Earlier that morning, Kelsey and her sister, Lindsey Jo, pull on their rabbit-hunting clothes. Rabbits love briars and brambles. To avoid getting chewed up, the girls tug on thick jeans and boots.
Although it’s warm today, Kelsey has been on some cold rabbit hunts. For those she recommends layers of clothes and a stocking hat. Lindsey Jo recommends snuggling with Snoopy. Regardless of the weather, the girls and their dad wear orange vests so they can be seen by each other and any other hunters who may be out.
While their dad gets the gun ready, Kelsey loads a backpack with snacks, and Lindsey Jo sneaks in a few dog treats. For rabbit hunting, Kelsey uses a shotgun, a firearm that shoots a cloud of pellets. The pellet cloud makes it easier to hit a bounding rabbit.
Kelsey Brandt waits, shotgun ready, poised for action. A few feet away, her sister’s beagle, Snoopy, tunnels through a brush pile. Kelsey can hear the dog snuffle, sucking every molecule of scent into her snout like a furry, four-legged vacuum. The dog’s tail wags in overdrive, a white-tipped blur of nervous energy. Suddenly, Snoopy’s tail stops.
“Get ready,” Kelsey’s dad says. “Snoop’s got something.” Kelsey lifts the shotgun to her shoulder and puts her finger on the safety. Is there a cottontail hiding somewhere in the brush?
The girls meet Snoopy in the garage. “We named her Snoopy,” Lindsey Jo says, “because she’s always snooping and sniffing everything.”
With a nose 1,000 times more sensitive than a human’s, beagles can make sense of scents we can’t even sense. Their small size helps them weave and tunnel through brush. And, being low to the ground keeps their nose right where it needs to be—at ground level to sniff out a rabbit’s trail. After lots of licking and tail wagging from Snoopy, Lindsey Jo clips a leash to the dog’s collar, and they head out to hunt their 40-acre farm in Osage County.
“Hunt ’em up, Snoop,” Kelsey’s dad says. The beagle tears off, snuffling and wagging through the grass. The Brandt family follows, trying to keep up as best they can. Kelsey carries the shotgun. For safety, she walks a few steps ahead of Lindsey Jo and her dad. Kelsey always keeps the gun pointed in a safe direction. She keeps the gun’s safety on. And, her finger stays off the trigger until she’s ready to shoot.
Rabbits live life on the edge, preferring places where two kinds of habitat come together. Brushy fencerows next to crop fields are good places to hunt. Briars, blackberry brambles and brush piles often have a bunny or two hiding inside. Clover fields tucked into the woods are rabbit factories.
As the beagle boogies through the brush, she begins to bay, a musical yodel of barking.
Hearing Snoopy bark is music to Kelsey’s ears. She loves to follow behind and see what the dog has found. Most of the time, it’s a rabbit.
They find Snoopy at the brush pile, sniffing intently. Kelsey’s dad tells her to get ready.
Kelsey holds the gun at her shoulder, waiting. The shotgun is heavy, but she doesn’t dare lower it. Seconds tick by, and nothing happens. Suddenly, Snoopy gives a disgusted snort, then moves off to investigate another brush pile. Kelsey’s dad kicks the sticks just to be sure the brush pile is bunny-less. It is.
So is every other brush pile that day. But, that doesn’t matter to Kelsey. For her, hunting isn’t about shooting things. She likes watching Snoopy run and spending time with her family. “It’s okay if I don’t get a rabbit,” she says. “It’s fun just being outside.”
Nichole Leclair Terrill