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Dry Creek Swampers

by Don Nichols, Sr.
Those of us who hunt rabbits with Beagles know that sometimes you have a day where nothing seems to go right almost from the "git go". Any number of things can go wrong and usually will. You may have a flat on the way to the field or in your driveway. Your best dog may have an irresistible urge to run "off game" right out of the dog box and will take the rest of the pack with him, etc, etc. You rabbit hunters know what I mean. If someone came along about that time and just looked like they wanted some dogs you would give them the whole pack.

On the other hand, the next time that you go afield everything is as if you lead a charmed life. The dogs are full of vim and vigor. They jump out of the dog box and land on a rabbit which they run like they were Grand Rabbit Champions. As soon as you have harvested that one they have another up and going and so it goes for the duration of the hunt. You, of course, are in top form also and make amazing shot after shot. It seems like you just can’t miss. The only fly in the ointment on a day like this is the fact that you are hunting alone and no one can witness the great performance of you and your dogs. But, come to think of it, that leaves a lot of latitude when bragging to your hunting buddies about it.

You may not have ever had a day like either of these but, if you rabbit hunt with Beagles long enough you will surely have one or more that is very similar. I recently had a day similar to the latter one that I described and I have had several that were like the former. These things just" go with the territory" so to speak. That is what makes rabbit hunting with Beagles so interesting and enjoyable. No two trips are ever alike.

One of my old Beagle buddies Vernon McCoy and I recently planned a Saturday morning hunt. He had just acquired a new beagle named Hunter’s Red Pepper and both of us were eager to see how he would hunt. I have a half-sister to this dog, named Nichols’ Misty Blue. She is one of my best dogs. He asked if I had a good place to hunt and I told him that I knew of a good place out near Dry Creek that had a fair number of swamp rabbits in residence. We agreed to meet at my house at eight that next Saturday morning. I had to be back home in time to go to work at one o’clock. I work for the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture in the Forestry Services as a Forest Ranger Crew Chief. My primary job is wildland fire prevention and control. I would have to be on standby fire duty. A little after seven that morning he called to say that he would not be able to go. He had to take his little granddaughter for an unexpected visit with the doctor. After calling another friend who had a prior commitment I decided to go alone.

I had been to this area several times this season already and had killed a cottontail and a couple of swamp rabbits. I had good races every time that I went into this area but on some of the trips I came home with an empty game bag. I always enjoy my trips afield whether I bag a rabbit or not.

I had to park my truck and unload the dogs on the side of a busy highway which make me a little nervous. On this trip I took my three blueticks, Kiss’ Blue Maggie, Nichols’ Misty Blue and Nichols’ Blue Ben. Maggie is approaching five and is a pretty fair jump dog. She has a fast chop mouth and usually doesn’t open it until the trail is hot. Misty will be three in June. She is the most cold nosed dog of my pack. She is the best jump dog and will nearly always get the trail straightened out when the other dogs have given up. She will squall sometimes but normally she has a fast chop mouth that she uses at every step. Ben is my only running male dog since I lost a beautiful nine month old male pup a few weeks ago. Ben will be two in April. He is fast and will usually lead the race but he tends to overrun and lose the trail frequently due to his speed and inexperience.

He had a booming bark but he doesn’t use it very much. When he does open up though you know that the trail is hot. He is still improving and I expect him to be one of my best dogs when he gets more age and experience.

I was hunting in the area where I lost a good young female bluetick last spring when my pack for the day ran something out of that area and into the Potato Hill Mountains over a mile away. This hunt almost had a similar beginning. I had put the dogs into a long thicket made up of bushes, greenbrier and blackberry briers. I was waiting to see if there was a rabbit there when a big doe came sneaking out of the thicket. I knew that the dogs were very close and I expected Ben to open up any second. He is the one that I have the most trouble with about running " off" game. I moved quickly and positioned myself between the deer trail and Ben. He opened up and came tearing out of the thicket on the deer’s trail. I was right there almost on top of him and I yelled "NO" at the top of my voice. It startled him and he stopped and looked at me. Then he started back to the deer trail and I yelled at him again. This time he stopped and looked at me and then came to me with his tail down. I led him back to the thicket and encouraged him to get back in there and find a rabbit. About that time the other two dogs came out on the deer trail and began to show some interest in it. I yelled at them and after looking at me they both turned and went back into the brier patch. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I thought that maybe Ben was finally getting the idea.

I headed west down the edge of the long narrow thicket and kept encouraging the dogs. We had gone fifty yards or so when Maggie began to yip (something that she usually does just before she opens up and starts chopping). Misty and Ben went to her immediately and the three of them began to sing a chorus.

The rabbit headed west down the thicket for a short distance and then took a left turn out into a hardwood bottom. This area is low and normally very wet through most of the winter. This time though it was fairly dry due to the lack of summer and fall rains. I worked my way through the narrow thicket and took up a position on the side next to the bottom and hoped that the rabbit would circle back my way. After a brief loss in the bottom the dogs started up again and began to really pound the rabbit. The dogs started to circle my way and about that time I saw the rabbit headed back to the thicket. He was going to be within gun range and I got ready for some action. I was shooting a single-shot twelve gauge that my children gave me for Christmas. My aim was good and the swamper started doing flip-flops. The three dogs were right there almost immediately. I dropped him in my gamebag and started on down alongside the thicket, encouraging the dogs as I went.

We had only gone a short distance when Misty opened to announce that she had found another one and the race was on with she and Ben hot on the trail. Maggie had gone back and was trailing around out in the bottom where the first race had occurred. She harkened in to them and they headed north toward an old railroad bed that parallels the highway where we had unloaded. I had never had one head in that direction and I was more than a little worried that they would get out on the highway. They went over the railroad bed and made a lose. I could neither see nor hear them and every second increased my anxiety about their nearness to the highway.

About the time that I decided that I would go to them I looked and saw two of them trailing around on top of the railroad bed. They were working back and forth and I couldn’t tell which two were there. Then Ben opened to say that he had found the trail back to my right up the railroad bed. He bawled a couple of times and Maggie went to him. When she got there the race warmed up fast and then I saw another swamper headed back toward the thicket. He was coming at an angle to me and I saw that he would be in gun range about the time that he hit the thicket. I drew a bead on him and shot just as he went into the thicket. I couldn’t tell whether I hit him or not but I felt like I had made a good shot. Maggie and Ben came on through and Misty was frantically trying to catch up. She ran up to part of an old netwire fence and had to backtrack to find a way through. Meanwhile the other two dogs had gone through the thicket and quit barking. I knew that they had either made a lose or found the rabbit. I followed Misty through the thicket and found the rabbit just inside the edge of the bushes on the far side.

I was feeling pretty proud of the dogs and myself by this time and I envisioned getting my legal bag limit of three swamp rabbits this day. I petted and praised the dogs for a good job and headed across the little bottom to some more thickets that are in the lower end of a big meadow near the Kiamichi River. Sometimes the rabbits will run from the thickets along the riverside and across the hardwood bottom and into the other thicket that I had just come from. On some hunts there in the past, the old swampers would lead my dogs on this route and somewhere along the way they would lose them. There are several holes in the large oak trees that are out in the bottom and the rabbits know where all of them are. The river bank has many holes and hiding places along it which they are very familiar with. It is a pretty challenging place for both dogs and hunters. I hunt that area mostly by myself and if I see the rabbits at all they will either be too close or too far away for a shot. They like to cross the open meadow at a narrow point and I would usually be in the wrong place. I have found, probably like most rabbit hunters, that when you hunt alone you are frequently in the wrong place. If you change locations the rabbit will cross very near or exactly where you just moved from. If you will just find a place where you have a good view of the area near where the rabbit is jumped and stay put, most of the time, you will stand a good chance of getting a shot at it. Staying put, though, is sometimes hard to do.

I decided that I would change my strategy this time and just take up a position out in the edge of the open meadow where they had crossed on previous hunts. It took the dogs a little while to find one in this new thicket but soon Misty opened. It took her a few more minutes to get it straightened out. I could tell that the trail had warmed up considerably when both Maggie and Ben began to chime in and the three of them headed up toward the wide part of the thicket. The rabbit circled a time or two and then slipped out of that thicket and across a narrow grassy area and into another brier patch under some big pines.

I figured that he would go on through there and across the open meadow and into the hardwood bottom but the dogs lost him and began to circle. Maggie and Ben (mother and son) got off back into the original thicket and Misty, following her usual habit, came back around where they had lost the trail and began working on it again. Maggie began to yip again and I knew that she had found a rabbit. She and Ben headed toward the river after this one. About that time Misty found the trail of the first rabbit and opened up. She headed across the open meadow and into the bottom.

I didn’t quite know what to do. I have had this happen before and I ended up getting neither rabbit. When Maggie and Ben headed toward the river I moved up to where they had jumped the rabbit and waited. They lost the trail temporarily and I decided to move out into the open meadow again where I could possibly get a shot at the one that Misty was after. She kept working on it and began to head southwest alongside the meadow. I knew that if she continued in that direction that the rabbit would probably cross out of gun range.

Sure enough, another big swamper popped out of the grass at the opposite side of the meadow from me and ran into the bushes at the far end of it. While Misty was after this one, Maggie and Ben had found the trail again and had pushed their rabbit into the thicket under the pines. Their race got so hot that Misty left her rabbit and went to them. The rabbit turned and went back into the area where Maggie had jumped it. They made a lose and after giving them a few minutes, I caught Misty when she came out near me. I led her back around to where I had last seen the other rabbit and put her on it’s trail. She opened immediately and it wasn’t long before Maggie and Ben showed up to help her. When they joined in, the race really got hot and back toward the river they went.

   I took up a position out in the lower end of the meadow near where I had put her on the trail. The rabbit made a circle and came back into the thicket under the pines. I figured that he would come out across the meadow and head for the bottom if they continued to push him like they were doing. I was using field load 71/2s and I switched to a high brass shell just in case I needed the extra range. I don’t use the maximum loads very often in that gun because it tends to get blood on both ends when I do. I guessed right for once and the rabbit came tearing out of the thicket and headed across the meadow giving me a broadside shot at about thirty yards. I led him just a little and at the sound of the shot he crumpled momentarily and then disappeared into the grass and briers at the edge of the thicket. At about the same time that the rabbit disappeared the dogs appeared out of the thicket across the meadow and came barreling along the trail. They went into the bushes where the rabbit had gone and hushed. I moved up to see what was about to happen. I knew that there are a lot of holes and hiding places around there for a wounded rabbit. When I got to where I could see into the briers I saw the swamper lying just inside them next to the meadow. He had been able to run just far enough to make it into some cover before collapsing.

It was getting very close to twelve o’clock by this time and I had a half-mile to walk to get to my truck and an eight mile drive back home. I placed the rabbit into my game bag, which was getting pretty heavy by this time, leashed the dogs and started making my way toward the truck.

It had been a short but very exciting morning for the dogs and I. I was pleased and proud of their performance and decided once again that I would keep them for awhile longer. I made it home shortly after twelve and by the time I finished cleaning the rabbits it was time for me to go to work.

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).