If the results of my first rabbit hunt of the season are any indication, it is going to be a very good year for cottontails.
Our hunt began the day after the snowstorm last week that left about five to six inches on the ground, and conditions were perfect.
Temperatures were in the mid-30s when we pulled off the road alongside a series of overgrown fields in Washington County. Even before I got out of my truck, I could see fresh bunny tracks going in and out of the cover on both sides of the road. And from the noise the six beagles were making in their cages I think they could already smell the rabbits. And when we let them out, they were definitely ready to go.
I don’t think it was more than a minute after the first dog hit the ground that he yipped with his nose plowing through the snow, and soon followed with a deep-throated bark that a beagle makes when in hot pursuit on a fresh rabbit track. And the other canines were quick to join him.
Most of us were not even loaded as we quickly spread out as the dogs followed the scent through an overgrown hedgerow that bordered a frozen creek.
Joining me on this hunt were Paul Hayes and Tim Guy of Glens Falls and Kevin Clark of Argyle. And Tim, who is usually right on the tail of the dogs, got the first glimpse of the rabbit as it circled back. However, he was unable to get a shot. But five minutes later, Kevin did, and we had our first cotton tail.
As I stood there about 100 yards from Kevin, I caught a glimpse of movement on the other side of the creek, and saw a rabbit running about 30 yards from me. Now, we had two rabbits, and had only been there about 15 minutes.
Less than a half-hour later the dogs again had one going. Although we did get a look at it briefly, it holed up before we could get a shot.
Moving to another overgrown field edge, it wasn’t long before the dogs had another going. This one proved to be a runner, and circled in and out of us several times, but made the mistake of getting a little too close to Kevin’s 20-gauge. Now, we had three.
Our next area was a heavy hedgerow with countless rabbit tracks in and out, and while Tim and Paul held the dogs, Kevin and I walked down the side of the hedgerow to the end. Once the dogs picked up a scent, the rabbit would more than likely stay in the thick cover, and we would be waiting.
When we were in place, they released the dogs and started toward us. Once again, it didn’t take long, and they were barking. I was sure the rabbit was headed for us, from the sound of the dogs. The dogs were getting close to me, but I didn’t see the rabbit until it broke into the open less than 10 yards from me. An easy shot, except for the fact that one of the dogs was nipping at its tail.
Fortunately, the rabbit put some distance between it and the dog, and when it did, Tim was waiting, and now we had four.
It was on the next chase that we got the rabbit — but never fired a shot. The reason being the dogs did their job too well. They had jumped it from a large brush pile, and within several hundred yards, both Tracker and Buckshot overcame it. They caught the rabbit, and when Tim took it away and put it in his game pouch, they looked at him disappointedly.
I caught a glimpse of something running through the brush, but could not shoot. However, Paul was in the right spot, and one shot ended with our fifth cottontail.
Wood piles on farmlands are rabbit magnets, and the one we found in the middle of the field on our way back to the truck was no exception. The dogs went wild, and were in and out of the wood as we circled around and waited. Two of the dogs actually burrowed into the wood pile trying to get to the rabbits. Then, like a rocket, one came out, and another was added to the day’s tally.
All this action, and we hadn’t been in the field more than 21⁄2 hours. This could definitely be a great year for rabbit hunting.