In my mind, there is hardly a better way to bring in the New Year than with a good old-fashioned rabbit hunt with family and friends. And, if I have my way, beagles, too!
Besides, after a deer season usually filled with self-imposed stress and mostly sedentary vigils on stand, it probably does my body good to get out and participate in a more active method of hunting. I was fortunate enough to do just that in Ohio around the New Year’s Day and was even able to have rabbit for dinner a time or two to boot!
When I was a kid, we didn’t have beagles to beat the brush and run rabbits. Instead, we had to stomp through the heavy brush and briars and try to kick up rabbits ourselves. This always resulted in shots as they were high-tailing it as fast as they could away from us. But still, we managed to enjoy our fair share of rabbit dinners.
Then, once I got my beagles, it took me a few years to learn how to hunt with dogs since I had never done so. For a while, I kept finding myself wanting to follow the dogs to try to get in on the action. Big Mistake! After several disappointing hunts and some trial and error, I finally learned to let the dogs’ circle the rabbits back to me. The key is that once the dogs jump a rabbit, the hunter(s) should post up somewhere in the general vicinity of where the dogs got the rabbit up.
Rabbits have a relatively small home range, so when being followed by dogs, rabbits will circle back to the area from which they were flushed. Although the rabbits will sometimes run into a hole, ending that hunt.
Once I finally learned to let the dogs do their job, I remember how nice it felt not to have to weasel my way into every gnarly brush pile trying to flush a rabbit. Another huge plus to using dogs is that a lot of the time, the rabbit may be a good distance in front of the dog(s), loping along at a slow pace, sometimes even stopping now and then. This means a much higher percentage shot for you, as opposed to the quick-draw, shoot-from-the-hip-type that is common when busting the brush.
I also recommend using electronic collars on your dogs. Granted, this may not be necessary on all beagles, but for most dogs, it is wise. Contrary to what some people believe, the proper use of an electronic collar can actually help keep your dog safe. Most hunting dogs have no idea what a roadway is, and will dart into the path of vehicles. Some beagles may also end up chasing a deer or coyote and quickly become lost if not broken from the chase immediately. These are just a couple of examples of where the responsible use of electronic collars is a viable tool.
And, in case you are wondering, the old adage that the family pet won’t make for a good hunting is nothing but hogwash! Some of the best hunting dogs I have seen were also house dogs. Hunting breeds are bred for just that purpose – to hunt. Some dogs simply have more natural ability than others, and as is usually the case with anything, practice makes perfect. The more often you take your dog(s) out – whether hunting or simply letting them search for their quarry without the intent of harvesting any game – the better they will become.
There was a time in my life when rabbit hunting simply took a back seat to other activities in my life. But now that my son Nicholas is old enough to head out and tromp through the fields and woods with me and the dogs, we have already been hunting rabbits more this year than we have been in the last half-dozen years combined.
Who am I kidding though. I mean, sure, Nicholas loves hunting, and spending time with “dear old dad,” but I realize he probably wouldn’t go rabbit hunting with me nearly as often if it weren’t for him being able to get out with the dogs. You know what – I’m perfectly OK with that though because when it comes down to it, we are still spending time together and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
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