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What is it like to Hunt Rabbits with Beagles?
Right in many of our upland covers awaits a whole new world of rabbit hunting with beagles
The two little hounds are whining loudly and scratching at the metal kennel doors. We had just pulled off the road down an overgrown two-track on a mostly forgotten plot of public land. It’s early December and most of the deer hunters have ended their season, so this little piece of paradise is all ours. Struggling to strap the GPS collars on the squirming beagles, I grab my single shot .410. Its amber finish has been scraped away by the unforgiving miles of raspberry patches and young balsam fir.
As we walk down the path, the fresh snow shows tangles of tracks and droppings weaving through the multiflora rose of what was once a tilled farm field just a few years back before the state purchased the land.
My beagle, Briar, begins to chirp and babble. She’s less than a year old and hasn’t quite steadied her excitement enough to stay quiet until the rabbit is jumped. Winnie stays silent, only showing her excitement with a full-body wag and audible snorts as she meticulously sticks her nose in every track to test its freshness. She has many seasons under her belt and her muzzle is starting to grey.
We walk down the trail as the dogs pierce in and out of the cover around me. After a couple hundred yards, I notice they are nowhere to be seen. Looking down at my GPS unit, I see that they are over 70 yards away. I find a well-worn deer path that gives me a small shooting lane and fight my way through the thorns to sit down against an old rotten apple tree. After a couple of minutes, I hear the sound I’ve been anticipating. Both hounds erupt into a screaming frenzy of yodeling howls and screams as the scent of a rabbit freshly moving ahead of them fills their nostrils.
The sound of hounds in pursuit of game is really unlike anything else. The more time you spend listening to hounds, you begin to understand the language of squalls, bawls, and chops. Every hound has its own sound. You can interpret how the chase is going based on the tone and consistency of what is often called “hound music.” When the music stops it means the beagles have momentarily lost the track. Briar will make the first puttering barks when the track is re-found. If the volume increases and Winnie lets out a long sharp cry, it often means they have seen the rabbit or are very close. It’s a language all its own.
The chase is on! I look down again at the GPS and see that they are moving out away from me. Their barking getting softer and more muffled through the snow-covered bushes—100 yards, 110, 120, 130, 140—then 130 again. The rabbit has turned, and the dogs are getting louder and louder . . . 90 yards, 80 yards . . . your heart starts to beat faster as the beagles sound like they’re about to be right on top of you. A small brown shape appears to my right, and I swing to shoot—but it’s an awkward angle, and I decide to wait. No reason to force a bad shot. I’m enjoying the part of rabbit hunting that captivates me, the run and so are the dogs. The scenting conditions are perfect, and I know he will be back soon. The brace of beagles barrel on several seconds behind an Eastern cottontail rabbit.
As I watch, I see that they cross the main path at a spot where a small tree has fallen onto the trail. Rabbits typically do not like to come out of the cover while being pursued. They often will choose spots like this fallen tree to dart through an open area. I make a move back towards the path to set up near the crossing point.
It’s often said that rabbits circle while being tracked, but what they are really doing is staying in their home range. They have routes and trails with which they are comfortable, and they will use them over and over. They do not really circle as much as they are constrained by the perimeter of their own comfort zone, which may only be a few acres. If you find a spot that they have come through once already, there’s a good chance they will be back again. When you begin to learn how rabbits use a specific property, different rabbits will often utilize the same paths in the same property throughout a season.
The hounds have followed their quarry into a frozen swamp and the chase has slowed over the solid ice, but the wind-swept snow on top gives them just enough scent to keep them on the trail. After a halting few minutes I can hear the confidence come back into their voices. The rabbit is coming straight for the crossing point. This time I’m prepared. I see him creeping towards me as I stand frozen, the light-weight gun already shouldered. He makes a momentary pause as he hops into the path, and the old .410 sounds.
Winnie breaks into the open knowing that sound means she can finally catch up. She really loves rabbits, and I let her mouth it a little before I slip it into my vest. Briar seems disappointed that the chase is over and is already looking for another track. The track is their passion, and it’s become mine as well.
Bryant is generalist when it comes to the outdoors. He enjoys pursuing the best of what each season has to offer. However, working with hunting beagles has become a year-round obsession
Nice story bryant . I really enjoyed reading it. We need to get together again for the excitement .
Thanks buddy!! Let’s make it happen this season. It has been way too long. Hope everyone is doing well.
Great story! I have a 13 year old Beagle who still bawls and bays when she catches the scent of a rabbit in our woods. Her nose is as good as ever… too bad the legs can’t carry her for very long. Thanks for reminding me of how much fun a Beagle on scent is.
I’ve never chased rabbits with dogs but it sounds like fun. When I lived in Maine, over 50 years ago, as kids we would hike through the woods near where I lived and when we found snowshoe hare tracks we would follow them. Not all the time would we finally get to where we could see them but often enough to keep us excited and interested. One time we found the tracks went in under a bush but there were no tracks leaving so we knew the hare was in the bush but we couldn’t see it. We threw snowballs into the bush and it finally ran out. None of us had a gun at the time but it was still exciting to get that close.
Having been a rabbit hunter with a pack of beagles before I deteriorated into a full time grouse hunter, this story really takes me back to some fun times afield. With the demise of ruffed grouse here in the North Carolina mountains it maybe time to find some more beagles.
As I read your words, my mind allowed itself to drift back to the memory of the days I hunted cottontails back here in NE Iowa. I had two females, Bonnie (hunted mainly by sight and loved to push the chase to wide open) and Simka (nose to the ground, slow and steady). After a few years of hunting on our own, the day came when our children were old enough to carry a guns, so the enjoyment of a family hunting rabbits with their dogs, to me, was like being in heaven. After the second year, I no longer carried as I kept a handle on the dogs and enjoyed watching my children wait in anticipation of the rabbit running their way. Thank you Bryant/
Just came across this website and enjoyed this article a lot. But now I’m confused. I live in Australia and here it seems using dogs for rabbits not effective, they are always close to their burrows and never run more than 10-15 seconds before they have disappeared and they are going top speed. A whippet has trouble keeping up. I’m, trying to understand why this rabbit in the article didn’t go to ground, are their different subspecies over there that behave or live differently?
I really enjoyed your story. We have two backyard beagle pups who will prob never get to hunt rabbits. Thanks for sharing this so we can live vicariously through you!
Loved and enjoyed the story, the way you described it, allows people to visualize it vividly in our heads.
Hunting rabbits with my beagles is just an absolute hoot! Must have a chase before we harvest the rabbit. Numbers are down where I live past several years so that’s been disappointing.