I had not taken a shotgun yet this season. I was committed to letting the rabbits run if I could not kill them with my longbow or recurve. But as I rolled out of bed, my wife said, “Better take a gun….Daisy looks depressed”.
She was kidding, but she was right. We had run 15 or 20 rabbits so far, and killed none. That was fine with me. I was flinging arrows, losing arrows, having fun. Daisy was chasing rabbits and having fun. The rabbits were ABSOLUTELY having more fun. But with my beagle, once in awhile, she needed to find a warm rabbit at the end of the trail.
So instead of my longbow and a back quiver full of “rabbit arrows”, I grabbed my favorite 20 gauge, a Remington 870 Special Field, and a double hand-full of 7 1/2 high brass.
“State Land” I thought, as I pulled out of the driveway. I have fallen into the habit of not being too aggressive in killing MY rabbits….the ones on my private land spots. If I HAD to kill a rabbit, I liked doing it on state land. Kinda selfish, I know. But I was trying to preserve my season, keep plenty of rabbits around to chase.
We hit a spot 30 minutes away. I have been to this area probably 500 times….almost every day of the hunting season when I was a kid. I had a system. Hit the thick corners on the west side. If that didn’t work, head east to the gravel pit. The pit always has bunnies, but it is tough…lots of steep walls with crazy thick undergrowth. We would get on a rabbit there, but I had better be motivated to place myself in the path of it’s run and get a shot. Not an easy area.
I stuck to the routine. Guide Daisy east of the strip of Osage, keep her in the Russian Olive. We both tensed up as we got closer to the corner. The corner is thick with Multiflora rose…thick enough that I stay out of it, and hope Daisy chases one through the small gaps visible from the field edge. It’s good to have a beagle. I have spent enough time climbing around in this prickly hell hole. She got on one in the mess, and it angled off sort of south east, rather than the north east I had anticipated. I knew from experience that this run would be short….there are a bunch of holes in that direction. The rabbits that head that way usually climb into one of the underground mini caves pretty quickly.
Her choppy bark ended, and I knew the rabbit had beat her. No matter. I drifted that direction. Daisy snuffled around in frustration, wondering where her rabbit had gone. We hunt pretty well together, especially when we are alone. She seems to want to make me happy, and I don’t feel the pressure of an audience…alone, I don’t feel obligated to actually create a shooting situation. The dog barking on a trail is enough for me. She sensed me passing her, and hustled up ahead.
The wind shifted, and came straight from the north. I didn’t notice it first, but saw it in the way Daisy’s head kept lifting with the breeze. She wanted to keep her nose to the ground, but something in the north wind kept distracting her.
“Come on”, I said, half heartedly. I know better than to call he off of a scent, but she was heading across a cut field, into a very small, almost perfectly circular pot hole. The spot she was heading was one of those “Hail Mary” spots….a place you hit because none of the good covers produced. Daisy was letting the wind guide her away from about a 10 acre strip of prime “rabitat”, for a barren, barely worth it low spot in a desert-like cut bean field. She ignored me.
I grumbled as I joined her. I wanted to stay in the thick cover, not only because it appeared more productive, but because the area was providing some wind break. As I headed north with Daisy, the wind cut my face, my eyes watered. I tried to wipe the wind-tears, and scratched my face with a bur stuck to my sleeve. And then she started.
Daisy doesn’t have the classic howl we all expect out of a rabbit dog. She is small, and her voice is sorta feminine. But when she bumps into and sees the rabbit, her vocal cords take over, and her tiny body creates a sort of bawl-scream that almost sounds angry or frustrated. The first time I heard it, I was sure her foot was stuck in a leg hold trap. Now it’s my favorite sound, because I expect to see a furry rocket zipping through the underbrush at any moment.
And I did. Across the circular pot hole, I could see a rabbit moving out, staying ahead of her pursuer. I had just stepped in to the edge of the pot hole, and Daisy had gone right, taking a counter clockwise route through the brambles. All I did was turn to my left and wait. There were a series of holes at my feet. Our rabbit was heading to these holes, I didn’t think there were any others in this small spot. And here it came….straight at me, hopping slow. Here I was anticipating the easiest shot of the season so far. A shot I could make with a longbow, a .22, hell, even a slingshot. And I had a shotgun. Dammit. But instinct took over, and I pointed the bead in the dirt ahead of the rabbits nose, trying to minimize the damage about to occur. An explosion of snow and dirt, and the rabbit flipped backward, done.
I left it there until Daisy made the full circuit, and found her prey at the end of the trail. She nuzzled and worried it a bit. If a dog can have a look of satisfaction on it’s face, well, I suppose she had one. Or maybe it was “I told you so”…….
See You Down The Trail……….