As most folks already know, rabbits and hares are primarily nocturnal animals, which means they are mostly active at night. While growing up in Bond County, Illinois, I owned both Beagles and coonhounds. Anyone that has run hounds at night can tell you that wildlife abounds under the cover of darkness. While coon hunting in many of my favorite hunting areas back in the 60’s and 70’s, I would see ten times more rabbits at night than I would ever jump during the day in the exact same locations.
In 1979, I moved from the fields and hardwood forests of Southern Illinois to the deserts and pine tree forests of Southern California. The Mojave Desert, where I live, stretches from the Los Angeles County line in California out several hundred miles to Las Vegas, NV and even includes the famous region known as Death Valley. I am talking a wide-open running area that includes millions of acres. This entire desert region receives less than 10-12 inches of rain annually which is thus a very low-humidity environment. Beagles that run in this type of environment need to have fast speed to stay with the scent because it disappears very quickly. Also, a good nose is a must with Beagles that can wind scent being the best performers of all.
Several years ago, the region that I live in had an extremely hot and dry summer with many days breaking the 100-degree mark for weeks at a time. It was frustrating to say the least, because even if I ran the dogs in the early morning hours, the dogs could not last long running in these extremely hot temperatures. It really helps your hound's endurance to keep them in their best running shape, but all hounds have their limitations when the temperatures get too hot. I like my Beagles to be very lean, full of stamina, and to have enough endurance to last for a full, 10-12 hour hunt day. Yet, lets also be realistic here, when the temperatures are anywhere above 80 degrees, many times the rabbit scent does not stay around long enough to allow the hounds to track it for a full-circle pursuit. In hot temperatures my daylight runs would only consist of a jump, a 50 yard sight chase, and about 200-300 yards of tracking before a loss was inevitable.
That is when I decided to try running rabbits at night. Immediately, I saw a fantastic improvement in all of the runs my hounds were making. The desert comes alive at night with all types of wildlife including lots of desert cottontails, black-tailed jackrabbits, and white-tailed jackrabbits. The air temperature is often very cool in the desert at night while the ground stays warm. When the ground is warm, the air temperature is cool, and the night humidity content is at its highest level, there are no better running conditions anywhere else in the world.
Jackrabbits are true hares and they will never go to a hole. Beagles will run these large 6-12 pound jackrabbits with no losses when the tracking conditions are this perfect. A large jackrabbit will often run circles that can be wider than a mile or more and last for several hours. In the Mojave Desert where I live and run my hounds, the ground is relatively flat with no trees for hundreds of miles. The only type of tall plant is a Joshua tree, which in reality is not a tree at all. Joshua trees are actually tall yucca plants that reach up to a height of about 10-20 feet tall.
My hounds also run quite a few desert cottontails at night. If I am running near the edge of the desert, where it turns into the National Forest, there are lots of holes that are made by ground squirrels, woodchucks, and skunks. The desert cottontails will quickly run down a hole when hard pressed by fast running hounds. However, just a few miles deeper out into the desert, holes are few and far between and you see a lot fewer ground squirrels and skunks and no woodchucks. The simple fact there are fewer holes in the desert is why I also get some great, long runs on desert cottontails at night.
With the lack of hills and trees that often block the sound of a pack, you can hear the Beagles sounding off for miles. My family and I love to drive out into the desert at night and let the hounds run for 6-8 hours at a time. We set around a campfire and roast hotdogs and marshmallows while listening to the beautiful music of the hounds in hot pursuit. The absolute best nights of the month for night running are during the week of a full moon and the sky is free of clouds. It is almost like daylight on nights like this. Also, we generally do our night running during the late spring, and throughout the summer. As soon as the temperatures drop for the fall season, we are back to running and also hunting during the morning and afternoon hours of the day.