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Mr. Bojangles

by Todd Bromley

          It's strange how age puts a different perspective on life. Not that I'm that old mind you, but I now find myself noticing things in life that a few short years ago would have completely passed by my consciousness without invoking a single thought. Many things come to mind when I stop to reflect on this preponderance.

          Being an avid archer and trophy hunter along with guiding out of state hunters for various game animals in my home state of Pennsylvania, I get to witness first hand the effect that mother nature has on different individuals. It's not difficult to figure out why a tall tined ten point edging towards your tree stand will get your heart pumping. Nor is it difficult to see a hunters excitement level rise when he hears a thundering gobbler sounding off from his roost less than 100 yards away, shaking the very ground where the hunter sits, anxiously awaiting day break. No, those are the easy things to observe. What I'm talking about are the subtle little things that you can only appreciate after you've become a seasoned veteran of the outdoors.

          Such was the case for me in the winter of 1999, when my hounds' path and myself crossed that of a rascally rabbit that I affectionately named " Mr. Bojangels". Why I chose that particular name is beyond me, except for the fact that like the "Mr. Bojangles" in the song, this "Mr. Bojangles" also liked to dance. However, the reality of it being that this rabbit may have been a "Mrs. Bojangles" for all I knew, but none the less, the name stayed.

          "Mr. Bojangels" lived in a two-acre patch of golden rod and red brush, located in the back corner of my 80-acre farm. We don't have swampers or snowshoes in this part of Pennsylvania, but if you could some how trace back through "Mr. Bojangels" pedigree, I'll guarantee you he had a whole lot of both on the top side and the bottom side. The first time our paths crossed he struck terror into my very being. The hounds opened on the edge of the two-acre patch and off they went, and went, and went. Through a three-acre swamp, which I thought was odd, that's where most of the local rabbits chose to circle. Across twenty-acres of open hardwoods where rabbits never venture, out into a fencerow and then completely out of hearing. "Deer!" My mind screamed with disbelief.

          Now I don't claim to have the best hounds east of the Mississippi but I couldn't believe they took a deer. My hounds handle well and aren't trash runners. However, I was testing a two-dog shock collar at the time and had them on my hounds. Although there was no doubt in my mind they were running a deer, I never apply stimulation until I see it with my own eyes and am 100% sure. So off I went through the swamp trying to catch up to my hounds and confirm what I already new.

          After crossing the swamp and covering an additional 300 yards as fast as I could run, I had to stop and catch my breath and have a heart attack. While leaning up against a tree straining to breathe and trying to push my pulsating eyeballs back into my head, I could ever so faintly hear my hounds coming back. With transmitter in hand and ready to go, a smile replaced the slobber that was all over my face from the untimely little jog my hounds had taken me on. I decided I would let the deer pass and when the hounds came through, I would light them up. Onward they came not missing a beat, it sure sounded good, to bad it's a deer I surmised. At any instant the deer should appear I thought, as I adjusted my grip on the transmitter. The hounds were close now and would soon be in sight, and then it happened, to my total disbelief a medium sized cottontail came streaking past.

          Standing there dumbfounded, with the transmitter in my hand, I was in total shock as my hounds stormed past. The only logical conclusion I could come up with was that the hounds took a deer out of the two-acre patch and some where down the line they jumped a rabbit and brought it back. Darned if that rabbit wasn't retracing the exact line that the deer had taken though. With all of my infinite hound knowledge now at stake, I decided to leash the hounds, which by the way were now circling that rabbit quite nicely out in the swamp, and head home. I would investigate this matter at a later date, in the mean time I'd keep my mouth shut. I didn't see any reason to tell people that my hounds were now confirmed deer runners, and besides that, no one would ever believe me if I told them I had just ran a cottontail well over a mile.

          That was how my relationship with "Mr. Bojangles" began. The next trip to the two-acre patch confirmed it, when the hounds jumped him, off he went on his marathon run, only to return to the same swamp he had passed through a half an hour earlier. Why this rabbit chose that type of running style is beyond me to this day, I've never encountered another rabbit that would run like this. That's why he was special, that's why he was "Mr. Bojangles".

          After confirming that it was indeed a rabbit that the hounds were jumping out of this same spot, my initial instincts told me that I needed to cull this creature from the population. I didn't need this miniature deer passing on his genes to the rest of the local rabbits. It wasn't until the fourth or fifth time the hounds ran him that I began to appreciate his talents.

          Mr. Bojangles did run like a deer, but he was also fearless. With nerves of steal and trickery that would make any veteran snowshoe or swamper proud, this little rabbit enjoyed the chase as much as the hounds and myself. To the best of my knowledge "Mr. Bojangles" never set foot into a hole his entire life. When the hounds jumped him out of his favorite hiding place, he would always take the exact same route out through the swamp and out of hearing. Then he would retrace his exact line back to the swamp, then the games would begin. Once he returned to the swamp, he would run like the rest of the local rabbits, except he would refuse to hole.

          Many times I had the pleasure of watching "Mr. Bojangles" play his games with the hounds. Whether he would double back into the face of death and then side step at the last minute as the hounds roared past, or if he chose to do his high wire act up onto a stump and then down a low hanging tree limb, he never stopped amazing me. Often times he would stop on the same mowed path where I was standing and either stand up and listen to the hounds or stretch out flat on the ground seemingly board by the whole ordeal. Then as the hounds closed the gap, he would once again bounce off on another journey.

          Another unique factor about "Mr. Bojangles" was that 95% of the time he was home. It didn't matter on the weather or running conditions, I knew I could count on him being there and willing to run. For this reason "Mr. Bojangles" turned me into somewhat of a lazy trainer. I knew if I was tired after work, I could just head out to his place and the hounds wouldn't have to search long, and they could run as long as I chose to let them. I tried not to pressure him too much, but I couldn't resist running him at least twice a week. I generally let the hounds run him between two and three hours at a time, then I would down them and head home. The longest I ever let the hounds chase "Mr. Bojangles" was five hours, and that was after dark. I don't honestly know how many times we ran "Mr. Bojangels" that year, but I do know that he never once holed while my hounds were running him. Surrender wasn't in his vocabulary.

          Like all good things in life, they must come to an end, and so it was with "Mr. Bojangles". I like to think he got tired of toying with my hounds and me, and moved on to greener pastures, Lord knows his legs would of carried him there. However, the reality of it being he probably became dinner for either a fox or a hawk.

          My hounds and me still visit the two-acre patch that "Mr. Bojangles" called home, and occasionally we run other rabbits there, but not with the same style and grace that he had. Every time I step into that patch I think of "Mr. Bojangels" and the impact he made on my life. Yes, it's funny how when you get older it's the little things in life that you seem to appreciate the most.

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