by John S Rogers Jr
Here in South Carolina the gun season for rabbits opens Thanksgiving Day. The turkey with trimmings and the bowl games have to wait until after the rabbit hunt, important things have to come first. We take a few minutes to be thankful for all the many good things we have and then load the Beagles and shotguns.
We have had many Thanksgivings that were very warm and dry, those are the days that you have to shed clothes every hour or so; because the afternoon is a lot warmer than the early morning. The heat and dryness caused the running to get tough some times, but the real rabbit dogs stand out when the weather is bad. I have had some dogs that ran well but just didn't seem to be good gundogs. One big difference between running in the summer and hunting in the fall and winter around here is finding rabbits, since rabbits are not bedded down in the summer months and are easier to find.
I have owned a few Beagles that just seemed to turn it up a notch when the season opened, just as some athletes do when they are in a pennant race or championship game. I know I get an adrenaline rush when I am hunting that is a little higher than the rush that comes from just having a good run. Maybe this extra excitement can be sensed by some of the dogs, or maybe they have the same rush of adrenaline.
One of the best Thanksgiving hunts that I have had is the one in this picture to the left. It has been a few years since that day and I can't remember all the details of the hunt, but the important parts, you never forget. It was a good day not just because we got thirteen rabbits, but because everything went so well.
On the hunt along with myself were my friends, Bill Watt, Lee Davis and Tony Watt, and as usual there was a lot of joking and good humored ribbing going on. One of the thinks you didn't want to do with these guys was miss any shots, if you missed a rabbit, one of those guys would get him before he came back around. I always tell people that I learned how to rabbit hunt when I started hunting with those men.
We hunted on land that belonged to Bill's dad and some of his other relatives. There was a small swamp in the middle of the land and that was were most of the rabbits were bedded. Most of our runs were in the swamp and we would encircle it and when the rabbit would break out and try for one of the fields along the sides of the swamp, you could get a shot. We had runs that were almost check free, from start to finish.
About half the Beagles we ran were tough old vets, the ones that had been hunted hard for a couple of seasons and had run more than a hundred rabbits to the gun. The other half were pups that were on their first hunt. I had a couple of pups with me, one was a very good one, the other pup didn't do well at all.
I was very pleased with my dog that I had named Bull. For his first hunt he did amazingly well, of the thirteen rabbits I think he jumped seven or eight of them and he ran like an old dog. He always seemed to be able to find a rabbit with ease. He would have to be one of the best I ever owned.
I had bought Bull from Bill not long before that Thanksgiving and hadn't run him much but I knew he was pretty good. I had my choice of three good looking male pups that had just started and were doing good. I picked Bull mainly because I thought he was a good looking dog. All three males were half mates and Bill told me to pay him and pick out the one I wanted, he soon came to regret that offer. I would have been happy with one of the other males, but Bull was the dog that a person could be thrilled to own. The other two males became good dogs, but Bull became a very good jump dog. Even in areas with a lot of deer he only had rabbits on his mind.
After a day like that turkey taste better and it just don't seem to matter who wins the bowl games. The best bowl of all has been won and you can lean back in your favorite chair and think about your next trip to the "Briar Bowl". Some times life sure is good.
I worked a lot of of the time back then so I didn't get to hunt as much as Bill and Lee did; therefore, I would let Bill and Lee take Bull and hunt him. You know you had a good dog when two men that owned the quality of dogs that Bill and Lee were eager to borrow Bull when they went on a rabbit hunting trip. They would often hunt a swamp in Abbeville, SC, that was very rough for man and dog, and the fact that they wanted Bull, meant he was doing his part or more.
After many offers I sold him back to Bill when he made an offer that I couldn't refuse. I would have kept him but he needed to be hunted more than I had time for, back then. I did most of my hunting with Bill and Lee, so I could enjoy watching and listening to Bull, about as much as I would if I had not sold him. I did get a good pup from Bill, later that Bull had sired.
May everyone have a good, plentiful, safe, and blessed Thanksgiving with many good runs to remember.