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From Start To Finish

by Gord Follett


        
         Five starts, five shots, four rabbits. And it wasn't even 10:30 in the morning yet! This was akin to scoring a hat-trick in the first period!

          Some veteran hunters probably consider this little more than a "fairly good" first few hours, but I'm not usually quite so fortunate, you see, so in my mind this was a "splendid" beginning, particularly considering the fact I was the lone gun this morning.

          I was slightly familiar with this area northeast of Whitbourne, but because I was hunting alone - and possessing something less than a brilliant sense of directions - I never strayed more than a few hundred meters from the slightly beaten path.

          It was the third Saturday of the 2000-2001 snowshoe hare hunting season and the final remnants of Hurricane Michael departed less than 16 hours earlier, making way for sunny skies and - until noon, at least - light winds.

          My two-and-a-half-year-old Beagle Domi seemed more anxious than ever to hit the woods as I led him up the stump-riddled trail shortly before 8 AM.

          Rocky, my three-and-a-half-year-old rabbit hound, fresh off recuperating program after being attacked by our Gordon setter, was pulling back on the leash and coupler, trying to answer Nature's initial call of the morning.

          I hadn't even unhooked them when a rabbit bounced across the narrow path 40-50 feet ahead of us. Neither dog saw it, but when I brought them up and set them free, it took all of three seconds for the tonguing to begin.

          No doubt they would be crossing the trail again very soon, but where; up or down? I listened... Up. Okay. I moved into position.

          The dogs were getting closer and the rabbit definitely hadn't cross yet, I told myself, so he should be coming out any sec... Boom!

          Over the hare rolled and the dogs were just 10-15 seconds behind. I rushed to the rabbit before Rocky feasted into it.

          "Atta boy, Rock. Here, here, atta boy... Domi, here boy, here. Atta boy."

          Often, Domi will follow up to within 10 feet of the downed hare, and once he sees me holding it, he turns in search of another, afraid I'll collar and take him home.

          Domi's raucous and unique howl less than a minute later caught Rocky's attention and he followed the sound of his step-brother's barks. Soon both were howling and the second rabbit leaped onto the path, running straight towards me. I raised my shotgun and the rabbit made a lightning-fast about-face. Just as he was about to dart off the trail, I fired, hoping for a lucky shot, I ran up and pushed back a few low bushes to find the brown bunny out for the count.

          Domi took a look and a very hasty sniff this time, while Rocky ripped a mouthful of fur off the hare's back.

          "Two rabbits in this little spot is enough for now boys," I said. "Come on, come on..."

          To my surprise, they walked with me, if only for 80-100 meters, before zoning in on and following a deep run.

          "Aurrouugh, aurrouugh, aurrouugh..."

          Domi had another one going, but this hare didn't show himself for almost 30 minutes, and when he did it was nothing but a blur.

          The dogs were on and off the line for another hour until I heard their bells (thank God for those Sound Scopes which are hearing enhancement/protection devices) ringing in the woods behind me. Rocky showed up first and I quickly snapped on the leash. Despite my calls, Domi continued hunting without a bark until I caught him 10 minutes later and moved both of them half a mile further along the trail.

          "Get 'em out, get 'em out!" I hollered.

          "Arff, arff," Rocky responded a few minutes later.

          "Aurrouugh, aurrouugh," his partner added.

          The dogs went silent for another few minutes until both cut in again close by. I spotted the rabbit 40-50 meters inside the spruce trees, raised my over-and-under and fired. Missed.

          The hare stopped partially behind a tree, with only its head showing. Ever-so-slowly I put the gun to my shoulder. Most of the shot hit the tree, but enough pellets went to the right of it to drop the rabbit.

          I used a "Hail Mary" shot to the nail the next fleeting hare 15-20 minutes later and decided to clean all four right there because the load in my knapsack was becoming strenuous. (Great complaint eh?) Actually, it wasn't very heavy because most rabbits I'd seen and bagged so far this season were quite small, which I'm told means at least a couple of litters were born this year; another promising sign. Two were so small, in fact, that by the time I cleaned them and discarded the damaged parts, there wasn't enough left for stew.

          After a 90-minute on-again-off-again chase, I saw the rabbit run through a clearing and fired a No. 5 shell just ahead of it. He stopped for a second and turned, then slowly moved on towards the woods as the dogs barked in the distance.

          My second shot caught the rabbit in the hind legs and, after catching and dispatching it, bunny No. 5 was in the bag.

          The dogs were getting tired at that point, so I didn't have to chase them too far this time, nor did I have to wrestle them into the kennel when we got back to the truck. Both animals seemed contented with a job well done and eagerly accepted their treats before curling up.

          The short drive home was most gratifying as I munched on a flattened apple flip and drank a pint of milk.

          One of the kids was sitting on the front steps when I pulled into the driveway and she walked to the back of the pickup as I crawled in to get the dogs.

          "Hi there," she said in her normal cordial tone.

          "Oh hi, m'doll."

          "Did ya have fun?" she asked.

          "I always have fun hunting with the dogs."

          "What's your most favorite part?"

          "Well, le me see... I'd have to say it's from the time I let them loose until I hook them up again."

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).