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The Big Three - Part 3

by Dave Fisher


          If you’ve been with us the last couple issues, you know that this is the last of a series of three major hunts that I cut out of this past hunting season.  We are on so many hunts, 10 in the last 14 days of the season, that they seem to all blur into one another.  If I didn’t sit down shortly after the hunt and jot down a few notes my failing mind might never remember even who I hunted with!  But as most of you know, every hunt is different in some way, and each and every one is special in it’s own right.  Some you’d like to forget …others you remember every vivid detail.  Keep this in mind as we go on the Contest hunt.


CONTEST HUNT

          Each winter, The California Hill Gun Club holds their Small Game Classic, a contest consisting of two-man grouse teams and three-man rabbit teams.  The rules are pretty simple.  All game must be taken according to Pennsylvania hunting laws, and the rabbits and grouse are checked and weighed at the club by 7:00 P.M. on the day of the hunt.  Hunters can hunt anywhere they like in the area.  The Club is about 20 miles from my home.

          We’ve entered the contest a couple of times … never won … never even been in the running, and I guess that’s because we never seem to take it seriously.  To be in the running a three-man team must kill their limit …12 rabbits, and they probably should be nice, big heavy ones too.  Also, if you were smart, you’d probably want to save your best ‘honey hole’ until the day of the contest.  Ahhhh, we never do that, and in fact, we were going to hunt the same area where we had taken a “Triple Limit” just a few weeks before. [See the first part of The Big Three]

          To add to our problems, my two best female dogs, Amber and Storm were still in heat.  Storm was out of the question for the hunt, but I sprayed Amber with anti-mating spray and she would be Ok for the day.  Our buddy Denny Malone would add his Jeanie to the pack, so Amber, Jeanie and Sammy would be our jump dogs.  I also had Bowser, and had borrowed one of my male dogs, Hershey, from a friend I had sold him to last year.  Hershey runs well in the snow, and is smart enough to look and follow tracks in the snow.  Most dogs won’t.  If the weatherman was right, we would need a snow dog.  Our five-dog team was complete.

          Bob Clarke and I meet Denny Malone about 8:30 and we drop the dogs out.  It is our hope to shoot a few rabbits early, and stay away from any long runs that eat up time.  We’re all very serious at first, but it won’t last long.  It’s been pretty cold during the night and a few inches of wet snow is hanging on everything.  You can’t see ten feet and the dogs are reluctant to get under it. It takes half an hour to get the first rabbit going.

 

          This rabbit avoids us like he has radar and I finally see him slipping down hill about two hundred yards away.  The dogs follow him down in there where they stay for a long time, and Bob finally goes and retrieves them.  The rabbit is unaccounted for, but he never came back, and it is likely he holed up, as a storm is moving in.

          We move into a very heavy thicket, and the dogs begin pushing rabbits, sometimes two or three at a time.  The problem is … no one can see them!  The dogs fly by sometimes just feet away, but it’s impossible shooting.  We have to get them out of here.

          With some difficulty we get the dogs to exit the thicket on the south side and descend on a smaller thicket we hunted a few weeks ago.  It has started to snow.

          On the way to the thicket the dogs jump a rabbit and enter the thicket, but quickly fly out the west side heading down hill and toward another thicket where we would like to hunt anyway.  Bob is already in pursuit of the pack.

          Denny comes up to me and says he has seen a group of hunters scanning the area, and they may have entered the area about a half-mile to the west.  Not much I can do about it, so I quickly fall in behind the dogs.  They are screaming and Hershey is pulling the pack along in some kind of crazed chase.  Hersh doesn’t have many assets, but the sucker can run a rabbit in the snow!

          I top the hill and see the five-dog pack go screaming straight into the group of hunters that Denny told me about!  They have one dog, I can hear them calling him “Hunter”, but he doesn’t fall in with ours.  It is an incredible sight … Hershey and Bowser blast through the group pulling the rest along with them.  They make a sharp right, jump a grassy tram, and enter another thicket 100 yards to the north.  Even I’m impressed!  

I hear one of the hunters exclaim, “My God!!  Look at that!  Five dogs!”

I chuckle to myself as Denny and I catch up to Bob on the edge of the thicket.  Bob says they were going to shoot the rabbit had he not topped the hill where they could see him.   We watch as the other hunters leash their dog and leave the area.  I think they are the only hunters I have encountered all season.  Anyway, the dogs go screaming west again and then I hear Sammy spilt off from the group.  Denny and Bob move up to cover the main pack, I hold back and listen to Sam.  Sammy is a very good dog, very reliable, so I know that he’s got his own rabbit.

The main pack is now having some trouble with their rabbit …too fast… too much speed.  Sammy is still methodically walking his bunny through the east end of the thicket alone.  The bunny is somewhere below I know that. Then suddenly he cuts across the thicket in open woods.  I throw the gun up, smash the trigger and he goes down instantly.  This is a very huge bunny!

“Only 11 more!”  I laugh. I yell to the guys that I have taken the first rabbit and it’s past ‘only’ 11:00!  It is now snowing … and snowing a lot!  Our chances of shooting 12 rabbits in here today are pretty slim.  But man, this is a nice rabbit!

Sammy joins the main pack and either they have found the rabbit they were running or have jumped a new one.  It doesn’t matter, and Bob shoots quickly just out the thicket a short ways.  I work my way out there to see him looking over another enormous rabbit.

“Man!  Those are some rabbits, huh?  About 10 more of those and we’ve got a winner!”  

We both laugh and start to field dress the bunnies.  It is snowing buckets now, and we all know that to shoot 10 more rabbits under these conditions we would probably be here till next week sometime.

A while later the dogs bring a rabbit up a narrow ravine.  He’s out of gun range and crosses the tram road and heads for the thicket we killed the two rabbits earlier.  About this time I see another rabbit slip away from the dogs and take refuge in a small clump of rose bushes.  The dogs continue on the first rabbit and after a time Denny collects his first rabbit of the hunt.  I can’t believe it, but it’s another monster!  The size of the rabbits was incredible.

As soon as the rabbit is in hand I call the dogs back to the rose bush where I saw rabbit number two go.  The problem is it’s snowing so hard now that I can barely see the tracks … they are just faint outlines in the wet blanket.  The dogs can’t pick him up.

“Geeeezzzzzz …there must be two inches of snow in here already!”  I say.  “It’s pretty clear we’re not shooting 12 rabbits today … I’m headed toward the truck!”

We turn east and skirt the edge of another small thicket where we usually run a few rabbits.  The dogs jump one, and head downhill where we just came from.  Denny breaks right and I drop straight down behind the dogs.  If you’ve ever been in a snowstorm you know it just eats sound.  It’s almost impossible to know where the dogs are or anything else.  I finally reach the grassy tram road (It’s not grassy anymore!) that leads all the way to the truck and figure this is as good as place as any.   I hear the dogs below somewhere but it sounds like they have split up.

I hold my ground anyway, and a few minutes later another big cottontail pops out on the road and turns directly for me.  It’s snowing so hard he doesn’t even see me and I just let him come into good gun range … touch the trigger.  Man!  These are some rabbits!

Sammy and Amber appear on the road where the bunny came out and eventually the whole pack joins them. They are exhausted from running in the snow.   Denny materializes out of a snow squall and I tell him I’m going straight to the truck.  He agrees and when we get there Bob is already there.

We pack up wet dogs and gear as it continues to come down.

“Denny you may as well take a couple of these nice rabbits,” I say.  “I’m not going down into California to check in four rabbits.  It’s going to be tough just getting home.”

We hit my driveway about two hours later.  It’s a blizzard, and 11 inches will fall during the night.   We’re not sure who won the contest, but understand a couple teams actually brought in 12 rabbits each.

          The last time we entered the contest it reached 70 degrees and it almost killed my dogs.  We didn’t win that day either.  This time it was a virtual blizzard.  I was wondering what’s next … fire and hail??

          Some of these hunts were real adventures and you’ll probably hear bits and pieces of some as the months go by.  I can certainly use a rest from all that rabbit hunting, but am really sad we have to wait till next fall to do it all over again!!

          It was a great season.  We took a lot of rabbits, but the sound of the hounds echoing off distant ridges or topping a mountain after being out of hearing for 10 minutes, seeing Sammy and Chase leading the pack back in single file one day with a rabbit in each of their mouths in a double retrieve, or to hear those hunters exclaim, “My God!!” as my dogs go screaming by … now that’s rabbit hunting!  So many memories … and I thank The Lord for them.

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