It was almost midday when the beagles started to sing out one more time, signaling that they had jumped a rabbit and another chase was on. I followed the game plan by taking a stand that afforded a reasonably good overview of the grassy field surround by willow, thickets, not far from where the commotion had all begun, and waited. Our group included Rob Nowak, of Grafton and Tom Waite, of Greendale, a dog trainer who brought along two of his fine beagles, Thunder and Sister.
We were hunting a series of hedgerows and thickets on public land at the Bong Recreation Center near Kansasville in Kenosha County. In theory, when a cottontail rabbit is chased, it will make a big circle in an attempt to elude the hounds. If a hunter stays put, he has a pretty good chance of intercepting the rabbit when it returns to its home territory. So Nowak and I spread out and took our stands, while Waite stayed with the dogs.
As I stood at the edge of the willows, I watched and waited and listened to the sound of the dogs. For several minutes I stared at the motionless landscape. All the while, the barking dogs grew more and more faint as the rabbit’s trail took them further into the distance. Then the whole thing turned around.
Now, I could hear the howling sounds of the dogs getting louder as they followed the rabbit back in my direction. Their barking became more excited and intense as they slowly closed the gap. Then, at the edge of my peripheral vision, I caught a sudden glimpse of movement, then turned to see the rabbit running through the brush. I raised my gun and fired.
“Did you get him?” I heard Waite shout in the distance.” I think so,” I yelled. But when I got to the spot, the rabbit wasn’t there. I looked around and found some tracks that lead into another thicket. But inside, there was a maze of crisscrossing rabbit tracks that led in every direction.
A few minutes later the beagles arrived, followed by Waite. We watched Thunder and Sister as they continued to methodically track. One by one, they stuck their noses into each and every rabbit track for a good sniff. Then they reared back their heads and howled before moving on to the next track. It didn’t take them long to find the rabbit, which had made its way deep into some heavy brush before giving up the ghost.
“That’s the way it’s supposed to work,” Waite said of this run. “ The dogs find the rabbit, circle him and bring him to you.” He was right. This was pretty much a classic, textbook beagle chase. It doesn’t always work that way. In fact, we had witnessed several examples of how it’s not supposed to work earlier that morning.
The first four rabbits we jumped all got away. From studying the tracks in the snow, we learned that two of the rabbits found holes and ducked inside, leaving the frustrated beagles barking and howling at the entrances. And two others had spirited across ice-covered flats that didn’t leave enough scent for the beagles to follow. The dogs became confused and started back-tracking. But we kept at it. After we broke the ice with that first rabbit, our luck changed and we ended up getting two more before deciding to call it a day.
Afterward, Waite said it was a shame that more people, especially kids, didn’t take up rabbit hunting. “It’s an easy hunt,” he said. “You don’t have to be quiet or sit real still. There’s lots of rabbits and plenty of public land available for hunting.” And, of course, the cottontail rabbit season continues through February, long after most of the other hunting seasons have shut down.
Written by Bob Riepenhoff
January 7, 1996
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