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Spot-On

by Gord Follett


A rabbit hunting expert I’m not; never claimed to be, never will. I’ve only been seriously into this fascinating activity for the past three or four years, and I’m sure there are many veteran hunters who have forgotten more about the sport than I’ll ever know.

But whether on my own or with friends such as Frank Reid, Bob Hanames, or Tony Vinnicombe, each time I hit the woods I do learn something new regarding habits of the snowshoe hare, conditions under which dogs work best, where to situate myself for a shot in various situations, etc., etc.

I don’t claim to have any qualifications in knowing what to “look for” in a prized Beagle, either. I simply let the dogs loose, tell them to “get ‘em out,” wait for the howls to begin, then move into position for a shot; nothing more complicated than that.

Judging on these basics alone, however, I am beginning to more quickly recognize a stellar hound when I see (hear) one in action, and in my humble opinion, of the Beagles I’ve seen, Frank’s 20-month-old “pup” Spot is at or near the top of the list.

The first time Dwight Blackwood and I hunted with Spot was October ’99, and after she started three of the first five rabbits, Dwight commented how she “seemed pretty darn good.” Then he asked, “what did you call her?”

“Spot,” Frank responded.

“Did it take you very long to come up with that name?” Dwight asked with more than a hint of sarcasm.

Joking aside, Spot is simply amazing. She not only starts most of the rabbits during our many trips throughout the season, she holds them better than better than the other dogs and is usually the first hound in the pack to make the check (tongue again when they find the rabbit’s trail again after a temporary lose). And if a rabbit comes out of the trees and manages to sneak past us through a clearing, chances are Spot will be the first hound out of the woods behind it.

Of course, I’d love to be able to say my two-and-a-half-year-old Beagle Domi is the best I’ve seen, but in all honesty, he isn’t in the same league as Spot or Blue, Tony’s 11-year-old hound. Maybe one day, but…

They tell me Beagles don’t reach their hunting prime until four, five, or six years of age. If that’s the case, I fear for our hare population if Spot becomes any better than she is already.

On one particular outing in early November, we bagged 12 rabbits from 16 starts. Grace, Frank’s other dog, and Domi each jumped two or three hares while Spot started the rest. On at least two occasions after a rabbit was shot and the dogs followed up, Spot immediately went back in the woods and began tonguing within 30 seconds.

“Barking on the old scent, is she Frank?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” he said, looking around. “She doesn’t usually do that once she has a sniff of the dead rabbit. Get ready just in ca… Look! Over your way, Gord!”

Boom! No. 6 is in the bag and back in Spot goes again.

She’s even fetched dead rabbits for us on occasion, although most times she prefers to rip off a mouthful of hair if she gets to them before we do.

Once chase saw an adult hare take the dogs on a long, straight run across the bogs and barrens, through two cutovers and a few patches of thick woods. When they lost the hare for 10 minutes on the return trip, Frank, Dwight, and I met in a clearing and made no attempt to lower our voices, figuring this bunny had completely given them the slip, when Spot let out a vicious howl and the rabbit flew past three unprepared hunters. Dwight eventually nailed that one 30 minutes later when all three hounds drove it into a clearing.

A week later, over the course of five hours, Frank and I shot four hares apiece off Makinson’s Road. We had 10 starts in total, with Spot doing the job on all but two. And it isn’t that Grace and Domi are poor hunters; it’s just that Spot is so… so good.

This isn’t to suggest she’s the best rabbit dog in New Foundland. No doubt many owners would love to put their hound up against Spot, but the intention of this article isn’t to issue a challenge. Rather, it’s simply a story about one dynamite little dog. Think of it as a newspaper profiling a promising young athlete in the sports section, except in this case quotes were somewhat difficult to obtain.

Frank, a resident of Mount Pearl and retired cop, is rather modest when it comes to his Beagles and – with the exception of a couple of polite observations regarding my other hound, Rocky, and how the son-of-a-gun refuses to respond to repeated callings – he doesn’t criticize other hunters’ animals, nor does he brag about how many rabbits his dogs started. Tony is like-minded. In fact, even when I complain about my dogs, Tony will offer legitimate-sounding excuses as to why mine aren’t jumping as many rabbits or staying on them as well as his.

“Give ‘em time,” he says. “They’re only two and three years old; they’ll be alright.”

“Okay,” I say, “so what about spot? She’s only 20 months old yet!”

Quickly, I answer my own question: “She must be a natural like (Southern Shore hockey star) Andy Sullivan.”

I put the same question to Frank.

“I don’t know what it is,” he said. “I guess the bottom line is that she has a better nose.”

Spot plays injured, too. On the day we had 16 starts, 10 of the first 13 were through her skills. When we stopped for lunch around 12:30, Spot limped over to us and lay down, whining.

“It’s her shoulder,” said Frank. “I’ve noticed that a couple of times before, usually towards the end of a hard day running.”

When it was time to move on, Spot followed us on the trail, albeit reluctantly, and continued to whine as she stayed at our heels. Suddenly we heard Grace jump a rabbit in the woods, and Spot was off in a flash – on three legs – taking over the run. She repeated that process when Domi started his second a while later, and once more when Grace jumped another.

I would have liked to see Tony’s Blue in action when she was younger as well. This seasoned hound – an amazing 67 dog-years old – still jumps more than her share of rabbits and holds them as good as any in the pack. Needles to say, she’s Tony’s “pride ‘n’ joy.”

If we ever ran Blue and Spot together, our game bags would likely be busting at the seams by day’s end.

I’m more impressed with my dog Domi when he hunts alone than when he’s with other dogs where he sometimes has a tendency to follow, rather than take the lead. Spot, on the other hand, performs equally well on her own, with her regular partner Grace, or with four or five hounds.

She isn’t quite used to hunting in snow just yet because we had very little last year, her first season. Oh, she still gets the job done in the snow, but so far she only starts about 50 percent of the rabbits.

Having said all this and extolling Spot as I have, I still wouldn’t expect her to claim top honors in field trials. For one thing, Frank has no desire to register her in any competition. He’s quite satisfied just to have her hunt as she does, thank-you very much, and he feels fortunate to have selected such a fine animal from the litter his friend Harold Priddle’s dog had n 1999.

A number of variables – not the least of which include breed and training – are involved in the makings of a fine hound. And from what I’ve seen, heard, and read from other hunters over the past few years, I am convinced that dogs which “start” at four or five months aren’t necessarily going to be any better than one which took twice as long to jump and run rabbits on their own, so don’t become discouraged if your buddy’s pup appears destined for stardom while yours is like a poodle at your heel, even if they’re from the same litter.

Like humans, some are simply more talented than others. But getting them out often – in other words, practice – can make all the difference in the world.

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).