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The Big Three - Part 1

by Dave Fisher

One hunting season I was on 57 rabbit hunts.  This year I am about to reach 40.  That’s a lot of rabbit hunting!  During the course of the season, however, there are some, as in the trial schedule, that seem a little more special than others.  Ya know like it’s the National’s or something!  Even as I write this it is even hard to limit it to three great hunts, because I was on one yesterday that yielded three loooooooong and spectacular runs … ahhhh, the dogs did just a wonderful job!  Anyway, I sure thank The Lord that He has allowed us another great season.  Here is the first of three great hunts this past season.

          Every year I try to get down to little Washington, PA and hunt with my good friend and Beaver Island companion, Denny Malone.  Last year we made it on the last day of the season, so this year we tried to go in better weather.  We had no idea it would turn out to be one of the greatest rabbit hunts in years!

          Bob Clarke and I loaded Bowser, Sammy and Amber on my truck and about 9:30 we were in Denny’s driveway adding Jeanie and Gabe to the pack.  Jeanie and Gabe were both my dogs at one time and we felt they would run fairly well together.  I bought Gabe some years ago from Holly Wolfe in Michigan and Jeanie from Mark Galand here locally.  By sheer coincidence they were both sired by the great Thorn Gap Bad Jack.   Holly never liked Gabe because he lacked good searching qualities, but I can assure all that I never saw a dog more truer to the line with a beautiful trumpet voice to match.  It is a shame that his age is certainly catching up with him.

          With the pack complete, Bob Clarke, Denny Malone and I descend on our hunting spot a short drive from Denny’s house.  As I recall the hunt started out slowly with Jeanie and Amber both cold-trailing a little on the frozen ground.  I was getting pretty frustrated with them in the first hour, as the ground slowly began to thaw.  Suddenly Bowser goes out of there with a hot rabbit at the end of his nose, and within minutes the pack jumps clear across a thick weed field into another very tight thicket.  There was little we could do so we followed along and arrived there with the pack still in hot pursuit down over the hill to our right.

          Denny disappears around to my left and Bob cuts around to my right.  I’m stuck in the middle so I take a position at the “point”, a little strip of trees that stick out into the weed field.  Suddenly I look up and two rabbits cut across the point … I am so flabbergasted I miss the first one outright … kill the second one with the next shot … Bob’s gun goes off below me and I jump up on a log to see where the dogs are.  Instantly another rabbit slides under the log and I get a quick snap shot at it …Bob and I will find this rabbit later.    

          For the next few minutes it’s utter chaos, Sammy leaves the thicket on the first rabbit I shot at … Gabe and Jeanie run by Bob, and Bowser and Amber take another rabbit straight north into the thickest part of the woods.  Bob has killed a rabbit and has seen two others.  As near as we can figure we have six rabbits up at one time!!  Never saw anything like it!

          A little while later Bob shoots again and I quickly see a rabbit come back across the point … I shoot, knock the bunny down, but have no dogs to retrieve it.  They have ganged up again and head south into the first thicket where we started.  I’m not sure where Denny is but we hear him shoot a few times a little west of the dogs.  It’s a big place!   Bob and I meet at the point and start field dressing rabbits.  I now have two and he has one … although we have shot at at least two others.

          The dogs have been running in the high grass, and black berry field for a long while and we now realize we are never getting them back into this thicket to look for the other rabbit I think I have wounded.  After half an hour, we reluctantly head west to catch up to them.  About the time we get to them they are in another thicket of multi-flora rose interspersed with more open areas.  I see a rabbit right away come hopping by me, but since I am frequently called the “game hog” and the “game magnet”  … I reluctantly let it go.  The dogs run it right by Bob a few minutes later and he takes his second.

          It never lets up and about half way through the thicket the dogs suddenly leave, cut across the big expanse of the grass field and drop into a steep hollow we call “the hole”.  It’s tough and very, very thicket in there and nothing gets through there except the dogs. 

          I watch from a high position as Denny and Bob stroll out through the field … one taking the left side of the hole, the other headed right.  I pull up a nice rock, break out a sandwich, and begin to watch and listen.

          What happens next is one for the rabbit hunting archives.  I hear the dogs split …some go right … some go left and come straight up the gut of the hole.  From my very high vantage, I see a rabbit top the lip of the hole and I see Bob raise his gun.  He shoots … then quickly shoots again … at the same time two hundred yards right and west Denny shoots.  I see Denny lift a nice big rabbit and at the same time I see Bob also heft a big woods bunny.  I figure Bob needed two shots to bring down his bunny … when I see him still looking all over the ground … suddenly he lifts another rabbit with the other hand; and quickly yells,   “Hey, Dave my first double!”

          It’s incredible and suddenly I feel out of the action!!  A triple rabbit kill!

          The dogs reenter the thicket where I am and rabbits come shooting out everywhere.  We get carried away and just start shooting, no one actually hitting anything.  Bob and I both shot several times in the first exchange in the morning and we are both in danger of running out of shells!  I usually only carry 10 or so.

          The hounds go north again into another large field of bent and matted grass.  They are several hundred yards out when I reach the top of the hill and the thicket edge.  I’m only there a few minutes when an unusually big cottontail bounds through a snow covered opening and into another.  I follow him carefully, fully aware I am low on ammo … when I touch the trigger he cartwheels … it’s about time!

          We meet back in the thicket and field-dress the rabbits and take stock.  Bob already has his limit four, Denny two, and I now have three.  It’s pretty clear that there are so many rabbits in here there is a good possibility we could all get our limit … 12 rabbits in all.

          The dogs are still running, bouncing back and forth from the main thicket to the large black berry field below, and occasionally into the hole.  Denny and I get excited again and waste a few more shells … I’m now dangerously close to running out altogether.  Finally Denny makes an incredible long shot and collects his third rabbit … at the same time I see two more rabbits jump a smashed four-wheeler trail in the field … I miss of course!  One is another huge bunny and he crosses a small power-line and is running for the main thicket.  If the dogs stay on him, he might be in range again soon.

          “Denny … throw me a shell!”  I yell. 

          It’s like we have practiced it a hundred times.  Denny throws the shell into the air at 50 yards and I can’t believe it is a perfect toss!  It’s like a movie … I see the shell high in the air tumbling almost in slow motion.  I catch the shell in mid-air with my right hand, slide it in the magazine and about the same time swing on the bunny now in full stride just inside the main thicket.  I now have two shells in the gun so I am in good shape.  I touch the trigger, but never see the bunny again.  Denny assures me he saw him go down …and Sammy carries him out a few minutes later … 11 down!

          Bob and I try to “help” Denny get his last rabbit but it seems we can’t hit anything when we need to.  I’m totally out of shells anyway, so Denny’s on his own.  The dogs run for the next hour all over the entire place.  Denny shoots at a couple and I slowly work over to him. 

          The dogs are now below us in the high black berry field, but there is an open area to our left where it’s mostly just low grass. 

          The dogs are coming hot below us and Denny finally says, “There he is, right in front of you.”

          I see nothing and Denny lets fly a load of 6s shouting confidently,  “I got him!”  I never saw him, and we have a hard time finding the bunny ‘cause Denny has taken another 50 yard shot!  But we finally locate him and Denny carries out another very big rabbit … a triple limit!!

          It was one of the craziest and exciting hunts we had been on in years and we recounted it over and over in the next few days.  The dogs have run 30 rabbits in one day!

          Gabe and Jeanie, and all the dogs were dead and needed very little encouragement to follow us to the trucks.  It’ quite a sight as we walk down the tram that leads to the vehicles, five pooped puppies, three tired and bleeding hunters and 12 rabbits hung all over us.      

          “Well”, I say,  “I’m glad we don’t have to rely on our shooting to eat!  Does anyone have a camera?” “NO!”  was the unison reply.

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