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One Tough Bunny

by Gord Follett


 

There are a couple of ways of looking at a situation involving a “buck” rabbit – an older, wiser hare that “knows the ropes,” as they say – which you’ve been hunting for hours: (A) You can’t wait to get him and pat yourself on the back, or (B) If you do finally get a clear shot, you lower the gun and decide to give it another chance. Now that’s really enhancing the challenge!

Okay, not many of us would consider Option B, mainly for the dogs’ sake. But have you ever been so impressed by an animal’s mental and physical attributes that you even thought about letting it go?

No? Not for one second?

Oh, okay.

I haven’t very often, either, mind you. But there was this one time…

We were trying out new hunting grounds – new to us, at least – just east of Southern Harbor, Newfoundland, on a cool and cloudy mid-October morning, when all three dogs began tonguing simultaneously and with more of a “yapping” than on the other three hares we’d gotten earlier. At first we thought it was either a moose, fox, coyote, or some other creature that could rile them as it did, so we immediately pushed our way through the woods to investigate, just in case it was one of those damn coyotes.

A brown blur breezed by me as I turned to protect my eyes from a branch, and 20 seconds later two of the dogs were on the same trail, followed 10-15 seconds later by the third Beagle.

“Boys!” I shouted, not knowing how far my two partners were from me, “that’s a rabbit the dogs are after!”

“Barking like that?” said Dwight, to my surprise just a few meters away. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah, it flew by me with the dogs right on ’im.”

“That howling sure sounded different when they started a minute ago,” he said, “although they seem to be back to their normal howls now. Was it a big rabbit?”

“Biggest I’ve seen this year. He’s friggin’ huge! Remember the big one you got last year around Bellevue?”

“Yeah.”

“That size or larger.”

“Well then, come on, let’s get ‘im,” he said. “We can have rabbit steaks tonight. D’you want the tongue and heart?”

Four hours later, the only tongues and hearts on our minds were the ones hanging out of the dogs’ mouths and beating out of their chests.

The glance I got at the beginning of the run was the only time I saw that ol’ buck for the first hour of the hunt. Mike caught a quick glimpse and Dwight had a slightly better look, but he said the creature was traveling at “warp speed” and he didn’t have time to raise his shotgun.

Later into the chase I was certain the hare was heading my way. I had already slogged through knee-deep bog and around a small brook when the dogs’ intermittent howls indicated I was in the perfect position.

They were getting closer… closer…

I placed my finger on the safety.

“Splash! Splash!”

Two of the dogs ran (fell) straight into the nearby brook. The rabbit apparently sailed right over it. The Beagles climbed out, shook themselves and resumed the chase on the other side. The third dog, which I thought was simply slower than the other two, ran up to the edge of the stream, took a long sniff, turned slightly to her left and began howling without crossing. The other two quiet fellas made a quick about-turn, found a narrow part of the brook to leap across and joined in the chorus.

“The rabbit didn’t cross the brook, boys,” I yelled. “He must be heading back your way.”

Shortly after that the dogs went silent once again and remained so for half an hour. That’s when Dwight spotted the furry creature flying behind him and called the confused dogs to put them on the trail.

After close to an hour of on-again-off-again tonguing, I finally heard a shot, but it wasn’t followed by the success cry, “Got ‘im!”

I waited… “D’ya get ‘im?”

“Not even close,” was the response. “He’s not running in a straight line and he’s going too fast.”

Twenty minutes of silence was broken by a howl from the youngest Beagle, followed by the other two. The chase was on again, although I would have preferred to collar the dogs and move them to another area. I didn’t bother trying to call them, however, they’d have no part of giving up as long as there was even a hint of a scent on the ground.

“Are you still by the brook, Gord?” Mike asked from inside the treeline 60-70 meters away.

“Yup.”

“They’re coming your way.”

I could see the dogs’ backs over the low bushes and they followed the hare to the edge of the brook once again. They weren’t about to be tricked again, however, so they turned and searched the area where the younger one picked him up earlier. Not a sound. We discovered 30 minutes later – after the dogs finally crossed the narrow part of the stream – that the rabbit didn’t stop at the edge, but did indeed sail across this time.

The howling was fairly consistent over the next 15-20 minutes, and at one point they ran 40-50 feet behind me. Damn! Look all around, Gord, look around; the rabbit doesn’t always run right in front of you.

“Boom!”

I asked immediately; “Got ‘im?”

“Nope,” Dwight answered from a cutover just to my left.

“If you can get the dogs,” I said “take them off that friggin’ rabbit so we can get out of here. We’ve been after him for about three hours now.”

“You think they’re gonna come close to us while even one of them has a scent? Not likely!”

I could hear one of the dogs whimper close by, which meant he was about to erupt into a full-scale howl.

“Aurrrouugh, aurrrouugh, aurrrouugh…”

I looked straight ahead, to the left, then right, before turning completely around.

“I know you’re here somewhere,” I whispered to myself. And he was; he ran behind me just as I turned the other way.

The three dogs, meanwhile, were hot on this hare. I could have sworn that as they went by, the older Beagle slowed briefly and looked at me as if to say, “and your problem is…?”

Most times it’s best not to move around too much when the dogs are on a rabbit, especially if the rabbit has passed within gunshot range at some point. Lord knows I’ve learned that lesson the hard way more than once. But this time I figured I had nothing to lose, so I crossed the brook and waited on the edge of a small clearing. I remained virtually motionless with my back to the trees.

I couldn’t believe my good fortune when the huge hare hopped into the middle of the clearing and stopped 20-25 meters away, feeling quite secure now with the dogs’ tonguing barely audible in the distance.

“He’s coming your way, Gord,” Mike shouted.

I hoped the hare wasn’t scared by Mike’s bellowing.

The rabbit’s head turned, but he didn’t move.

“Be quiet, Mike, for God’s sake,” I said to myself while slowly raising my 12-gauge. “He’s right in front of me, ya fool.”

Of course, Mike had no way of knowing this.

I pointed the bead just under the hare, released the safety and put my finger on the trigger. The dogs were getting closer and I knew he would be bouncing through the clearing any second.

“Aurrrouugh, aurrrouugh.”

I glanced in the direction of the dogs, then back to the rabbit, which was now in full flight and leaping low bushes with the greatest of ease.

He disappeared into the trees with the dogs in hot pursuit. I had mixed emotions about not shooting as soon as I had the opportunity, but I vowed that if another opportunity came before I collared the dogs, I was going to shoot.

My second chance came five minutes later when the hare appeared along the edge of the clearing on the other side. I had already moved from my spot and was in the middle of the clearing heading back towards my hunting partners when out of the corner of my eye I detected movement. Mr. Big was casually hopping by as if passing me in a race.

Up went the gun and off went the safety.

“Boom!”

He continued on the same course as if nothing had happened, although I was sure that at least a few pellets had struck him.

I pointed lower and slightly ahead, then fired my second No. 5 shell. The rabbit bowled over and kicked several times before finally going lifeless.

My two buddies emerged from the trees to my left just as the howling dogs came from behind. I raised the hare by the back legs.

“You wanna paunch him?” I joked.

“Now that,” said Mike, “was one tough bunny.”

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).