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Split Decisions

by Gord Follett

While many rabbit hunters across the country prefer running with packs of Beagle - sometimes 10-15 or more - our group is more comfortable with four or five hounds.

          Granted, we may not stand quite the same chances of success, but we usually do pretty well, plus we find that with a relatively small number of dogs we have a better chance of seeing (hearing) how each is doing, which, after all, is what hare hunting with hounds is all about. Most times that we "walk up" a rabbit, for example, we'll put the dogs on the line just to hear the chase, rather than nail the hare as it bursts from cover.

          As for the number of guns in the party, our general rule is that four is plenty; five is pushing it, but acceptable, depending on the size and type of country we're hunting.

          Even before we - six hunters and eight hounds - showed up at Dwight's cabin on Hodgewater Line during the second week of the current snowshoe hare season, it had already been decided to split into two groups - Jim, Gary and Tony heading south from the cabin, with Dwight, Frank and I going north.

          As is often the case, I was too anxious to wait for the others to finish breakfast, so I took Frank's and my dogs from the truck kennel around 7:30 and let them loose a few hundred meters from the cabin. I bagged the first rabbit minutes later before re-entering the cabin and asking, "you guys ready yet?"

          "You were determined not to get skunked today, weren't ya?" Gary commented while tossing his styrofoam plate into the stove, referring to the previous week when I didn't get to fire a shot.

          My only response was a grin.

          "We all have those days," somebody offered in my defense.

          Although I was fortunate enough to bag one early, scenting conditions were less than ideal as we set out in two groups shortly before 8 a.m. and it took 20-25 minutes before Frank's three-year-old stellar hound Spot got another one going.

          After crossing a tiny brook at the bottom of the pond, we moved into a small cutover, where after three years of hunting we have yet to walk through without a start. My six-and-a-half-month-old pups, Cassius and Clay, joined in with Spot immediately, as did Frank's heavy-set five-year-old female, Grace.

          I remained half-way up the small hill, Frank moved to the crest while Dwight, who had been bitten by the flu bug and was low on energy, sauntered to the far side of the cutover.

          The hare sped across below me and I raised my 12-gauge as it disappeared into the spruce shrub with four howling hounds less than 20 seconds behind.

          "Comin' your way, Frank," I shouted.

          "Comin' your way, Dwight," Frank said as the rabbit flew by him.

          "Boom!"

          "Did ya get 'im?" I asked.

          "Not sure," Dwight responded before moving down the hill into the shrub. "Yeah, I got 'im."

          We were at the edge of the cutover about to push through another tuck of trees when the dogs announced they had another one going. Standing 70-80 meters to my left, Frank got a shot off early into the chase as the hare hopped along the edge of the treeline.

          "Coming your way, Gord," he shouted. "I don't think I touched him."

          I spotted the rabbit coming straight for me at 60-70 meters, raised my gun and waited for him to make another few hops before putting him down.

          Cassius jumped one a short while later and was picking away at it, but by the time the other three moved in to help, the hare had either found a great place to hide or took a long, straight sprint through the forest.

          We were walking through an area of "caribou moss" lichen when Frank spotted a hare under a large fir tree. The dogs moved in and the rabbit flew by Dwight, eluding both shots from his over-and-under. The hare was 40 meters in front of me and still making his way towards the forest when I glanced back at Dwight to see if he was ready to fire again. He was digging for another shell and told me to "take him before he gets into the thick stuff."

          The rabbit was mere inches from cover when I bowled him over.

          West through the woods we pushed into another cutover where Spot started the chorus once again. Within a couple of minutes, however, all four dogs went silent and, except for an occasional bark over the next half-hour, they remained quiet until we proceeded to a tuck of woods 20 meters off an old skidder trail.

          Again Dwight's attempt to rest was interrupted by the hounds before Frank's second shot brought that run to an end and Dwight headed back to the cabin around noon.

          "We'll just take our time heading back, Gord, and probably get a couple on the way," Frank suggested.

          Although I hadn't mentioned it to any of my hunting buddies, I was still hoping to shoot a rabbit that one of my pups jumped, even though I vowed earlier not to expect too much from them this season.

          A short time later, while Spot, Grace and Cassius were walking close to us on the main trail, I got my chance when Clay started howling about 60-70 meters inside the forest. Before they could get to him, Spot and Cassius had run into another rabbit which took them in a different direction.

          Frank moved inside for a shot at that one, while I went back to see if Clay and I could team up to bag the other. I was standing on the trail, my head moving slowly from left to right as I looked into the trees, when out of the corner of my eye I saw the rabbit dart onto and then along the trail with Clay sounding off close behind.

          My first shot was low, but I was pretty certain the hare was hit with the second shot just before he turned into the spruce trees.

          Frank, meanwhile, had just bagged the other rabbit and was walking back towards me with Spot and Cassius alongside. They heard Clay bark and went in to assist.

          "I heard the shots," Frank said, "did you get him."

          "I thought so, but I couldn't find him and Clay is still barking."

          Seconds later we heard the rabbit squeal as the dogs caught up to the wounded creature.

          "You got him," Frank said.

          I was quite proud of my pup and let him know it with spirited rubs of the head and chest, excitedly telling him what a "good boy" he was.

          Not to be outdone, Cassius decided to stay behind and search for one of his own as Frank and I made our way to the gravel road and clipped the leashes into the other hounds' collars, agreeing that seven or eight was enough for five hours of hunting. Still full of energy, Spot was unleashed while Frank took Grace and Clay back to the truck.

          Once the dogs ceased barking for a few minutes I tried calling them, but they obviously knew the hare was somewhere in the area and they weren't prepared to quit so easily. I moved inside to where I last heard their bells and readied myself for a shot each time they let out a few yelps until finally I saw the hare coming my way. He was well ahead ahead of the dogs, moving slowly, stopping for a second after each hop, until he spotted me raising the gun.

          Like something fired from a cannon he flew as I managed a pair of quick shots, not knowing for certain whether he was hit. In all honesty, I didn't believe I had a single pellet in the rabbit until the dogs caught him - still fully alive - 15 minutes later.

          Frank had just returned to help out when he heard the rabbit squeal.

          "They caught him again," he said as he made his way towards them. Frank emerged from the woods a minute later carrying the hare by the back legs.

          "Let's get the dogs now and head back," I said. "Here, here, here, come on, here, here..."

          "Aurrf, aurrf, aurrf..."

          Spot had yet another one on the run with Cassius singing right along. The rabbit popped out of the woods soon after and hesitated in the middle of the trail just long enough for Frank to fire.

          As the dogs followed up to confirm the kill, we hooked them on and headed for the cabin patio to bask in the sunshine.

          Our buddies, meanwhile, who usually do quite well and often take 16-18 rabbits a day, managed only five on this outing, partly because they spent a considerable amount of time moving their hounds away from another couple of hunters and dogs who moved into the same area behind them.

          "Whose decision was it to split into two groups, anyway," somebody asked with a chuckle as we finished our sandwiches.

          "His, his, his, his, yours and mine," was the response.

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).