show your support

United We Stand!

by Chuck Terry

          Anticipation ran high as we began gathering at Popeye’s Restaurant in Louisville, GA, around 8:00 am on January 16, 2000. We had survived Y2K, deer season was finally over, and it was time to rabbit hunt! Rabbit season had been in for a couple of months but unfortunately deer season takes precedence over all other types of hunting here. Many of us had not met face-to-face since rabbit season ended last February.  I was particularly glad to see Rufus Butler (aka “Snake”).  We had met at this very place when I went hunting with them for the first time three seasons ago. Snake is the only person I know who loves Beagles as much as I do. He is the senior member of our group and an “old-time rabbit hunter” from a family that has kept Beagles for several generations. Snake has forgotten more about rabbit hunting and Beagles than the rest of us put together know.  I had given him a Beagle pup out of my stock a few months earlier and he was anxious to update me on “George” and his progress as a rabbit hound. The only thing that overrode our desire to catch-up on personal and family news of the past year was our desire to hear a good Beagle and rabbit race.   

          In all, ten of thirty invitees had shown up today – about average for us. Some sent their regrets for not being able to attend along with their best wishes.  Other that we had expected did not show – no doubt victims of various calamities from over-sleeping to unexpected family obligations. We were a mixed group to say the least – seven blacks and three whites ranging in age from about 19 to 59 – a brick mason and his son, two foundry workers, a maintenance supervisor, a school teacher (me), a parole officer, a college student, a forklift operator, and a heavy equipment operator. Our hounds were just as diverse – grade to field champion lineage, deliberate to fast and loose, pup to toothless, old-timer.

          Despite our diversity, we were 100% united by our desire to pursue Mr. Bunny with reckless abandon regardless of weather or terrain. As the winding maze of secondary roads to the hunting lease five or so miles away turned exclusively to dirt, anticipation became reality. As the old saying goes, “pinch me!”. I had wait for this moment like a child  awaits Christmas! Although I had been running my dogs on a limited basis in an effort to “tune them up” and had even taken a few rabbits over my Christmas Holidays, this was “opening day” for serious rabbit hunting. We would have only six weeks before the close of the season. Some would say that’s not enough to justify keeping the dogs year-round but anyone who says that is not a Beagler!

          Upon arrival at “the brier patch”, we suited up in our insulated suits, chaps, and other gear. I commented that we looked like football team in the locker room and several others agreed. The air soon filled with the sound of shotguns chambering their rounds and Beagles calling to each other as they escaped their confinement. The moment I had dreamed of for ten and a half long months was finally here! In minutes (before all were ready), one of the hounds gave tongue. It was not one of mine and it sounded like Snake’s “Tiny” dog. Tiny is one of those amazing jump Beagles that seems to be able to make a rabbit but she is free with tongue, and at times, a cold trailer as well. The other hounds harkened in quickly and began to open as well. I felt chills run over me as I listened and mentally “took roll” of which hounds had joined the race. My confidence rose with the bawl of my hot-nosed and true-tongued male “Burt.” Soon, an increase in the frequency and intensity of the tonguing signaled that the rabbit was up and running.

          Shortly, two shots rang out from the other side of the overgrown field. Was that an autoloader or single shots from two different hunters? It must have been Bobby or Tony or perhaps both I thought. “Did they get him?” echoed across the field as the question was relayed from hunter to hunter. By now the dogs were near where the shots had been fired and had hushed up. Before a reply had gotten back from the shooters, the dogs opened again – the first miss of the day!  The pace picked up as the rabbit left the confines of the briers for the openness of the adjoining woods. There was an old, logging road in the woods and it sounded like the pack was going straight down it. Their cry faded as they moved rapidly away from us.  They were almost out of hearing now. I felt a tightness building in my stomach. Had my young male forgot his shock therapy sessions from a couple of months before and swapped to a whitetail pulling the others Beagles with him? NO! “Lady” (my oldest bitch) would have come back already! I strained my ears to hear Lady among the faint barks in the distance. My index finger was on the alert for pressing the “panic button” of the Tri-tronics transmitter that hung at my side should I conclude the leader of the race was a 100-pounder! I had put the collars on my two “lead” dogs “just in case” but did I activate the collars? Surely I did but I could not remember doing so! If it was a deer, I needed to act soon before the pack was out of range or hearing anyhow.

          As I pondered the situation and weighed my options, the tonguing seemed to be getting louder. YES! The pack was coming back toward us! No doubt we had a cottontail, and based on the size of his “circle,” I suspected a buck.  I felt my pulse elevate as the pack drew nearer. I was standing in a red brier bed on a rabbit trail very near (if not exactly) where the rabbit was originally jumped. Snake’s Browning semi-automatic sounded once.  I knew the race had likely ended.  Snake rarely misses and he had shot only once. The familiar “dead!” cry confirmed my suspicion to both hunter and hound.

          We were to have about 20 races in all that day but the first would be the fastest and most check-free. I will remember it long after memory of the others has faded completely.  In retrospect, did our hound runs flawlessly? NO! Did we miss as often as we connected? YOU BET! Did we go home disappointed and unsatisfied? NO WAY! We could hardly wait for our next chance to get together the following Saturday! In fact, a few in our party made plans to hunt again the following day.

          The hunt ended around 4:00 pm as usual on the pickup tailgates. Each partaking of his preferred liquid refreshment and some a snack. We shared stories of previous hunts and favorite hounds, recounted the day’s events, made plans for future hunts and, of course, bragged on the performance of the hounds. As we parted with handshakes, rabbits were generously offered by those who had them to those who did not. Though some declined the offer, no one left without opportunity to take a rabbit home. This practice of offering “extra rabbits” to others was begun long before I started hunting with this group. This cooperative spirit permeates everything during the hunts. Food and drink, ammunition, even clothing are shared if need arises. If you lose a hound during the hunt, you can be assured you will have plenty of help finding it at the end of the day. It reminds me of similar practices I had witnessed, as a beginning hunter, at dove shoots on my grandfather’s farm. The point is we are a TEAM and anything we accomplish is “OUR’s” not mine, yours, or theirs.

          I still marvel at the fact that we consistently spend an entire day in the field together without even one cross word amongst us. Even here, in the Deep South, where race often separates us socially, we come together with a bond beyond description. I am sure most of you can relate to this as such hospitality seems universal among rabbit hunters and Beaglers across this nation. How is it that we, as cyber Beaglers, can not get along on the message boards and in the chat rooms?  Why is it that some of us refuse to shake the judge’s hand after a cast or go home from trials angry or disappointed? Will we let our competitiveness and our pride (conceit?) over our hounds create division among us? Or, will we let our extraordinary love of the hunting Beagle unite us? Lord willing, I will be at Popeye’s come the third Saturday of January for many years to come. I look forward to taking my sons along for their first time and it is my hope that they will enjoy it half as much as I do. I hope you, too, will commit to keeping your Beagling traditions alive and sharing the joy with others! Good Beagling to all!

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).