Tales of Cotton
want out, and it's funny to hear Mac saying, "Settle down kids, Daddy is going to let you out in a minute."
Those dogs know the year's wait is about over and the fun is about to start. Someone in the group will holler out, "Wheeehhh ... let those fire trucks loose!" The doors to the crate open and four calico balls of muscle hit the ground almost at the same instant. They take a second to check the area and then the race is on.
Once one of them crosses a rabbit track and lets out a squall, it isn't but an instant and they all join in. In unison, four heads to the ground, tails wagging and 16 paws go off tearing up real estate. It is a pretty sight! If Mr. Rabbit doesn't throw in too many tricks, the pack will bring him around in front of the hunters.
All true beagles have an inborn desire to chase bunnies. But just like race horses, some are faster than others. You can't successfully run fast dogs with slow dogs, or medium speed dogs. It just does not compute. One needs to run a pack that is all about the same speed. This way they stay and hunt together better. In Mac's case, he has always sought and tried to run fast dogs.
When you ask him about speed and his beagles, a grin will appear. He calls slower dogs "foot freezers." By this he is suggesting that, on a cold day, a slow pack of dogs will force you to stand in the same spot for a long period of time, causing your feet to get cold quicker.
We usually call in the dogs and quit hunting around 1:30 p.m. With five or six rabbits weighing down our game bags, we don't walk as lively as we did in the morning. Thankful for another day outdoors, we tease each other about shots we missed. Always the game is shared with others who didn't get but one or two rabbits. I, for one, have been on the receiving end more than once in this category.
If you too have caught the bunny fever, or would like to know more about rabbit hunting, there are several books, articles and videos on the subject at the library or local book store. Also, there are several good articles in back issues of the Missouri Conservationist magazine - check the January 1994 issue. The article "Briar Patch Puzzle" also includes some good rabbit recipes. The Conservation Department's television program "Missouri Outdoors" also includes rabbit hunting features.
You might note that the Missouri Department of Conservation manages thousands of acres of public land that are suitable for rabbit hunting. Contact them for a copy of the free Discover Outdoor Missouri map or buy Missouri's Conservation Atlas. This book includes county maps of the entire state, and public lands are shown on the maps.
The Conservation Atlas is $15. Include $5 for shipping and handling, and Missouri residents should include 6.225 percent sales tax. Order from: Books, Missouri Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City 65102-0180.
If you wish to hunt on private land, contact the landowner before hunting season. Don't drive up to his home with a carload of dogs and hunters and ask at this time. You might get lucky, but more times than not you will be turned down. So go early. And if you open a gate, close it; don't litter and don't clean your game in the field, leaving all a reminder you were there. Respect the property, respect the animals you hunt! Be a good steward of the trust that is given you and be careful.
For my closing hunting tip, I feel every hunter in your party should at least wear a hunter orange hat while hunting upland game. Stay in vocal contact with each other, so everyone is constantly aware of the other's location.