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A Thanksgiving Tradition

by Bill Bennett

You awaken slowly to a mixture of delightful aromas floating from the kitchen as the women of the house quietly prepare the traditional Thanksgiving feast.

You shake the sleep from your eyes and dress, then groggily make your way to the dining room craving that first cup of coffee. You start to ask about the dinner preparations but decide to delay an inquiry until you are fully awake.

Your three sons are still asleep as your pour a cup of coffee and look out the window. It's cold. The temperature is hovering around twenty-five degrees and the sky is dark with a cloudy overcast. The ground is frozen solid. The monstrous seventy-five year old white oak tree across the street stands bare of leaves. Its' tentacle like branches cast an eerie silhouette in the early morning dawn.

One half cup of coffee later, you greet the Real Boss, Lorie, with a "Good Morning" and a light kiss. Here gorgeous brown eyes sparkle as she flashes a warm smile. Her soft skin and coal black hair give her a youthful appearance while her native German accent adds a special glow to hear endearing personality.

Theresa, your fifteen year old daughter, has her mothers large, beautiful, brown eyes. You give hear a hug and mumble, "Good Morning," as she busies herself peeling potatoes. Her brown neck length hair shines as she flashes a broad smile.

Lorie, asks why you are up so early. She knows, due to your lack of kitchen skills, you do not intend to be involved in the meal preparations. You mumble under your breath, something about getting outside with the dogs. She appears to ignore the remark as she prepares you a bowl of hot cereal.

Faint stirrings can be heard in the back of the house, coming from the boys' bedroom. One by one they stagger into the dining room in various states of dress, wiping sleep from their eyes.

Sixteen year old, Alan, is short like yourself but muscular. Like his sister, he possesses his mothers brown eyes. His curly hair is dark brown and long enough to touch his shirt collar. You wonder if he will ever get a hair cut, but say nothing.

Your fourteen year old identical twin sons, Ray and Val quietly seat themselves at the table. Val, the youngest, is a bit more slender than his brother. He has a distinct sharp chin, which he obviously inherited from your side of the family. He also has his mothers brown eyes.

Ray out weighs his twin by a couple of pounds. He has a winning smile, accented by dimples which attract people to his engaging personality.

Alan, always the boldest of the clan, asks if there is a plan for a rabbit hunt, as has been the custom for the past several Thanksgiving mornings. You nod quietly, watching the Real Boss' reaction to the remark as she moves expertly around the kitchen. You can read the anticipation of a rabbit hunt in the eyes of the three boys.

Pouring a second cup of coffee, you quietly mention the possibility of a short hunt to the Real Boss. You are flooded with a feeling of relief as she agrees it would be an advantage to have all of the men out of the house until the meal is ready. She reminds you to be careful and not to be late for dinner.

Minutes later, the boys scramble around for an assortment of hunting gear: boots, jackets, shotguns, ammunition, hats, and gloves. You change into your field clothes and pack boots, extra socks, heavy coveralls, blaze orange vest, hunting vest and possibles bag into a water-proof bag. You reach for your twelve gauge pump shotgun and carry everything to the front door area.

The boys hurriedly kiss their mother good bye before making their way out the door. Alan teases Theresa with a comment about a fellow at the high school dance last night. You ignore the remark as Val hurries back into the house to retrieve his forgotten shells.

You explain to Lorie you will be hunting the Old Turner place west of town. You assure her you won't be late for dinner as you give her a hug and a good bye kiss.

When you arrive at the truck, the boys are opening the actions on their guns and storing them behind the seat. You double check the action of your gun, hand it to Alan and walk to the garage to retrieve the carrier box, cut two by four pieces of lumber and canvas tarp. Ray and Val help you load the items while Alan goes to the dog pen behind the house. He is trying to keep Bell and Sam quiet but their excitement has reached fever pitch while watching the trip preparation.

"No, Quiet, Pups!", you command. Both Beagles quickly respond to your voice. The only sounds they make are low frequency whines.

You leash both dogs and hand Sans' leash to Alan. As you head for the truck, Bell strains at her leash, obviously excited at the prospect of a hunt. Sam, always businesslike, casually trots beside Alan.

The dogs are quickly loaded in the carrier. You secure the canvas tarp and carrier to the holes in the sides of the truck with chain and padlock. The boys pile into the cab as you start the motor and slowly back out the driveway.

During the fifteen mile drive to the Turner place, the boys god naturedly tease one another about who is the best shot and who will bag the most rabbits. You cautiously remind them the hunt is not a competition and no one will go hungry even if the gamebags are empty at the end of the hunt. While they seem to understand, you acknowledge their youthful aspirations and caution them about safety and good sportsmanship.

Minutes later, you turn south off the highway onto a little used field road. The two hundred acre soybean field has been harvested. The remaining stubble is high enough in places to hide a rabbit. The east and west sides of the field are lined by large drainage ditches which offer a contrast of terrain.

The east side ditch is shallow, not more than ten feet deep. It is lined with a variety of trees and log jams are strewn along its' edges. A mixture of cypress, white oak, choke berry, sycamore, hickory, red oak and elm trees offer much need cover for the rabbit population. The ground is covered with leaves, branches, and occasional dead falls. Sprinkled along the thirty foot wide canopy are numerous honeysuckle patches, saw briars, and small cane brake thickets.

Near the south end of the ditch line, three-fourths of a mile away, the tree line swells into a forty acre wood lot and the ditch banks steepen to a thirty foot depth. The banks are dotted with johnson and bermuda grass, interspersed with sage, panic grass, and honeysuckle. The far east side is bordered by a huge harvested rice field.

The west side ditch line is a startling contrast. The number of visible trees along the bank for three-quarters of a mile, can be counted on a single hand. In several places the banks reach a forty foot depth. Sage and frost deadened bermuda grass cover the open areas along the ditch top. Honeysuckle, briars, thorn bushes, and swamp grass cover the steep descending banks.

One-quarter of a mile to the south, there is a large beaver dam, creating a five foot pool of water, surrounded by swamp grass and several stunted willow trees.

Full daylight arrives like a weak kitten. The overcast skies threaten weather as a flock of mallards race high overhead, off to the west. A cold north breeze sets the bare dead like branches on a nearby persimmon tree dancing and swaying to its' rhythm.

The boys have changed into their boots and heavy hunting garb by the time you complete your ritualistic leg stretching exercises. The dogs whine excitedly inside the covered carrier box as they hear voices and sense your movements.

You quickly survey your three sons and note that each are wearing their blaze orange vests. Alan's twelve gauge pump shotgun has the action open. Rays' twenty gauge single barrel is empty and open. The chamber of Val's bolt action, twenty gauge is clear. You take pride in their safety precautions and tell them the hunt will begin on the tree lined ditch.

You quickly dress in your insulated coveralls and boots. You put on your game vest, blaze orange vest, and gloves. After retrieving your twelve gauge from behind the seat of the truck, you open the carrier box and both dogs hurriedly jump to the ground. They are obviously excited as they search the bare ground near you for a fresh scentline.

Walking toward the tree lined ditch, you instruct Alan and Val to cross the shallow depression to the left side. You and Ray remain on the side of the soybean field. The boys quickly take their posts as you give the dogs the command 'Check' and point to a nearby log jam.

Bell works the log jam with vigor. Her physical movements indicate there must be a rabbit hiding in the mass of roots, dead branches, logs, and holes. She whines with excitement while Sam circles the area, his nose searching every inch of ground. Bell's white splotches are a vivid contrast to the dull, gray entanglement. You can see the top of Sam's white tail as he sniffs the ground near each escape hole.

Suddenly Bell's high pitched, chopped mouth bark shatters the cold morning air as she finds the hot scentline leading into the massive up-rooted end of the logs. As Sam works the outside edges, Alan yells, "There he goes!"

The rabbit bolts through a small opening in the trees and kicks his speed into high gear, disappearing down the shallow ditch line. You catch a glimpse of his distinct white 'cotton' tail as Sam opens with a thunderous bawl. Instantly, Bell joins him on the hot scentline. Both dogs bawl at the top of their lungs as they race to the south, squarely on the scentline.

Through a small opening in the trees, you watch Alan and Val load their guns. Ray is slipping a shell into his single barrel twenty gauge thirty steps ahead of you and takes a post in the open soybean stubble fifteen feet from the tree line.

You stand quietly, listening intensely to the dogs work the scentline seventy five yards to the south. Their loud baying echoes through the cold morning air. You feel a thrill; a shiver, as the dogs stubbornly stay with the line. They work together like a team of duet piano players in perfect harmony. Above the noise, you hear the distant honking of a flock of geese. You search the gray skies in an effort to locate them. A quarter of a mile away, barely visible against the pale daylight and dark clouds, you spot the familiar 'V' formation as the flock slips off to the west.

Suddenly, an eerie hush settles upon the crisp morning air. The dogs have lost the scentline as the rabbit began his wide loop. You anxiously listen but the only sound is a flock of blue jays arguing with one another over whatever blue jays argue about. In the distance you can hear the faint honking of another flock of geese heading for a cut rice field to the southwest. Time drags slowly as seconds seem like hours. The minutes seem like long days.

From the corner of your eye, you note a tiny white snowflake gently riding the cold north breeze. It settles softly on a sycamore leaf on the ground and in a twinkling of an eye, disappears into nothing. You wait impatiently for one of the dogs to open as the silence continues.

You are about to suggest to the boys to move a few steps in the direction of the dogs when Sam's thundering bawl announces to the world he has found the line. Immediately, Bell honors him with her high pitched chopped mouth bark.

Your heart pounds and your hands, cold only moments ago, begin to sweat inside your hunting gloves, as the race heads back in your direction. You thrill to the sound of this fine brace of Beagles as they methodically move the rabbit closer to the hunters. Your chest swells with pride as you listen.

"He's headed your way, Ray!", Alan shouts. Ray raises the twenty gauge to his shoulder. You can see the rabbit running along the edge of the soybean stubble in his direction. But as Ray prepares to shoot, the rabbit darts into a thick stand of cane. The clamoring of the dogs grows louder as they stubbornly hang to the scentline.

The rabbit breaks cover again seventy-five yards ahead of the dogs and bolts into the soybean stubble, following a slight depression in the grounds. You hear the blast of Ray's twenty gauge as the rabbit spins head over heels and lies still.

"I got him!", Ray yells, with excitement as he swaggers over to the downed rabbit. He stops and ejects the empty shotgun shell from the single barrel as the dogs quickly reach the dead rabbit. They mouth and play with the prize for a moment as Ray holds the game above their heads. He reaches into his pocket for this knife and expertly field dresses it and slips it into his game vest. He walks over to a scrub oak tree and hangs the entrails on a bare branch knowing hawks, owls, possums, and other critters will welcome the remains as an easy meal. Nothing goes to waste in nature.

Val and Alan slowly make their way toward you and Ray. Their blaze orange vests clash with the brown, gray brambles of the shallow ditch. The snowflakes thicken and continue to sift softly through the early morning air. You note a few scattered patches of the white stuff on the upper sides of the brush. "Snow and rabbit hunting with your dogs and three sons!" Life doesn't get any better than this!, you tell yourself as you call the dogs to you.

You decide to reposition the boys. Alan and Val walk twenty steps into the open soybean stubble, as you and Ray make your way across the shallow tree lined ditch to the left side, and post beside a harvested rice field. You send the dogs into the thickets, commanding them to 'Check' a briar patch surrounded by a thin layer of frost-deadened, bermuda grass. Bell dives into the middle of the thick stuff as Sam scouts the outside edges. He takes a few cautious steps, when suddenly he opens with his thunder sounding bawl, striking the hot scentline. Bell scrambles out of the thicket and they race south, tonguing at full cry.

The race quickly heads down the shallow ditch line as the snowflakes thicken. Patches of the white stuff begin to dot the bare frozen ground as the rabbit tries to lose the ever pursuing dogs by crossing west into the soybean stubble. A blast from Alan's twelve gauge thunders through the trees and the dogs turn up the volume.

"You'll have to do better shooting than that.", you hear Val yell as he teases his older brother about his less than superior marksmanship. Seconds later, another blast from Alan's twelve gauge stops a fleeting rabbit at thirty yards. This one flushed as a result of all the racket created by the baying of the dogs working the first rabbit. "Downed rabbit!", Alan calls out as he walks over to the spot of the dead rabbit. He waits for the dogs to arrive so they can account for the game before picking it. This lets the dogs know the race is over.

"Good Dogs!", he praises the excited pair. While placing the rabbit in his game vest, Bell strikes the line of the rabbit Alan missed earlier. Both dogs streak along the hot scentline, their excited tonguing roaring through the falling snowflakes.

The chase moves through the canopy of the trees as the rabbit swings a loop to the east. The dogs briefly loose the line as the rabbit darts into a honeysuckle patch. The check lasts only a minute as you catch a slight movement from the corner of your eye one-hundred yards to the southeast in the open rice field. "That can't be the rabbit", you tell yourself as the melting snowflakes leave water spots on your glasses. A pair of coyotes! They are barely visible through the thick falling snow. They move away to the southeast like whiffs of silent smoke, along a rice levy, toward a thicket three-hundred yards across the open field. Bell finds the rabbit scentline as Sam joins the race. Luckily, the dogs have not scented their wild cousins or have chosen to ignore them as the rabbit breaks cover at the edge of the tree lined ditch. He runs straight toward Val who has posted himself on top of a three foot rice levy twenty feet off to the left.

The rabbit briefly darts into the woods as the dogs howl on the hot scentline. Val raises his twenty gauge bolt action. The sound of the shot is strangely muffled as it filters through the soft falling snow. "I got him!" he yells and walks over to where the rabbit fell. Before the dogs arrive, he picks up the rabbit and stuffs it into his gamebag. The dogs arrive and begin to whine and jump up on him as you realize he has not let let dogs account for the rabbit. "Val, show them the rabbit", you yell. He quickly removes the rabbit from the gamebag and both dogs grab at it with their mouths. Just as quickly they move off to find another scentline.

The silent falling snow is growing thicker with each passing minute. The ground is covered with a thin layer of the white stuff as you call the boys over to you. "Let's hunt in the direction of the truck. Maybe we can get one more race going before we go in.", you tell them. You position Val and Alan on the east side alont the rice field while Ray trails along behind you in the soybean stubble.

"Check, Bell", you command, pointing to a snow covered patch of honeysuckle. She eagerly dives into the tangles while Sam begins his methodical circling around the fifty foot wide area. Seconds later he tunnels beneath the vines, searching for a fresh scentline.

You watch the moving snow covered tops of the vegetation in an effort to keep track of the dogs. They remind you of miniature dry land submarines as they work beneath the vines. Bell pops out from underneath the mass of vines, shaking the wet snow from her coat and disappears again. You watch Sam tunneling toward a vine and snow covered dead fall.

Bell howls at the top of her lungs and Sam quickly moves toward her. In a fraction of a second, the cottontail bursts from the snow covered vines and streaks north through the trees. It happens so quickly, you had no time to shoulder your gun.

Both dogs give chase with a frenzy of loud howls. The sound of their tonguing bounces off the tree lined in a weird muffled tone caused by the falling snow.

The race continues north one-hundred yards before the rabbit begins to loop to the left in the direction of the soybean stubble. he seems to be trying to circle back to the protection of his home base. The dogs stubbornly hold to the line like a toy wagon being pulled by a four year old child. The scent is hot and there is no lost line or check this time.

As you watch the edge of the field, visibility is not more than fifty yards through the falling snow. Water from melting snowflakes on your glasses adds to the difficulty of seeing movement. You remove and dry them on a paper towel from your pocket. As you put your glasses back on, the rabbit comes racing toward you. He is about thirty yards away and the dogs are fifty yards behind giving full cry to the chase.

You raise your twelve gauge pump, find the bobbing brown and white target in the sight picture, and pull the trigger. The blast of gunfire echoes through the snow and off the trees as the rabbit tumbles head over heels and lies still in the fresh fallen snow. "Downed rabbit!", you yell to the boys.

The dogs are running full steam on the scentline as you walk over to the dead rabbit. They arrive in seconds and you hold the prize in the air for them to play with. Bell is more excited than Sam. He gives it a casual sniff as if to say, "So what?" and begins to amble off in search of another fresh scentline. "Sit-Stay", you command as you place the rabbit in your game vest. Both dogs whine their displeasure as you slip leashes over their heads.

You call the boys to join you, announcing the hunt is over. There are no objections as everyone is feeling the effects of the cold wet stuff. The snow is two inches deep and getting deeper by the minute as you troop back to the truck two-hundred yards away.

Arriving at the truck, you quickly put the dogs in the carrier box and cover it with the heavy canvas. The boys are checking the actions on the guns, making sure they are unladed. They store them behind the seat of the truck and begin to skin and wrap the game in plastic bags. The task is completed within minutes.

The boys knock snow off their clothes while you change into a dry pair of shoes, store your hunting gear in the water proof bag and begin to climb into the cab of the truck when without warning , the air is filled with the honking of geese.

Looking up into the cloudy skies and heavy snowflakes, you can dimly see the movement of strong large wings and hear the cries of dozens of geese; Snows, speckled bellies, and blues.

You stare at them as though hypnotized, filled with a feeling of awe and wonder. The boys silently watch with you as the geese gracefully float down into the cut rice field on the far side of the west ditch line. Their noisy honking stirs something deep in all of you which is unexplainable. Perhaps it is the real call of the wild. The geese honk loudly filling the air with their cries. They seem to be saying to one another, "The intruding hunters are gone and we can have our fields back!"

You start the motor, turn on the heater and head towards home. You offer a special silent prayer of thanksgiving that the Creator has again provided you with another marvelous opportunity to share the outdoors with your sons and your dogs.

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).