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The Brush-Pile Dog

by Robert L. Mason


          Among the celebrated specialists of Beagledom, few hounds have enjoyed a more richly-deserved place of honor, than have the genuine brush-pile dogs.  Courageous little canines, adept at worming their way through the dark maze of an all but impenetrable brush pile, these worthy little hounds are highly prized wherever men love hounds and hunting.

            Of course, brush-pile dogs are getting harder and harder to find.  For that matter, so are brush piles.  Times were when the clearing of greater and lesser trees, saplings and brush was an annual rite of spring.  Likely as not, the accumulated brush was pushed aside into earth-encrusted ‘dozer piles or loosely gathered into haphazard heaps and left to dot the edges of cleared fields.

            Over recent years, the vast expansion of the coyote population, along with the rapid disappearance of traditional cottontail cover, such as fence rows, weed fields, briar thickets and the like,  have combined to make brush piles very attractive to the rabbit—wherever they may be found.

            When the cold winds of winter begin to blow and predators are on the prowl,  the piles become favorite haunts  of cottontails.  There in their insulated boroughs,  honeycombed throughout the loosely-packed earth of the pile,  rabbits find safety in their numbers and warmth in the heavy cover.

            Many of these piles are as good as a hole for the rabbit that finds himself under a relentless drive by hard-pressing hounds.  There, within the tightly woven protection of tangled brush, the rabbit can buy the precious time he needs to recover from his oxygen deficit.  Assuming luck is with him and there isn’t a genuine brush-pile dog in the pack, the rabbit might never have to leave his sanctuary to face the hounds and the hunters’ guns.

            After all, not every Beagle is adept at hunting every type of cover, and absent a hound with the body-type and instincts for hunting brush piles, a rabbit’s temporary place of refuge might easily become a haven.  Of course, brush piles, in addition to affording rest and recuperation, also function as relay stations where a flagging bunny can occasionally escape pursuit by ducking into a scent-rich environment that allows the hounds to become distracted by the fresh scent of new game.

Now, there is no doubt in my mind that, apart from the general scent common to rabbits, a Beagle can distinguish between the individual scents of his quarry.  However, a hound isn’t usually particular  enough to  remain faithful to a single scent once that scent has been interrupted and another hot scent presents itself. 

            Once a Beagle enters a pile, the hunters must be vigilant, for there is no telling where or when game will emerge once the hound or hounds begin raising a ruckus beneath the pile.  It’s not uncommon for rabbits to dart in every direction.  And, as likely as not, a rabbit will pop from one opening in the brush and dash back into another. 

            When hunting such piles or perhaps small, isolated thickets, it’s important for the hunters to evaluate potential cover in all directions around the pile or thicket.  The rabbit, absolutely masterful in his knowledge of the terrain, is not likely to attempt an escape in a direction affording little or no cover.  Given any choice at all in the matter, he will usually take the direction that affords the best cover. 

To maximize the opportunity to make a kill, the hunter should position himself at the point affording greatest visibility of the possible escape routes from the pile, emphasizing those points of egress lying in the direction of the best available cover. 

Unfortunately, there are brush piles so challenging that no hound may be able to force his quarry to come out and face a firing squad.  Some piles simply offer too many advantages to an elusive quarry.  Indeed, even the smallest Beagles encounter fortifications too daunting to admit the pressure necessary to flush a rabbit from dense, convoluted cover. 

In the brush-pile dog, as in most great hunting dogs, many elements combine.  Small stature is not enough.  Indeed, there is a point at which diminutive stature becomes a liability, rather than an asset.  A brush-pile Beagle, whatever his physical size, must be strong of heart and limbs.  And, while it is a definite advantage to be small in tight places, good hunting fortune tends to favor the thin, wiry Beagles with foot speed and nose speed to run with the pack.  After all, what is the ultimate worth of a hound that can force a rabbit from the bowels of heavy cover, but can do little or nothing with him once the quarry is afoot? 

Caution is advised against permitting any Beagle to hunt heavy brush piles while wearing a collar.  A collar can easily become snagged on a limb or other obstruction trapping the hound beneath the pile, and some piles are so massive that a tractor,  bulldozer or other equipment might be needed to remove cover material barring access to the hound.

Should you have a concern regarding the health of your Beagle(s), you should contact your veterinarian. All information on this site is presented solely for educational and informational purposes and should not, at any time, be considered a substitute for seeking or receiving veterinary care for your Beagle(s).