Rabbit Hunting, the other winter sport

My buddy and I decided to take a day off from ice fishing and do a little cottontail rabbit hunting before the hunting season ends on February 28. Like me, he is a life-long rabbit hunter. We both are members of the Berkshire Beagle Club and go there once a week to run the cottontails and snowshoe hares. It is a preserve and hunting with a gun is not allowed there.
He has the hunting bug worse than I do. Every night before we go hunting, I can hear him pacing the floor and he shakes my bed and pulls the blankets in the wee hours of the morning, trying to get me up and moving. We are similar in some respects – both of us are getting a little older and the hair on our heads is becoming a little whiter. Both of us have hearing problems, vision problems, gimpy legs, and are a tad overweight. We both have had operations in the past, me for torn rotator cuff and he for a torn ACL. But we manage to plug along, enjoying our wonderful outdoors, especially in the winter when we can track bunnies in the snow.
This is an unusual year for us. This year he is older than me, and next year, I will be older than him. Oh yes, I forgot to mention. My buddy is a 10- year old beagle named Jacques. In dog years, that puts him at 70 and I am a few years older than him. Next year, at age 11, (dog age 77), he will be older than me by a couple of years.
On the last day we went hunting, the weather was mild, making for a perfect hunting day, so I donned the hunting clothes and grabbed the shotgun and he donned his collar bell, and off a hunting we went. The day started off as usual. Jacques picked up a rabbit scent fairly quickly and off he went in pursuit, nose to the ground, tail wagging a mile a minute and uttering this god-awful scream type of a bark. If you didn’t know better, you would swear he was in agony, but it’s his scream of pleasure, his “Get ready, I’m on his trail” scream. He is in his glory and lives for this. Gosh, I never get tired of hearing this sound, music to a rabbit hunter’s ears. You know, rabbit hunting is all about the dogs.
In my opinion, a good beagle is one that pursues the rabbit scent at a moderate speed and sticks with it, barking all the while, no matter what tricks the bunny will pull to throw him off the track. Good beagles seem to know that they are not supposed to catch the rabbit, but rather to follow it until it makes a turn and comes back near the hunter where he can take a good kill shot, preferably a head shot so as not to get too many shotgun pellets in the meat. After the kill, a good beagle will pick up the rabbit and drop it at the hunter’s feet.
Many hunters that I know will not shoot the bunny but rather let it go by so that the dog can pursue the scent even longer. Sooner or later, if the hunter does not shoot it, it will probably enter a hole or thick brush pile, indicating that the game is over. After a short period trying to get at the rabbit, a good beagle will return to the hunter, and try to find another new scent. And off we go again.
On this day, I really wanted to shoot a rabbit to have for a meal. I developed a taste for them when I was very young when my father or older brothers would shoot a couple of them for a meal. In fact, in later years, father raised domestic rabbits for the table. Hey, he was a 1st generation Frenchman and they, the Italians and most Europeans loved their rabbit meals. Although my mother refused to eat them, she had an excellent recipe for cooking them and the males of our family relished them. But I digress.
Back to our day of hunting, Jacques pushed the rabbit toward me, but for one reason or another, it snuck by without detection. (I blame it on my poor hearing, eyesight, another distraction, inattention, etc.) As Jacques ran past me, still barking on the scent, it appeared as though he gave me a dirty look over his shoulder with an expression of discontent. I’s at times like this when I sympathize with the cartoon character Elmer Fudd. You may recall that he was always being outfoxed by Buggs Bunny, that “Wascal of a Wabbit”.
This bunny was able to shake the dog somewhere in the distance and after a while Jacques returned. Well, we had gotten a couple of hours of enjoyment, fresh air and exercise and it was time to go home, something that Jacques rarely, if ever, wants to do. We’re so thankful that we both are physically able to still do this.
Incidentally, the Berkshire Beagle Club will be having its annual rabbit hunt on February 10. No hunting on the Beagle Club property. Prizes will be awarded for the largest hare and cottontail rabbit. The meat will not be wasted but the lucky hunters will take them home to eat or donate for a future fundraising game dinner. Weigh-in time is 4 PM followed by a venison chili or spaghetti dinner. The charge of $20 which covers the hunt, the meal and raffle tickets. There will also be a 50/50 raffle. For more information, contact John Demary at (413) 684-2228 or (413) 441-2253.
This may be your only chance to participate in a rabbit hunt this year as the Lenox Sportsmen’s Club, which usually has one on President’s Weekend, is not having one this year. Apparently, there is a lack of hunter interest or volunteers to put the event together.
Rabbit hunting appears to be dying sport. You don’t see the numbers of rabbit hunters out there that there used to be. In fact, based upon responses to the MassWildlife hunter surveys for the 5-year period 2012-2016, only 11% of them hunt rabbits these days. Perhaps it’s because people don’t have the free time anymore.
Even if one does have the time, the places to hunt have been drastically reduced over the last few decades. When I think back, almost all of my early rabbit hunting areas in Lenox were within walking distance of my home. I didn’t realize it then, but I was in heaven, walking down the street to the hunting areas with an empty shotgun in one hand and a leashed beagle in the other. Can’t do that now. Those hunting areas are long gone and replaced by streets such as Galway Ct, Bentrup Ct., Dunmore Ct, Clifton CT, Fairway Drive, St Andrews Ct, Cold Brook Road, Delafield St., Old Barn Road, Pine Knoll Road. Stoneledge Road, Melville Ct., Bracelan Ct and others. Perhaps the same has happened to your old hunting grounds.
Thank goodness MassWildlife and organizations such as the Berkshire Natural Resources Council and others are acquiring chunks of land to preserve the open space or establish wildlife management areas. If it weren’t for them, there would hardly be any land left to rabbit hunt.
The days when folks had hunting dogs and dog houses in their back yards are also gone. Every time I see Snoopy sitting on his dog house in the Peanuts comic strip, I think of those old days. The increased populations of coyotes, fisher cats and bears made it necessary to move our beagles indoors (where they immediately took over our houses) or to sturdy kennels. Unaware of the new predators back then, many people lost their dogs to them.
Thank goodness also for the Berkshire Beagle Club with its 80+ acres of fenced in property. Where else can you get the opportunity to run your dogs without fear of them getting killed crossing a road or getting lost. Shooting of the bunnies on BBC land is prohibited. If you have a pedigree beagle with AKC papers, are willing to attend a short monthly meeting, and willing to help in a work party a few times a year the BBC may be for you. The annual fee is reasonable ($200) and membership is restricted to 55 persons, so that there aren’t too many dogs running around overstressing the bunnies. There are strict limits as to how many dogs can hunt at any particular time and one must sign in. If you are a member and think you have a hot shot beagle, you can even enter it into the AKC sanctioned field trials which are held on the property periodically. Warning, your dog will be competing against some of the best beagles in the Northeast.
Pssst ….. don’t tell anyone but the current waiting list to join the BBC is short! Probably, you could get voted in within a couple of months. In the past, it sometimes took several years to get in. To obtain an application, contact me at the address listed below.
Trail camera workshop
On Sunday, February 11 from 1 to 3 PM the Trustees of Reservation will be holding a workshop dealing with trail cameras at Bartholomew’s Cobble in Sheffield. Learn from local expert, Jim Pelletier, the many ways to use trail cameras, how to best set them up for capturing different wildlife as well as when and where to place them. Participants can expect to leave with the ability to set one up on their own. The cost is $5 for TTOR members and $10 for non-members. For more information call (413)229-8600 or cpetrikhuff@thetrustees.org.
Basic Hunter Education Course with Independent Study

There will be a basic hunter education course held at Lee Sportsmen’s Club, 565 Fairview Street, Lee, MA on March 14 and 31. The times are: March 14: 6 to 9:30 PM and March 31: 8 AM to 2:30PM. You must attend all class dates and times to successfully complete the course.

This Basic Hunter Education course is a 2-session Independent Study course. This format covers the same material as a traditional Basic Hunter Education course but requires less in-class time as students will work independently to complete homework in between the 2 required in-class sessions.

If you are interested in this course and wish to enroll, call (508) 389-7830 immediately; students are enrolled first-come, first-served, and courses do fill quickly.


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