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The Intricacies of Rabbit Hunting

Rabbit Hunter, Feb 2012Sometimes having a back-up plan and the small intricate things associated with rabbit hunting can make a real difference in making a successful hunt or just another day in the outdoors.

I can remember when two guys from West Virginia visited us one year. They had bought a couple videos from me, wanted to meet me and do a little hunting. Bob and I knew they were coming for a couple weeks so we “saved” one of our spots for them and were pretty confident we’d have a good day.

Of course, as most of us know, things don’t always keep to the script and we just couldn’t run into any rabbits to speak of.  They also had a slow, older dog with them that just could not keep up with my younger pack and it made things really awkward. After a dismal morning I shot the only real rabbit the dogs had run and our guests packed it up and took off back to Wild and Wonderful.

Bob Clarke and I sat quietly in the truck eating a sandwich feeling pretty sorry the morning hadn’t gone better. We really did want to show these guys a good time and were disappointed things had not worked out.

It was still early afternoon as we drove down the road, when I saw a little pull-off near some public land just a mile or so from where our morning hunt had taken place.

“Want to throw the dogs in here for an hour or so? It’s pretty early to just quit,” I told Bob.  “Yeah, why, not? Can’t do any worse than we did this morning!”

I swear the dogs could not have been on the ground five minutes when they were running — and they never stopped running until we had more rabbits than we wanted to clean.

We shook our heads and said more than one time how we wished we had brought our West Virginia friends down in here. We had stopped at this spot only to try to salvage a really rotten day, but it turned into a real bonanza, and another reason to always have a Plan B.

The small intricacies of planning the hunt seem to be my specialty. I don’t want to leave much to chance or “we’ll worry about that when the time comes.” I try to have water or snacks for the dogs on the truck, rubber gloves to clean rabbits, and even a cooler for our drinks or to put rabbits in if it’s really warm. It’s the attention to the small details that sometimes makes the hunt go more smoothly.

Some guys hate to gut rabbits (or field-dress if you want to put it more delicately!) I’ve never minded it, and it’s really part of the hunt. I think it’s important to cherish the kill, be pleased that we “finally got him,” and cleaning him out and preserving him for Sunday afternoon dinner while watching football seems important too. I also like to take a good look at the rabbit, see if it has any particular markings, show it to the dogs and snap a few pictures if I can. It’s all part of the hunt.

After this I start out by finding a spot; a hole, a good hollow tree, maybe even an old fridge, to deposit the entrails in to keep them away from my dogs. I used to give my dogs the livers and stuff, but just found out I was asking for trouble, with worms, etc. Now, if I want to treat the dogs I carry a dog bone or cracker for them.

If possible I try to wear rubber gloves. It keeps the blood out of small cuts on my hands and keeps my hands clean and dry with minimum effort. If the cleaning operation goes smoothly I may wash the gloves off with a little water and I may be able to gut two or three rabbits with a single pair. I strip the hair down off the belly and use a razor sharp knife to open the rabbits. I also open the pelvic bone and clean out the “ricelike” cysts that are the egg cases of tapeworms. I want to leave all this stuff in the woods.

Once I have the rabbit all cleaned up I hang it on my belt by cutting the back leg tendons and placing a shower curtain hook through this slot. I like the rabbits to hang outside a hot hunting coat and they dry stretched out which is nice for pictures. This system has worked well for us over the years.

We hang the hooks right on our vests from small loops sewn right onto the pockets. Getting all this stuff ready sometimes does require a little advance work and planning, but I do this in the evening after supper or while I am skinning or washing rabbits. I routinely reload my vest with fresh water, shells, a fresh walkie-talkie, and maybe even a small bag of dog treats. If my gloves or items are wet I’ll lay these out close by to dry or replace them with another pair.

I normally wear a thin pair of “dot-grippers” covered by a pair of “fingerless” gloves. With this double-glove system I can wear either one separately or both together if it’s a little cold.

The dogs also require a little maintenance of their own. Usually, I strip all the collars off them as soon as we hit the kennel. Most have bells on anyway and I don’t want these on at the kennel. If I take the collars off I also can detect if anyone has a stick or thorn jammed under one. I may hose the collars off or throw them into a bucket of water if they are covered with mud … and it’s common. I’ll also check on any dog that is limping or seems to be injured.

Shock collars are going to have to be charged if we’ve been out for any length of time. They are commonly covered with mud and debris and I like to wash each one off and dry them some before placing them on charge. Sometimes I just clean them up and lay them somewhere for a few hours; still on and blinking, to run the batteries down some. Then, again in the evening, I may slip down to the basement and place them on the chargers. If I forget I’ll use a back-up set for the next day.

It can be a full-time job repairing, cleaning, and charging the shock collars, but I don’t want to hunt without them anymore. Our hunts are normally shorter now, and if I want to call the dogs in … I want them to come in. I don’t want to spend the next hour yelling at them. I use all Tri-Tronics stuff, it’s reliable and fixable, but all this electronic gear is expensive and difficult to replace and I try to take special care of them.

For some reason, I’m always the guy who has to plan “where we are going?” I’m supposed to always know where we are going and where we will find rabbits. This little intricate item can give you fits here in Pennsylvania. Early season brings warm weather, thick brush, and the biggest problem for a rabbit hunter; interference from other hunters.

Yeah, I can understand a bow hunter who is perched in a tree can get pretty angry when a pack of Beagles runs under his stand. And the real, sad, fact is some will shoot your dogs. If you’ve run dogs for any length of time you’ll probably discover the dogs have very little influence on deer movements and even if the deer leave a particular thicket for a while, they’re coming right back as soon as the dogs get out of there. I’ve seen this many, many times. On slow days dogs may even push a deer under a hunter’s tree stand, but the archers don’t see it that way. All we hear is: “You’re runnin’ all ‘my’ deer out of here!”

How am I supposed to know the guy is parked on the next road or was dropped off by his buddy or wife before daylight because he didn’t exactly have permission to hunt in there? So what we have to do now is check out the likely parking spots and stay away from wooded areas until this season is over about mid-November. But how do you do that with dogs that may run a rabbit anywhere? It’s a problem for us, and a lot of our early season hunting is done mid-morning when most bow hunters are not out.

We also engage in more turkey hunting or squirrel hunting and just “wait” until the other seasons are over. It is a sad commentary, as we (rabbit hunters) have just as much right to be in the woods as the next guy, but for the sake of peace and safety for the hounds we have to be careful.

There are so many little intricate things about rabbit hunting and caring for the dogs I haven’t even mentioned like; different tones of bells for each dog, taking care of collars, making leashes, and even the transporting of the hounds to the hunt. I guess we’ll have to discuss some of these next time!

In most cases, I do enjoy all aspects of caring for the dogs, keeping the gear up and all the intricacies that can turn a rather uneventful day into something really special. As I get older and my hunting is more limited I’ve found out that killing the rabbit is great sometimes, but it may not be the most important thing.

Keep them running guys … and have a great season!

And A Great New Year!

As incredible as it seems; another New Year is upon us. It’s true what they say: As you get older the years pass more quickly.  I am sorry to say that a few more friends have gone on to that beautiful thicket in the sky this year along with a couple more good hounds. As I have said before why the Lord made dogs to live only a short time compared to us is one of the great mysteries of the universe! Since magazines have to work ahead of time I’d like to wish each and everyone of you a great winter hunting season and a better 2012! We may all run different dogs, participate in different kinds of trials or just do a lot of rabbit hunting like I do; but we are all kindred sprits in our pursuits and the love of the hounds.

So Happy New Year and God bless, Dave Fisher.