by Don Nichols, Sr.
Among the many things that I like about living where I do is the fact that I can walk out of my front yard with my Beagles and be out of the city limits in five minutes. I am fortunate to live in a small town and have cottontail rabbits in my yard and around the neighborhood. I can turn my dogs loose and listen to a rabbit race from my front porch. I can also grab my gun and dogs and legally hunt rabbits less than a quarter mile from my house. I know that this is not a unique situation and that many other people can do the same thing. I just consider myself blessed and very lucky.
Back on December 9, 2000, I felt that I just had to exercise my dogs and myself and listen to some hound music. I have four pups that I have been training and they were in bad need of another lesson or two. I decided to take a couple of them and a couple of my grown dogs and check out the rabbit population down in the river bottom along the Kiamichi River. This river runs northeast to southwest down the Kiamichi Valley. It’s nearest point to me is about a mile south and east of my home. I have hunted this area many times in the past 45 years. I knew that there are both cottontails and swamp rabbits in this area. Their numbers will naturally vary from year to year. Part of this area belongs to a friend and neighbor of mine that I have known since I was a boy of twelve.
I chose Maggie, my oldest female, and her son Ben and two of the pups, Rebel and Buckshot as my pack for the day. Kiss’ Blue Maggie is five years old and Nichols’ Blue Ben will be two in April. Maggie is out of Lt’s Red Lightning and Ben’s sire was Nichols’ Blue Buckshot who was out of Morning Star Blue Buck and Mitchell’s Charlet. Nichols’ Blue Rebel and Nichols’ Blue Buckshot II are out of Maggie and Buck. They are almost eight months old and have really been coming along well. Rebel has shown the most initiative and desire to hunt and has really taken a hold. Buckshot is not far behind him in his progress. I am very pleased with both of them.
I wanted to give the pups some more exposure to rabbit hunting and I knew that Ben needed more practice with his. He has really come along well in the last year or so. He is the fastest dog that I have and has shown that he can handle a rabbit on his own very well. I know that I need to be soloing him more but it is hard for me to take just one dog and leave all the others in the pen. Maggie is my fastest female and she runs well with him. She has a fast chop mouth and uses it just right. He tends to be a little tight-mouthed most of the time. He has a good voice but he doesn’t use it quite as much as I would like. He does seem to use it more though when he is running alone. He has an abundance of energy and really covers the ground when he is hunting. He can turn on “the afterburner” when he gets a rabbit up and going.
I leashed Ben and Maggie and led them until we got over into the area where I wanted to start hunting. The pups stayed fairly close to me until I turned the older dogs loose and then they went with them. Ben and Maggie got separated and the pups went with Ben. Maggie was hunting close enough that I could keep up with her and I began wondering where Ben and the pups were. I expected the pups to come back to me at anytime but they didn’t. I kept on in the direction that I wanted to hunt and then I heard Ben open a time or two. He has been known to run a deer occasionally and I was a little concerned when he opened up so far from me. Maggie had heard him also and we both headed in his direction. She got to him first and I was relieved when I heard her join in. She will not run a deer and I can always tell when the other dogs are running one if she is along. She will go to them and as soon as she knows that it is a deer, she will turn around and come back to me.
Maggie, Ben and the two pups were all telling the news about the rabbit and it sounded like they were headed my way. I really didn’t want to kill the rabbit but I got ready and moved to a place where I had a good view. The rabbit came by me on my left and out of my sight. He then turned back behind me and headed up through a thick stand of pine and cedar trees. The dogs came on through, on his trail, and followed him into the grove. He made a short half circle and came back across in front of me and I could see that it was a cottontail. He headed back over into the area where Ben had jumped him. There was a house near where he had first gotten up and the fellow that lives there has a couple of Beagles and a big hound or two. Of course, they all began to bark and wanted to get in on the race. I could tell that all this commotion was interfering with my dogs and especially the pups. They soon lost the rabbit’s trail and eventually came back to me. I called them and headed away from that area and the strange dogs.
We proceeded on down through the woods, crossed a small creek and climbed a cedar covered hill on the way to the river bottom. We had gone about one half mile when we came out on a seismograph road near the edge of a big meadow. Maggie was trailing around off to my left and Ben was out in front down the hill a ways. Maggie began to yip a little and I knew that she had found a rabbit track and was about to get him up. The trail began to warm up and Ben and the pups went to her. The race just fizzled out then and after waiting a few minutes for them to get started again, I headed on toward the bottom. I climbed another hill and had just reached the top of it when Rebel spied a crow flushing from the edge of the meadow. He just had to go and investigate and on his way toward the crow he apparently jumped a rabbit out of a small brier patch. He immediately opened up and began yipping frantically. The other dogs, which were still trailing around behind me, responded to him and came pounding by me headed to him. Maggie arrived first and when she opened also, I knew that it was a rabbit. They had some trouble figuring the trail out and spent some time circling around the area. The rabbit had run out of the small brier patch and part way up toward the top of the hill and then sat down. Rebel was really working the area and all of a sudden the rabbit jumped up right in front of him and headed on over the hill. Rebel went over the hill right behind the rabbit and was trying his best to catch it. He was yipping like crazy and I just had to laugh at the sight. The other dogs all joined the race and took the rabbit on a small circle back toward the seismograph road. I heard the race turn back toward me shortly and I looked up to see the rabbit headed my way at a high rate of speed. He almost ran between my legs as he made his way back through the brier patch and out into the meadow. He made a sharp left turn along the edge of the meadow and then turned back over the hill.
The race continued almost nonstop for a couple of circles and then they had a lose. The hill that I was standing on dropped off, on one side, into a small hollow with a stream that emptied out into the river bottom. I moved along the hillside until I was able to see down into the hollow. I was standing there listening for the dogs when I caught a movement back down the hill between the meadow and me. I turned my head for a better look and saw a swamp rabbit coming up the hill toward me. I could have killed it then but I decided to just watch and see what it would do. It came on up the hill slowly and turned as if to go down into the hollow. I stood very still and it never saw me. It stopped, set down and began to groom itself. It would rise up and look around occasionally and then go back to grooming again. The dogs were back over the hill to my left and were still trying to unravel the trail. I was not sure if this was the same rabbit that they had been running or not. After the rabbit had finished “getting pretty” it took off down the hill and disappeared into the small bottom. A few minutes later the dogs worked their way around the hill and came out near where I had first seen the rabbit. They hit it’s trail and followed it back down the hill but they could never seem to get it straightened out. They worked on it for awhile and then they all came back to me. I headed on off the hill toward the river bottom again. There is a wide flat area along next to the river that has standing water over a large portion of it during this time of the year. I thought that there might be some swamp rabbits sitting around on the higher spots of ground in it.
The pools of water that were scattered around this area had a thin covering of ice and I knew that the running would not be easy for the dogs. We had hardly gone fifty yards into this area when Maggie, who was trailing along through the brush near the edge of the meadow to my right, let out a squall and headed back in the direction that we had come from. The other dogs quickly joined her and they headed toward the hills that we had just left. I turned around and moved a short distance to where I could see back toward the hill and waited for them to bring the rabbit back. The race went on up the hill and the rabbit began circling. I expected him to come back at any time but after the second circle I decided that I might have a long wait if I stayed where I was.
While waiting for the rabbit to come back I heard a noise off to my right and further out into the wet area. I looked closely and caught a glimpse of what I thought was either a deer or an elk. I had been seeing elk sign, that morning, since shortly after the dogs ran the first rabbit. I knew that there is a herd of elk that had taken up residence there since coming from the Pushmataha County Game Management Area a couple of miles back in the mountains to the south. I only saw a brief glimpse of it and couldn’t be sure what it was. I turned back around and continued to watch and listen for the rabbit and the dogs. A few minutes later I heard a stick break back to my right again and closer to the hill where the dogs and rabbit had gone. I looked in that direction and saw a small buck deer picking his way across the bottom toward the hill. He looked like he may have had four or six points on a very small rack. I watched him until he went out of sight in the timber and hoped that he wouldn’t interfere with my rabbit race.
The rabbit race was really getting hot by this time. The dogs were all sounding off and the noise was almost nonstop. They had some momentary loses but would start again almost immediately. They were really pushing that old rabbit hard and I was surprised that he had not come back to the wet bottom again. I had decided that if the rabbit wouldn’t come to me I would go to it and began to work my way across the wet area and climbed the hill near where they were running. I wanted to position myself somewhere in the area where he was circling. I found a spot where I could see fairly well and waited. The race headed toward me shortly and I got ready for action. I had decided that I would kill at least one rabbit for the benefit of the pups. The dogs made another lose just out in front of me but out of my sight. I could hear them in the leaves as they worked the area looking for the trail. I kept watching for the rabbit to come slipping through the woods but, I never saw any movement for awhile. I had been standing there for a few minutes when some movement caught my eye back to my left. I looked in that direction and saw what appeared to be a rabbit. I couldn’t believe that one had just suddenly appeared there. I took another look and sure enough it was a swamp rabbit. I raised my gun, took aim and fired. The rabbit fell over on his side and lay still. I looked around to see if the dogs were coming and waited for them to trail up to it. When they didn’t come right away I walked over to pick it up and got the surprise of my life. Instead of one rabbit there was two swamp rabbits lying there. One was stone dead and the other was quivering and looking very addled with blood coming from the side of his head. I looked at them for a few moments and looked around for the dogs. They had trailed around the area and came toward the rabbits a time or two but would never come on up to where they lay. The one that was not dead began to move around some and I was afraid that it was going to regain it’s senses and run off. I gave it a swift whack on the head and finished it off. One of the dogs trailed right past the rabbits without seeing them and went on off to my right toward the bottom. The two pups then came trailing up to me and spotted the rabbits right away. They immediately grabbed a rabbit each and began to chew on them. I took the rabbits away after letting them wool them around a little.
Killing two rabbits with one shot was a first for me. I don’t recall ever seeing two wild rabbits close enough, while hunting, to be killed with one shot. I couldn’t believe my luck. I usually carry my camera along on every hunting trip but, this time I had left it at home. I had only intended to kill one rabbit for the pups and here I had an unexpected bonus. The photo on the left was taken of these two bunnies once I was back home from the hunting trip.
I planned on making a pretty good round before heading for home so I decided that I had better field dress the rabbits to lighten my load. I slit a back leg on each of them and hung them from a broken stub of cedar limb and dressed them out. The pups were more than glad to clean up the blood, heart, liver, kidneys and lungs for me. I hung the entrails up higher in the same tree and left them there for the blue jays and crows. I called the dogs and headed on over toward the river and some brier patches that lay along it. We checked them out thoroughly and went on up the river.
I wanted to check out another area that I had not hunted in a couple of years. I knew that there used to be some swamp rabbits there and was curious to see if there might still be a few left. I was making my way slowly down a slick muddy bank along a small stream that flows into Rock Creek which flows into the river about fifty yards downstream. Ben and the two pups had gone on across the smaller stream and were headed up the west side of Rock Creek. I was having a little trouble with the steep, slick bank. They were out ahead of me when one of the pups opened up. I thought that it was Rebel and he had jumped rabbits on several occasions already. Ben and Buckshot were there with him and another race began immediately. Maggie was close to me and she headed to them as fast as she could go. They headed up the creek and turned back across another flat bottom toward higher ground. The race was really hot and it sounded like they were starting to circle and head back my way. I hurried on up the creek and found a nice log to sit on while I waited for the rabbit to return. I had not heard Maggie open and was beginning to wonder why. A few minutes later I heard a noise out in front of me and looked up to see her coming back. I knew then that I had trouble on my hands.
I started toward the noisy race and had not gone far when I saw another swamp rabbit scoot out from under some dead limbs and disappear behind a large log. I looked around for Maggie and she was coming along slightly behind me. She went on by me and found the rabbit’s trail. She didn’t open right away but started following the trail toward where it had gone behind the log. She trailed over to a hole in the ground and stuck her head down in it. She could never get the trail going away from that hole and after watching her check the area thoroughly, I concluded that the rabbit had only gone about fifty feet and crawled into that hole. I called her and went on toward the race that was still going on. They were circling but were getting farther away with each circle. They had gotten out into an area of several small to medium sized meadows and were still pushing something very hard. When I got out into one of the meadows where I thought that I could possibly see them, Ben had left the pups behind. They were not giving up and continued working the trail and barking excitedly. I tried to head Ben off but he was having none of that. I managed to catch a glimpse of him and noted where the trail was. I headed over to where I had seen him go through and waited on the pups to arrive. Ben continued to pursue the deer and went on south over the hill. When the pups came out on the trail in front of me I caught and leashed them and warmed their backsides while scolding them for their bad behavior.
While this deer race was going on, Maggie had found another rabbit to run and was giving it her best. I led Rebel and Buckshot back to where she was working on the trail and unleashed them to help her. The rabbit managed to give her the slip and the race never got warmed up again. After waiting on her for awhile I finally leashed her and headed for home. The pups followed along but, still had enough energy to check out several interesting scents along the way.
Upon arriving home I put Maggie and the pups in their pens. I had to tell my wife and mother-in-law about killing the two rabbits with one shot. I don’t think that either of them could really appreciate the great significance of the event. Although they made the appropriate responses I couldn’t help but to feel that they were not that impressed. “Oh well”. I ask my wife to take a couple of pictures of my rabbits and me and she said, “Are you kidding, what is so important about those rabbits?” Again, I tried to impress on her that this was indeed a momentous occasion and that it should be recorded for posterity. After more snide remarks and snickering, she followed me outside and snapped a couple of pictures for me. I have concluded that the life of a great hunter/provider is not always easy.
As I was cleaning the rabbits, a few minutes later, Ben came trotting up to me. I felt like strangling him but instead I leashed him and led him to his pen. I vowed right then and there that I was going to do something about his penchant for running deer. I decided to “take the plunge” and order that shocking collar that I had been wanting for years.
It had been a good day though, with the exception of the deer race. I was proud of both Ben and Maggie and especially of Buckshot and Rebel. I regretted that the pups had gotten a taste of deer running but they had done very well on the rabbits. It is not every day that you kill two rabbits with one shot. It was certainly a first for me and something that I never expect to happen again. It was another day that I will remember and savor for a long time.