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The Other Island

by Dave Fisher

        Does anyone in their right mind get up at 3:45 in the morning?, but the incessant, ‘beep’  ... ‘beep’ .... ‘beep’ .... ‘beep’ of the electronic alarm said it was time to get moving.  I was excited .... after months of planning it was finally time to leave for Drummond Island, Michigan. 

      A quick shower, dogs loaded on the truck, we hit the interstate.  An hour later, my friend Denny came on the C. B.,  “Yeah, I hear you, Fish, we’re in the rest area about 6 miles in front of you.  We just got here.”  The plan was coming together, and many hours, 714 miles later we pulled up to the ramp where the ferry would take us onto Drummond Island.  Soon we would meet Holly Wolfe and KenJoslin, and plan tomorrow’s hunt. 

       “We ran the dogs this afternoon, out near your cabin,” Holly said, almost the second we saw him.  “Had a hard time getting a rabbit up .... doesn’t seem to be a lot around.   Lots, of water everywhere, Man!, it’s wet out there!”

        “We’ll do the best we can,” I replied.  “I’m going to go get these dogs off the truck and go to bed .... I’ll see you guys in the morning!”

           When you’re hunting a new, and different place it sometimes takes a while to get your bearings and to find out just where the rabbits are.  So the next morning I was a little nervous when we dropped the dogs from the tailgate.   The dogs struck track almost instantly.  “It can’t be that easy!”  I told myself.  

         The dogs turned slightly south, then west to run parallel with the sand road we had come in on.  Having hunted hares on Beaver Island three years in a row, I knew the hares would often jump the road, so I just kept up with the dogs, hoping the hare would bound out in front of me.  He didn’t, but swung around and went straight back toward the trucks, where the other guys were.  A few minutes later, Denny’s gun goes off ... he had taken the first Drummond Island hare.

        “Gee .... that didn’t take long .... I didn’t think it would be that easy!,” I said arriving on the scene.

          Well, before you all run out and pack your bags, let me say it wasn’t that easy, and it was going to be a long tough week.  Oh, there were plenty of hares to run, but it was sometimes difficult to see them, and some of the runs would last for hours, tiring out dogs, and hunters, as we jockeyed around for position.  The next run was typical of what we found.

       We worked around a swamp where the first hare was killed, then jumped across the sand road to explore the other side.   After a little while, two hares were jumped.  One went north on our side of the road,  with Bowser and the rest of the pack following.  The other (jumped at almost the exact instant) took off straight south with Holly’s dog, Little Bull (Gator) in hot pursuit.  

        The hare being run by the rest of the pack wound it’s way several hundred yards through the heavy brush then twisted and turned back around toward us.  On the other side of the road, Little Bull was nearly out of hearing streaking straight away.  I thought for a second, it might be a deer chase, but Holly was quiet, and seemed unconcerned.  “Man!, that dog’s flying!”  I thought.  As the week wore on, I was impressed with this young male dog.  He and Bowser were about the same speed (both a little too fast), but they could hammer a hare together, and were exciting to watch.

       Back at the chase .... Bowser and his little pack had circled their hare, and Bull was bearing down on the road again.  Holly’s .410 pistol went off on the road, and I fought my way out there to see what was going on.   He had missed the bunny,  and both chases had slammed into each other about a hundred yards on the north side of the road.  Bull was so keyed up and screaming so hard, all the dogs left their hare, and fell in behind him.  In just another minute or so, they jumped the road again to the south and entered a very big swamp.   The water was deep in there and there was no hope of getting the hare.  After an hour or more we were finally able to retrieve the dogs and start them back toward the road and drier ground.   It wasn’t easy!

         On the way out, we came upon a slight rise in the land, Holly called a “ridge” but it was just a little dimple in the otherwise flat, water-filled pot-holed terrain of the island, back home in Pennsylvania it would hardly be noticed, but it seemed to contain a few hares.  Hares don’t like to get wet if they can help it, and they would just as well sit on dry ground.  The dogs ran around this “ridge” for quite a while and I, (guarding the back door to the swamp) missed the hare while precariously perched on the high branches of a large deadfall.  After the dogs were back in the swamp for another half hour, Holly volunteered to go drag them out of there again.

        On our third attempt to reach the road, the dogs jumped another hare and began running around the ridge again.  I was so proud of myself when I rolled the hare trying to sneak back into the swamp, with two quick shots from my 1100, only to discover that they weren’t running that rabbit at all!!  Finally that hare jumped the road, and by the time I was able to get up there, everyone was back in the brush somewhere on the north side of the road.   We had run hares all morning, but had managed to only shoot two of them.  I began to realize, this wasn’t going to be real easy!!

     Drummond Island, called “Gem Of The Huron”, by the local travel agencies, is situated in the lower part of the upper Michigan peninsula, in Lake Huron.  About twice the size of Beaver Island, it is about 14 miles wide, by 18 miles long, and is the biggest in a chain of 56 islands.  Access is by a one mile ferry ride across the St. Mary’s River or by plane.  In the winter, snowmobilers stream across the frozen lake from Canada to enjoy the island’s winter festivals, fish fries, and snowmobile racing.

         We found the hunting good, but since access is easy, the island is hunted heavily.  Hare hunters have to plan their hunting around deer seasons, and we elected to hunt there before the rifle deer season.  Plenty of deer archery hunters were also there while we were there, but had little interference with each other. 

        There is plenty of open hunting areas, as over 50% of the island is state owned ground.  However, it was easy to see that many areas are simply over hunted, because many hunters do not know anywhere else to go.  We were just learning the good hunting areas, as it was time to leave.  So, I feel hunters would do better on their second or third trip, as they learn the area.  This is the case no matter where you go. 

       We found that it was hard to jump any rabbits along the roads, but simply walk a few hundred yards into the timber, and the dogs would eventually get a start.   We found the hares in that fine line between the juniper, or brushy sections and where the heavy timber started.  Once a hare was up and running, we would all get into the more open woods and spread out.  If the dogs kept up the pressure, someone would see the hare sooner or later.  But, the place is huge!, and runs could last an hour or much more before anyone even got a shot.

         Another favorite tactic of a hare is to light out for a deep swamp somewhere and lead the dogs all around there for a couple hours!   Once in awhile Holly would yell, “He’s going deep!  We may as well go in there after him .... he’s not coming back!”  And most of the time he was right.  This wasn’t all bad, however, because the hare would  sometimes lead you into some great hunting areas!  If we were lucky enough to kill the hare we were after, we would just hunt around there, and in no time the dogs would have another one up.

        One day this exact thing happened to us.  We followed the dogs down into particular beautiful spot .... a shallow swamp with long grass all bent over, and nice open hardwoods almost all the way around it.  We lost track of the hare that we had been after, but the dogs jumped another and took off to the north.  Holly and I followed along for a ways, and came into the open swamp.  I waited in the open, while Holly crossed and got into the opens woods where the dogs were running.  It was a great spot!

       After some time, I could tell the dogs were bearing down on Holly, and he suddenly yells, “Here comes one Dave ... behind you!”

      I waited for what seemed like a long time, and watched the opening behind me.  Suddenly a very large hare, already partially white, jumped into the opening and tried to cut across to the woods on the other side.  He was in perfect shotgun range, and as I nervously pressed the trigger he went down.

      Again, like happens many times, the dogs went streaking off around the entire perimeter of the swamp, never coming out on the scent line of my hare.  I cleaned the beautiful hare, then joined Holly who was sitting on a big log in the timber.

      “There were two of them,” Holly says excitedly.  “The one went out and came to you, the other one just kept going around the swamp.”

      “Yeah, can you believe how fast those dogs ran around that swamp edge?!”  I say.   They’re on the way back already!”

         “Yeah, that’s something  those two crazies, Bowser and Bull they’re just trying to out do one another!  Hey, I see Denny out there .... he’s aiming his gun!”

        Boooom!  Denny’s 1100 brings to an end two of the best chases we had during the entire week while on Drummond.      “This is a great place down in here .... we’ll just hunt around here for awhile,” Holly says.

       It was like that.  Hunt here .... hunt over here .... and you would never get back into the same spot .... even if you tried.

        After taking the two nice hares in the open swamp we wanted to head out to the truck .... where ever it might be!   We check compasses and after some argument we agree on the right route.  We get to the edge of the swamp and the dogs jump another hare!   This would prove to be a short, but very memorable chase.

        The hare goes north again (I follow into another nice open piece of swamp), then he quickly turns right and enters the big woods where Holly was sitting.  In less than 10 minutes Denny shoots three quick times, but the dogs never stop, but circle the swamp again to almost the exact point where we had jumped the rabbit.  All goes quiet, and I figure the dogs must have caught the hare.  I head over that way, but when I find Lightning, she is still hunting hare.  Since Lightning never lets a dead bunny lay, I figure the dogs must have lost it.

        Finally, I come across Kenand ask him what happened to the rabbit.

      “I don’t know, they all just quit barking right in there,” he motioned with his walking stick.  (Kenand Holly only carry .410 pistols and are not interested in killing many rabbits.  They like to hear the dogs, and once in awhile they’ll take a shot if they can.  They are great dog guys, and fun to be in the woods with.)

        Holly and Denny show up, and I walk the dogs back into the area where Kenthinks they lost the hare.  Denny says it never slowed down when it went by him.  I stroll around in the woods hoping the dogs will pick up the scent ... they just act like everything’s fine and the hare is dead.   

           Then I hear Bowser’s beeper, and it sounds like he’s underground, in a mine or something.  I look around and discover him with his head down a hole at the base of a big deadfall!

        “Hey!, here’s where the rabbit went!”   I yell.  “I thought hares don’t hole up .... I’ll bet he’s hit!”

          Holly, who loves situations like this takes up a position where he can see into the hole.  He’s laughing at Bowser who’s legs are sticking straight up in the air and he’s digging with the front ones!  Finally after 10 minutes of this Holly drags the dog out ... covered with mud.

        “What’s that hanging out of his mouth!?”  I ask.

        “That’s rabbit fur!,”  Holly laughs.  “He had a hold of the rabbit”!

         “Well, if he’s that close, throw him back in there!” I say.  “He might get him!”

         Holly’s now lying down in the mud with his new $500 Browning coat on, and now has his arm in the hole with Bowser!!  Finally one last lunge, and the rabbit is pulled from the hole .... very much alive!!  One small bone in one back leg is broken.

          I’m tying to get a picture of all this as the whole gang is laughing and carrying on .... and the dogs are all barking at the prize Bowser dug out of the hole .... it was a memorable scene!!

         It’s not possible to write here everything that happened that week of hare hunting on Drummond.  It’s a rare, unique place.  It can also be cold, windy and inhospitable.   Ask Holly who ended up leaving his dog trailer in northern Michigan when 67 mile an hour winds kept him off the Mackinaw bridge!   There was also no electricity in our cabin, and when we had generator problems my wife and I had no running water, or lights for a few mornings! .... but hey stories for another day!   We were hunting hares, it wasn’t all bad!!

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