By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer
The opportunity to get more enjoyment out of fewer acres makes chasing rabbits with beagles one of the all time great outdoor pursuits, and finding the right set of hounds can be easy and fun as well.
Cottontail rabbits in Mississippi thrive best in the edges of nature, the transitional zones where open fields meet stands of woods, where overgrown ditches and creek banks wind their way through cropland, where cattle pastures give way to the undisturbed and the unmanicured.
With reasonable care and forethought, almost all of these are grounds can be hunted for rabbits, and they’re great training and exercise zones for beagles all year round. The fact such areas are typically handy means a dog’s first test lies close by. Whether you’re starting a new puppy or trading for an adult dog, determining what sort of canine skills you have on your hands is always an exciting proposition.
Make sure there are no heavily-traveled roads or aggressive yard dogs nearby that could endanger the dogs’ safety, get permission in advance if there’s a property line a dog running a rabbit is likely to cross, and you’re set to go.
Without fail, the first qualification that should determine whether an adult dog is worth your time is its attitude toward working cover. The old adage about being as at home as a rabbit in a briar patch is perfectly accurate – rabbits hang out in the thickest cover they can find, both for food and security, and it should be an adult beagle’s passion to dive in and bump them out. A few briars along the way shouldn’t stop them if they know what they’re after.
that dog will hunt
They should work cover with their nose down and their tail whipping side to side and they should do so aggressively and with enthusiasm, driving into the thickest places rather than walking around them.
Once they’ve jumped a rabbit, they should trail by scent and move along at a brisk enough pace to keep the rabbit moving, but not so fast that they continually overrun turns and lose the trail.
Within reason, the faster a hound pushes a rabbit without losing the trail, the fewer turns the rabbit will be able to make and the simpler the rabbit will be to intercept. Because of the differences in dogs’ abilities and temperments, and the variances in terrain, most hunters come to think of a certain preferred trailing speed not as fast or slow, but as just right, and will reserve both the words “fast” and “slow” as ways to describe “bad.” One man’s opinion of bad, therefore, will not be likely to match that of another, which is why adult hunting beagles can often be bought or traded and improve both the pack they leave and the pack they join.
Starting a new puppy on the rabbit trails, according to experts like those found at the online resource beaglesunlimited.com, requires a more delicate touch. They suggest using a hot dog or other meat snack dragged around a yard as a way to teach new beagles to trail before teaching them to trail rabbits, and they follow that their introduction to rabbits should be orchestrated in an area with few if any briars, so the dogs don’t associate the scent of a rabbit with being stuck and stung. Still, just as with the adult dogs, the puppies should exhibit an enthusiasm for the chase and a dedication to the work.
In either case, the joys of the outdoors can be found closer to home, hot on the heels of a pack of beagles.