It’s time to break out the beagles

By on January 8, 2018
Will Falcheck (former Vet in Hilton and Spencerport) and son Jake with a tasty cottontail. Rabbit hunting with beagles is a great way to get a young hunter started. Provided photo

Will Falcheck (former Vet in Hilton and Spencerport) and son Jake with a tasty cottontail. Rabbit hunting with beagles is a great way to get a young hunter started. Provided photo

The melody echoed out from the frozen swamp, forcing me to laugh out loud. The two beagles’ voices were complete opposites … Kandy’s deep baritone contrasting with Tinker’s high-pitched squall. But when they sang together it was as sweet as any Everly Brothers’ harmony. The bewitching sound grew closer as I squinted into the mid-morning sun magnified by a fresh snowpack. The dogs were 100 yards out, and I knew that the cottontail had to be close. A flash of brown to the right caught my eye and I whirled to spot the bunny heading my way at the same instant he saw me. He did an about-face in the blink of an eye and was headed straight away as my 20-gauge barked in concert with the oncoming hounds. The barking was just more motivation for the rabbit as the #6 shot hit a foot behind him. He kicked into hyperdrive and disappeared into the thick thornapples as the pattern from my second shot plowed snow at his heels.

This was an excerpt from an article I wrote for American Hunter magazine back in 2000. I figured it was good way to start my beagle column and maybe to front just a little. Now that the deer hunters are out of woods, rabbit hunters can now get out there with their beagles without worrying about their dogs or themselves getting shot by a deer hunter. This is a sad statement, but true. I don’t mean to paint all the deer hunters as incompetent numbskulls but the 1% that are is enough to keep every rabbit hunter I know well out of the field until the orange army is back on the couch.

To get some perspective on rabbit hunting with beagles I contacted local veteran beagler Tom Hendrick. Hendrick has raised and trained close to a dozen beagles in his wearisome life and knows these little hounds well. Known to be a bit of a boastful curmudgeon and hard to get a straight answer from, I contacted the man with apprehension. I introduced myself and he immediately barked, “Who cares and what the hell is the Suburban News?” When I described the paper, he said “Oh yeah… I line my bird cage with that rag.” I explained to him that we have a circulation of over 33,000 readers and have received many awards for excellence in news and advertising since our inception in 1953. He responded with, “Oh yeah, if they’re so great why would they hire you?”  I ignored the insult and quickly changed the topic to rabbit hunting with beagles. The old grouch immediately did an about face and his tone softened; he was suddenly interested in answering my questions on the topic. The know-it-all took a deep breath and began to pontificate:

Running cottontail rabbits with beagles is without a doubt the best way to spend a day outdoors in the winter. For starters you have a very long season as it opens on the first of October, but the hunting doesn’t really get good until you have some snow on the ground. The season runs through to the end of February; so, when it comes to getting the most time in the field with your hunting dog, rabbit hunting is by far the lengthiest. But I must admit that hunting with beagles can be a nightmare.

I have owned many over the decades but only two really good ones in all that time. Don’t get me wrong, they have a great temperament and their friendly, cute personalities can be very appealing … but don’t be fooled. Those innocent-looking canines are a species of hound, and hound dogs hunt for themselves. Unlike bird dogs and labs that hunt for their owners, once a beagle strikes a hot scent they could care less if you are with them or not. They are genetically forced to follow the track at all costs. I believe that a beagle on a hot rabbit track would follow the scent into a burning building. That is why they are often lost and at times hit by cars. I have had both happen to my dogs. Although over the last decade there have been huge breakthroughs for anybody that hunts with hounds, be it beagles, coon, fox or coyote dog, with the advent of GPS tracking collars you can now put on the dogs that show you exactly where they are.

If you are interested in owning a beagle there is a good magazine and web page out at Better Beagling, http://betterbeagling.com/ with some helpful information. Or, better yet, find someone who has the little hounds and ask to tag along with them. There are many good beagle clubs around the state and we have a good one right in LeRoy at 1710 Flint Hill Road http://www.pioneerbeagleclub.com/.  Their clubhouse is located just outside of Mumford, across from the Genesee Country Museum. They have 100 acres of fenced-in running ground. Members there can put you on the right track towards possibly acquiring a dog.

Be careful if you consider buying an adult beagle, many have problems running deer which is a huge no-no when rabbit hunting. Deer don’t circle back to where they were first jumped as rabbits do. It usually leads to losing your dog or, even worse, having it hit by a car.

Then, amazingly, Hendrick fell asleep right in mid-sentence. I whistled loudly into the phone a few times, but all I could hear was snoring on the other end so I hung up and was afraid to call the old gasbag back.

What Mr. Hendrick failed to mention before he dozed off was that rabbit hunting is a great way to get kids started hunting. There are no early hours or a need to sit quietly still, plus they will love the singing of beagles on a hot rabbit track. When all is said and done, it is a great way to cure the winter blahs.

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