by Lyle Zerla
After spending a week in Michigan, in the middle of October, hunting snowshoe hare with Darwin Accord, Jim Bridges, and the Master of the Hoo Doo breed, a legend among Beaglers, Dave Roop, my hunting partner, Jim McGlumphy, and I returned to Ohio with six dogs in top-notch shape. The Ohio season opened a week later and we were able to limit out several times in the first week. We had enough rabbit and hare in the freezer to last for a while.
Jim hunted with a 12 ga. Browning A5, and I hunted with a 12 ga Ithaca 37. After the first week of the Ohio season, we decided to put the Browning and Ithaca away. Jim switched to a Thompson Center Contender in .410, and I started to use a 12 ga. Thompson Center New Englander, left-handed model with a full choke.
We decided to run three dogs on Monday of the second weed of the season--Blue Ridge Casey Lou, the dog who doesn't know the meaning of the word "quit" (or fetch, come here, roll over, or a lot of other words), Blue Ridge Bobbi Lou, our best line dog, and Buddy. Buddy has a great nose. If there had been a rabbit around on Tuesday, Buddy can find it on Friday. Buddy is from a line of dogs bred by Tom Neft, Sales Manager for Joy Dog Food.
As usual, Buddy struck a track. Casey and Bobbi didn't pay any attention to him as long as he was cold trailing. They kept up their own search. Buddy's bark changed and the two females came running to join in the chase.
The rabbit went up the hill through waist-high weeds, then turned and went away from us. I took this opportunity to take a position on the top of a bank about ten feet high. It had a commanding view of the bottom below. Jim moved up the hill where he could cover the spoil bank from an old coal stripping operation in case the rabbit came back that way.
I could see the dogs coming down the valley toward me, but I could not see the rabbit in the weeds. The rabbit broke into a clearing and the rabbit stopped under a limb. I shouldered the New Englander and pulled the hammer back. I laid the bead on the rabbit and squeezed the trigger. The shotgun roared. The charge of 70 grains of FF black powder sent a 1-1/8 oz. load of #6"s toward the rabbit.
I started to reload the front loader--first, the powder, then a wad, the shot charge, and another wad. As I placed the percussion cap on the nipple, the dogs sent the rabbit zipping past me again. From this vantage point, Jim watched the drama unfold.
As the rabbit went past, I heard him yell, "If that had been an Indian, your hair would have been a lot shorter! Lew Wetzel, you're not!" (Lew Wetzel was the most famous Indian fighter of the Upper-Ohio Valley. He was called "Death Wind" by the Indians. Lew had learned to load his muzzle-loading rifle on the dead run, and the Indians thought his gun was always loaded.)
The dogs brought the rabbit around a third time, with Casey leading the charge. This time I was ready when the rabbit came into view. The charges of #6's were hurled toward the rabbit. Again the smoke cloud obscured the view. This time Bobbi answered Jim's question to me when she emerged from the cloud of smoke carrying the rabbit to me.
Hunting with a muzzle loader gives some of the advantage back to the rabbits and leads to some longer chases that our pack of hounds really enjoys. Another plus is that it gives you a chance to relive the way that our grandfathers hunted rabbits a hundred years ago.