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Pine Spur Revisited

by Don Nichols, Sr.

          Saturday morning came around and once again I found myself with a bad case of rabbit fever (not Tularemia but, a strong yearning to be outdoors with my rabbit dogs). I had been kind of under the weather with a sinus cold for a day or two, but I woke up on this day feeling better and it didn’t take much to convince myself that a day in the field was just what I needed.

          My dogs and I had been getting a pretty good workout for the past two weeks. One of my brother-in-laws had been visiting on his way to Idaho and he had never hunted rabbits with beagles. I was more than happy to introduce him to my favorite sport and wasted no time in volunteering to take him. He and I had spent several days checking out some of my favorite hunting spots. There was no shortage of rabbits to run and we were able to harvest a few of them and thoroughly enjoy the hound music. He owned several deer hounds at one time when he lived in Alabama so he was not unfamiliar with running dogs.

          I have four seven month old male pups from a litter out of my older female Kiss’ Blue Maggie and ARHA GRCH BC Morning Star Blue Buck. I had been splitting them up and taking two of them at a time. They all showed a lot of natural curiosity and thoroughly investigated everything that they came in contact with. Two of them are bluetick like their parents and somewhat smaller than the other two. They also are shorter bodied and built more like their parents. The other two are larger and longer bodied. One of them is black, tan and white with some ticking on his legs and the other is brown, tan and white with a pretty tan head. They came in a litter of six and five of them were males. Jeff Kissinger picked out the little bluetick female for his stud fee and I sold a dark bluetick male to a young fellow that had bought a pup from me earlier in the year. I decided to keep the remaining four of them and see which one or ones would turn out to be the best. I haven’t always made a habit of doing this and I think that I have gotten rid of some good dogs prematurely.

          One of the bluetick pups is open marked and I named him Nichols’ Blue Rebel. The other one is a dark bluetick with a bit more black on him. He reminds me of a very good dog that I had to put down a couple of years ago who was also a half brother to him. I named him Nichols’ Blue Buckshot II. I named the big brown pup Nichols’ Brown Lobo. He has always been the most aggressive and friendly one of the litter. I named the other larger tri-colored pup Nichols’ Kiamichi Zeke.

          Rebel has turned out to be the “fast burner” up to this point. He started jumping rabbits and trying to run with the older dogs first. I think that this may have helped encourage his brother Buckshot to follow suit.

          Let me get back to this particular Saturday morning that I first mentioned. I called my nephew, with whom I have shared many enjoyable hunts , to see if he might want to go out for awhile. He had beagles for several years but had gradually lost or sold all of them and had decided to concentrate on hog dogs and coonhounds. He enjoys all types of hunting though and would normally jump at the chance to go. He said that he would sure like to go but, that he already had a full day of work planned.

          I decided to go down to the Pine Spur area along the Kiamichi River. This area of approximately one hundred acres belongs to some long time family friends. I have hunted there many times and even wrote about a hunt there. “ A Great Day at Pine Spur“ in “The Rabbit Hunter”, July “98”, and in this magazine as well. I had not been to this area this season and I was curious to see if the predators had let any rabbits survive since last season. I loaded Maggie, Misty and Chelsea and the pups Rebel and Buckshot and headed out. It is about ten miles from my home to the river crossing near where I wanted to hunt. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to cross the river but, was pleased when I arrived there and found it to be low enough to cross. I pulled up on top of the river bank and parked in the edge of a pasture to unload the dogs. I don’t normally take five dogs when I hunt alone but I decided that Maggie needed to work off some of the extra weight that she had put on during the summer. She is a lot like her master in that respect.

          I planned to start by hunting around the north edge of a large pasture that lays alongside the river for almost a mile. The entire length of this pasture is bordered by thickets and timber. The thickets are comprised of small bushes, sweetgum saplings, and briers of both blackberry and green. The east and south side of this area is fairly heavily wooded. It is ideal rabbit habitat and there are normally both cottontails and swamp rabbits in the area. The dogs were about ready to tear their box apart before I opened the doors and let them come scrambling out. They immediately took off down the road toward the river while I crawled under a wire gate into the area where I wanted to hunt. I called them and was surprised when they turned around and quickly came on into the pasture. After they spent a few minutes taking care of their preliminary chores they got down to business and started checking out the cover along the edge of the field. I took my time and began moving slowly along the edge toward the other end of the field. We had gone about a hundred yards from the truck when Misty let out a squall to announce that she smelled rabbit. The three older dogs had split up and were checking out different areas. Maggie and Chelsea along with the pups immediately headed in her direction. It took them a minute or two to figure out the trail and then the race was on. Maggie quickly took over the lead since she is the fastest of the three.

          The rabbit had been sitting in a large thicket that juts out from the side of the meadow and when it left there it had to cross an open area before reaching another thicket. It went into a long narrow thicket that is situated in a low area that normally has water standing in it this time of the year. The lower end of the thicket consist of some small bushes and tall clumps of water grass and reeds. The dogs were pushing the rabbit hard until they made a lose for a few minutes. I took up a position in the open area between the two thickets. I heard Misty open again and the race got hot once more. The pups were with the older dogs but I wasn’t hearing much out of them. The rabbit circled around and came back into the area just out in front of me and again the dogs lost the trail temporarily. They opened up again shortly and about that time I saw the rabbit coming out of the thicket right in front of me. He stopped in the edge of the field and looked my way before making a sharp right turn and streaking across the open area for his home territory. I followed him briefly with my gun and when I squeezed the trigger he did a flip and started kicking. I thought that he was a cottontail because of his size and I was surprised when I went to pick him up. It turned out to be a young swamp rabbit. I let him lay there until the dogs trailed up to him.

          I was carrying a single shot twelve gauge and shooting field loads of 7 1/2s. I like this little gun because of it’s light weight and ease of handling. It was a Christmas gift from my children last year and I have really enjoyed it. I started out shooting high brass loads in it but, it didn’t take me long to decide that I was going to have to do something about the recoil. It would almost get blood on both ends with each shot. I made a quick trip to Wal-Mart and bought a boot for it and switched to the field loads. It still rocks me pretty good but if I remember to hold it snugly I can live with it. Prior to getting this gun, I had been carrying my Winchester Model 1400 and it would wear me out before a day was over. I really prefer using a 20 gauge but, I had fell into a bargain on several boxes of the twelve gauge shells and then I had been given several more boxes of them. I decided that I should make use of them and put the twenty gauge up for awhile.

          I started to drop the rabbit into my game bag and then decided to hang him up in a tree and get him on the way back. I slit one of his back legs and hung him up where the crows couldn’t find him and continued on with the hunt. I had barely gotten started when Misty opened again back in the first thicket near the edge of the field. She was very near a deep creek bank that fell off into a cut off area that had been carved out by the river. The other dogs went to her immediately and the rabbit headed for the creek. They followed him down the bank and across the creek and up the other side before losing him in one of the many holes along the creek bank. They worked the area over thoroughly before finally giving up and coming back across to me.

          We proceeded along the edge of the field and had gone another hundred yards when Maggie opened with her fast chop. This was her way of announcing that she had found another rabbit. Misty was right there with her and they went to work on him. I didn’t hear Chelsea and wondered where she might be. She will normally hark into them as fast as her little short legs can get her there. If she is on a hot trail though, she will just keep on working it and pay them no mind. They pushed the rabbit back down alongside the field in the direction that we had just come from. They circled him back around near me once but I didn’t get a look at him and when they headed back down the field I decided to move out into the strip of woods that he was running in. About that time, I saw Chelsea quite a ways back down in the pasture. She came on up our trail and when she heard Maggie and Misty she went to them right away. The race really got hot then and I heard them turn and head back toward me. I knew that I was in a good spot and felt sure that I would be able to see the rabbit when it got close. Sure enough, it popped out of the brush about thirty feet from me and stopped to look me over since I was standing in it’s path. When it turned sideways to sprint off I tried to pop it in the head. I hit it in the neck instead and almost severed it’s head from it’s body. The dogs were there shortly and tried to take the rabbit away from me. I put this one into my bag and started out once again.

          Chelsea came on through and when she hit the area where Maggie had jumped the rabbit she opened up and headed out in the opposite direction. At first, I thought that she was on the same trail but then I quickly realized that she had struck a new one. I never got a look at this one but I heard it in the dry leaves out in the thicket as it came back down by me. I think that it holed up rather quickly because it went down the river in the same direction that the other one had gone and the dogs lost it. They searched for awhile and finally came on back to me.

          We had an hour or so of relative quiet then except for a cold trail that Chelsea didn’t want to give up on. She kept on bawling around until Maggie and Misty went to her. Misty barked on the trail a few times but they never could get it up and going. I finally got them out of that area and into another across an old road that meanders up through the meadow. Chelsea found another cold trail in this area and worked on it until I got tired of waiting. I leashed her and led her back to an area that I wanted her to check out and turned her loose. She immediately disappeared along with the two pups. I started on up through the thicket to see if I could find them when suddenly a cottontail jumped up out of a clump of grass in front of me and disappeared into a brier patch. I hustled on out into the meadow again and found Chelsea and led her back to where the rabbit had been sitting. I stuck her nose into his bed and she didn’t need any coaching to know just what to do. She opened up and started bawling frantically and Misty and Maggie responded to her right away. The race got so hot that the pups decided that they had better join in. We had a great race out of this one but I never got to see him again. They circled him two or three times out of my sight and when I moved up to where I thought that I would be able to see him, they lost the trail. They split up then for awhile and I think that they were working on at least two rabbits for a time. I finally got them back near me and Misty jumped another one in a patch of blackberry briers. The rabbit refused to leave that patch until they finally got too hot on him. All five dogs were in there nosing around and he finally made a dash for other parts. He came tearing by me and I saw that it was another cottontail. I shot at him just as he went into another thicket but I felt sure that I had missed him.. I waited for awhile for the dogs to come on down his trail and then I caught Chelsea and put her on it. She trailed on through the thicket that he had gone into and opened out on the other side. Misty came on through and when she heard Chelsea open, she and Maggie immediately went to her. The pups again joined in and we had another loud race for just a short time before they lost him.

          By this time I was getting tired and ready to go home. I worked my way through the thicket where they had gone and stopped to listen and look for them. About that time Chelsea opened up back down to my left and the other dogs joined in. I eased on down that way and found a spot where I had a good view. After another brief loss, they all opened up and the race headed my way. I saw movement up ahead of me and here came a big swamp rabbit streaking to my right and headed for yet another thicket. I finally got lined up on him and when the gun went off he came to a quick stop. All the dogs had been right behind him and I quickly leashed Chelsea and Misty before heading in the direction of the truck. Maggie had disappeared but I knew that she would come on shortly. I led them across a semi open area and into another line of timber that was situated on a very narrow ridge. I turned Misty and Chelsea loose again and they headed down the edge of the timber. Maggie had caught up with us by then and she went on into the timber and opened almost immediately. They all got together quickly and the race began. Rebel and  Buckshot had apparently decided that they really liked this rabbit running business and they joined the race, sounding off at every step. I moved up a few feet into an opening where I thought that I would be able to intercept the rabbit when he came back. He had other ideas though and circled around just out of sight in the edge of the timber. Then he went back across the clearing that I was standing in and began circling up and down another small timbered rise. After the second circle I decided to see if I could waylay him on the next one. I moved quickly on over onto the rise where he was circling. He seemed determined not to leave his home area. All five of the dogs were pushing him hard and the chorus was almost nonstop. The race turned my way and shortly I saw this dark streak coming through the woods in my direction. He was going to pass me on my left and as he passed he was getting closer all the time. I waited until I had a good opening between the trees and when I knew that he was within range I decided to take a crack at him. My aim was good and he tumbled head over heels at the shot. By the time that I got to him, all the dogs were there. I let the pups nuzzle him briefly before dropping him into the bag. I called the dogs and headed on toward the truck. I had all the rabbits that I wanted and a pretty good load in my bag by this time. When we came out into the big pasture again I leashed Misty and Chelsea. Maggie was hunting again and the two pups were with her. They checked out another area and for a time I thought that they were going to jump another one. Rebel barked a few times but Maggie never confirmed it as a rabbit and in a few minutes they all came back to me. I then leashed Maggie and kept on toward the truck. I stopped back by and picked up the first rabbit which finished filling my bag.

          The daily bag limit on swamp rabbits in Oklahoma is three and it is not often that I reach my limit. The limit on cottontails is ten and I don’t recall ever reaching it in all my years of hunting. I have had days when it would have been possible but I just don’t care to kill that many rabbits. My wife fusses at me for bringing in so many rabbits and filling up the freezer anyway. I will eat one occasionally, especially if I have some company to help me. I have several friends that like rabbit and I keep them supplied. I also share them with my co-workers.

          I was extremely proud of Rebel and Buckshot as well as my older hounds. It had turned out to be a day to remember. The hunt had started out fast then slowed down to a crawl before finishing with a flourish. There are few things predictable about rabbit hunting. You never know how your hunt will turn out until it is over. That is what makes it so interesting and so much fun.


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