with long spindly shoots, and it may not be quite as deadly as multiflora, but it's certainly close. Anyway, it seemed that almost every rose bush had a rabbit hiding under it, and a few times during the day I actually saw two rabbits up at a time.
The dogs never stopped barking and went out to the east running another cottontail. I tried to get out there, but the combination of old barbed wire and rose bush kept me from making much progress. I went around taking the long way into a wooded section of the thicket. The dogs were still barking somewhere above me and coming closer. I saw a nice cottontail scooting out to my right, but knew it was out of range. I was lowering the gun when another rabbit, this one closer, came out the same way... it was another easy shot and I had my second rabbit of the day.
Like most rabbit hunts, things can happen quickly. On this solo hunt I could tell the rabbits were really in here today, but I had to get the dogs back down into the pasture where a solitary hunter had more of a chance for shooting. After some real scolding and a few bumps from the shock collars I got the dogs turned again and headed over the hill into the savanna-type openings in the pasture. I sat down on a nice log there and tried to eat a sandwich, but Bowser, who can hear cellophane at 1,000 yards, wouldn't let me alone. About the time he had just about eaten my whole sandwich, Jeanie and Storm jumped another rabbit below. Thank goodness!
One of the best things of hunting alone is that you can hunt at your own pace. I knew there were plenty of rabbits out today, so I was not in a big hurry to shoot or to work down into the pasture further. I figured I would just finish my sandwich (the part Bowser hadn't eaten), and let the dogs run. Usually if I have a buddy with me, he's usually in a big hurry to kill the rabbit or cover as much ground as possible. If I've learned anything rabbit hunting over the years, it's probably: If you stand still, you're just as likely to get as much shooting as if you run all over the place.
Sometimes I fall into this trap. You're out for a few hours, and you haven't gotten any rabbits so you start following the dogs and running here and there. In most cases the rabbit will get around to you if you give it a chance. This thought entered my mind so I decided to hang in here where I was sitting and just let the dogs do their job and see what happened. I had taken my third rabbit from the spot just a few minutes after Bowser joined the chase, so I needed only one more for a Pennsylvania limit.
The dogs went east again to the far side of the pasture, down over the steep hill for a while then swung up, and slightly toward my log. The dogs were running very well today, even though I hadn't been happy with their performance lately. But they were locked on today!
Finally, the chase was so loud and coming so hard that I stood up and took a few nervous steps forward. I could see the dogs now coming hard from my left. Yeah, here comes the bunny! And man is he moving.
He bounds through three or four openings and I swing the gun hard right, and line up with a fairly large space near a green ash tree. He flies through almost before I can settle the gun and smash the trigger. He cartwheels from behind the tree!
And you know what's one other bad thing about hunting solo? No one witnessed this spectacular shot!