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Water, Water Everywhere

by Dave Fisher

Dave Fisher unloading his dogs.          The rain only came harder as we pulled into the small town of Detour and the little lane that ran down to the Drummond Island Ferry. It was a veritable deluge and as the trucks and vehicles thundered off the metal grating on the other side the rain continued to fall in buckets. My rain gear was packed away inside the middle of the van and I knew this wasn’t going to be a pleasant chore to unload and get the dogs off the trucks for a few minutes and feed them.

          I stopped at Holly’s cabin for a minute or two and let the guys know we had made it and then joined Bob Clarke and his wife Sharen at our cabin. The rain slacked up slightly and in the next hour or so we were able to get the dogs fed and unload our gear. The hunting for morning was not promising.

          The 731 mile drive had taken its toll and I can barely remember the bacon and fresh eggs Linda and Sharen prepared before we hit the bed.

          It rained all night and the next morning Bob and I were in full rain gear and staking the dogs out when Holly walks over. We stood there and talked for quite awhile about the dogs and the hunting prospects. My hounds were anxious to get running, but I was unsure if anyone wanted to hunt. Finally after standing in the rain for at least half an hour Holly looks at me and we both say at the same time:

          "If we’re going to stand here in the rain we may as well go huntin’!" So we did!

          Ken Joslin wanted to sit this one out as his back was bothering him from the rain and cold so Jim Barr, Holly Wolfe, Bob Clarke and I hit the brush with four of my dogs and a few of Holly’s. To say it was wet out would be the understatement of the century. I never saw so much water in the woods in my life. The dogs would splash and swim across big depressions to attempt to get onto solid ground … my excitement of finally getting out to run hares was dampened to say the least. After going around several flooded places and standing in water almost over my boots I was wondering if it was even going to be possible to hunt. I was told that 15 inches of rain had fallen in the last few weeks!

          Holly and I never like to give up, however, and we kept working west about a 100 yards off the road and came into a sizeable juniper field. The ground was still soaked here, but a few dense spots were possible places to roust a snowshoe. I worked the dogs along the left of a very thick area and Holly was on my right going down the other side. All of a sudden he yells, "Tally-Ho!" and I know he’s seen a rabbit. By chance the dogs, coming to the scene, run smack into the big gray bunny, and the chase was on …headed back into heavy brush and timber the way we had come.

          Bob and Jim were both down in there somewhere and although I expected the hare to reenter the juniper field eventually but I thought Jim or Bob would shoot the hare quickly. I was so happy to hear the dogs running again and I found a nice sized rock jutting out of the field and sat down to wait and listen.

          I could hear "Bruce" my year old Tank pup above all the rest and "Chase’s" long drawn out brawl. I could also hear the unfamiliar voices of Holly’s females "Tess" and "Trouble" and if I listened really close I could pick out "Sammy" and "Amber" too. It was a great chase. The hounds would run the edge of the woods for awhile, come into the edge of the thick juniper field, then streak back east for awhile into the heavier timber. Every once in a while I could see Bob moving into a new position and even saw him raise the gun once. I decided to stay put, I mean there are only so many places to sit down here! Back to the west very dark clouds were circling in again.

          The steady drone of the dogs kept up and then a few giant raindrops splattered my hat and gun. I was pretty sure the dogs had entered the juniper field again a couple hundred yards to my left. I pull my hood up over my head and as I am lowering my hand I catch movement to my left. It’s the hare. He has swung all the way around the clump where Holly jumped him and is coming down the edge of the thicket in plain view! I throw the gun on him and he breaks to a stop just as my shot cartwheels him over frontward. It’s the first rabbit of the hunt.

There was so much water we were using our pickup trucks as boats.          The rain comes in buckets … sideways in the wind and I can’t even see the rabbit laying 40 yards away. After a quick deluge it lets up and I walk over to the rabbit. The dogs have gone silent and Holly calls to me and says the dogs lost the track in the rainstorm but are silently tracking it back through the field. They pick up the scent finally and all pull up to where I show them the speedy little devil they have been chasing. For most, except Sammy, it’s the first hare they have ever seen.

          We continue hunting getting separated for some time and finally I get Holly on the small walkie-talkie we carry and tell him to bring the dogs down across the road …I have found another promising strip of heavy brush.

          Bruce and Chase just aren’t getting under the stuff and when I hear the bells on Sammy and Amber coming I say to Bob; "It’s the calvary, we’ll get a bunny going now."

          Sammy and Amber with Tess and Trouble in tow start barking when they are still 40 yards from us. I don’t know exactly where the rabbit came from but the dogs were back in business. As we all started jockeying around to find good openings to stand the dogs break northwest and enter a real swamp. I stick to the edge of the field for awhile then slowly squeeze down into the swamp where the dogs are. When I finally am in a good position, the dogs skirt around me and enter the field a quarter mile up stream where Jim and the others are.

          Someone shoots but I can tell the dogs have split off into two groups. By the time I scramble my way back to the field I see one hare break through an opening, and head for the swamp again. I am hopelessly out of range so I can only watch as the dogs come blasting through. I see they are way off track, running the scent at least ten yards downwind. I don’t like this, but I cannot tell them how to do their job, especially in all this water and wind blowing a gale. I found out later that Jim had killed one of the hares, probably the original one that Sammy jumped in the juniper.

          We hunted most of the afternoon and although the dogs had one more nice run for a while the hares weren’t taken and the dogs would lose the track when they came to exceptionally deep water. Sometimes the water holes and swamps were so deep you could spend a great deal of time just finding a way around them. But we hunted and got the dogs run down a little …that was all that mattered. It could only get better.

          The weather cooperated for us, raining heavily at night, but clearing around dawn. The water that was nearly covering every piece of ground started receding a little every day. We hunted every day and by the end of the week, it was actually pleasant. But the hare population was down, there was no doubt about it, and a couple times we would go for an hour or more before someone would put one up.

          On Thursday Bob and I decided to hunt by ourselves. My dog Storm had come in heat and I wanted to run her in the morning. My male dog Sam won’t bother Storm while they are hunting and Storm is too "business-like" to let Sammy have his way, so we would run Sam, Amber, and Storm. My other two males, Bruce and Chase could not be trusted so would have to sit tin the truck for awhile.

          Just a hundred yards from the truck while working a strip of juniper I had hunted a few years earlier, the dogs jumped a rabbit and headed straight north into very dense strip of brush and on into heavy timber. I knew the area pretty well, and knew if I could get through the heavy undergrowth and get into the more open woods I would have a good chance at the hare.

          By the time I reached the big hemlocks and scattered hardwoods, the dogs were slowly "arcing" west to my left. It was one of the best chases I had heard all week. These three dogs had lived together for years and were used to running together. They had geared up considerably and the hare was putting down so much scent they were barking ever breath! The chase continued for quite sometime still breaking left and west. I moved up a few yards and finally knelt down on my knees. It was such a nice open spot I wasn’t going to leave it … it was up to the dogs.

          The hounds suddenly make a very sharp turn and start back north again then run a small rise about 100 yards in front of me. After a little while I could tell they had turned back toward me. I had a perfect streak going for the week …hadn’t missed a hare and had killed all with one shot. In this open timber I was confident.

          I see him swing around the base of a big hemlock. He’s a very nice rabbit …fluffy gray with the feet and undersides already white. He’s coming straight for me, angling slightly right. I had made some nice shots during the week, and this one was an extremely easy one …and I miss completely! He hardly flinches at the shot, and breaks through the opening toward the brush on my right. Only a millisecond expires between the shots but he’s covered ten yards …I don’t see him go down on the second but am almost positive I’ve hit him. He’s there lying just out of sight. It is a great run and I look at my watch as the dogs pull up … 9:15.

          Bob and I hunt the entire area during the morning, but for the life of us we cannot put up another rabbit. As we near the truck the sound of Bruce barking and whining pull us over there and we load the other three dogs.

          After driving around for about a half hour I want to let the dogs out at a couple promising locations but Bob drives on. I enjoy the rest and the ride, and when the road gets pretty rough and I figure this is about as far as we can go we round a corner and here is Holly and the rest of the gang. I turn on the radio and Holly says they are just off the road and coming out.

          I know Holly has wanted to run his dogs alone also so I am reluctant to run mine here, but Holly quickly says: "No, we’re going to eat a sandwich and leave the dogs on the truck for a while. Walk up that trail there, we ran a few rabbits in there this morning."

          It looks like a pretty good spot … some type of deer camp in here and a cut over area. I work Sammy, Amber, Chase and Bruce up the road wanting to get as far away from the vehicles as possible. Sammy has been the star of the week … very consistent, level headed, his rabbit hunting ability and experience really showing. I was very sorry "Storm", Sam’s sister, had come in heat, they are a great team together. During the week Sam and Holly’s Field Champion "Smoke" gave us the most steady and enjoyable runs.

          We had a hard time finding a rabbit at first and I was getting pretty tired fighting through the cut-over. Bob has caught up with me and all of the sudden Sammy screams and all the dogs cut in immediately. Finally a chase!

          They drive the hare west through the slashings and on into bigger, taller brush. There is some type of tree line to my left and it takes me a while but I work into there. The dogs are coming back up through the cut on the opposite side, but I figure they will swing into my woods if Bob doesn’t shoot the hare first, The pack does swing around below me to the east and it is good to hear my dogs all running together again. I had run them as a pack the whole month of September and on into October before coming to the island and they were now a pretty efficient team. I wish Storm was in there with them.

          The dogs come screaming through the area I am in but I can barely see them … and I never see the hare. I work out into more open woods where they had gone through and hope for a second pass. I can hear dogs down the road a half mile or so and know Holly and the guys have gone back to hunting too. I hear Jim on the radio commenting on how good my dogs sound, but I flip the radio off. I have had hares shy away from me when the radio suddenly crackles. If the hare is up and running I try to keep the walkie-talkie off.

          The dogs reenter the cut-over for awhile, run around in there for ten minutes or so then break back into my woods. He’s no closer this time, and the hounds streak west again all the way around the cut and back up the far side again. He’s headed toward me once again, and I figure I will see this little beast sooner or later. I have no idea where Bob has gotten to, but suddenly he shoots from smack in the middle of the cut-over! I am wondering how you can see anything in there, but he comes on the radio and says he has killed the hare. Well …

          I claw my way back to Bob, and watch as he field dresses the little grey bugs … they are very pretty and interesting animals.

The dogs are just milling around about 20 yards away when Sammy jumps another hare! It goes blasting away out of the cut-over with four screaming dogs in very hot, but wet pursuit!

          I follow along until I break out of the cut-over and into a swamp that appears to be east of the area where we have been hunting. The dogs have not been in this section and they go streaking straight away for about 5 minutes. The whole pack gets to the limit of my hearing range then slowly starts to turn around. I am standing in water trying not to sink any deeper and the canes of small aspens and swamp alders don’t give me a very good view of anything. There are hundreds of these little trees in front of me perhaps thousands. I can’t make any more progress through this water and the rabbit may be close now anyway so I am stuck. I know that unless he comes directly at me I’ll never get a shot.

          The dogs keep coming … it is great to hear "Half-Track Bruce", (Storm X Run-Em-Over Tank) right in there running with the pack. He is only a year old but acts like a more experienced hound, taking readily to the pack. He is high strung and wants to run everything in the woods sometimes, but he can run a rabbit and I am working on him! He will be a good dog someday.

          I catch a flash of grey way out to my right and am sure the hare is going to slip by me. I throw the gun up and am about to give up when he suddenly turns directly for me and I see him clearly through a tiny lane. I touch the trigger and he goes down … flopping wildly in several inches of water. He’s going to look like a drown rat, but we have him!

          I lead the dogs back through the swamp and on into the cut-over. When I get to the tram road Holly is sitting there on a stump and I can tell he is tired and so are all the dogs.

          "Man, that was a nice run! Did you hear that? It wasn’t too long either," I say.

          "Yeah, not bad. Five minutes out… and five back that was it. Nice rabbit ... looks a little wet through!" he replies.

          "Well I shot him standing in about a foot of water and I am not sure how he was running in all that! Do you think we could find a drier spot?"

          "Yeah," he laughs, "back at the cabin!"

          We all have a good laugh about it and slowly lead the dogs down the tram to the trucks.

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