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Small Game
Long Rabbit Races With Field-Trial Beagles
Although beagle-club guys carry shotguns during rabbit season, it’s way more about watching the dogs run and work than piling the tailgate full of bunnies.
 
By Brad Gill
Originally published in the February 2012 issue of AON
 
After temporarily losing the rabbit scent, hounds keep their noses to the ground to find it again. Ross Martinez, an American Rabbit Hound Association beagle-club member, grades the beagle work from the top of the hill.
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I have been rabbit hunting with my own hounds for about 10 years, and I’ve seen it happen time and time again — once you kill a rabbit, it’ll never run again. So, if you’re a field-trialer, or someone who just gets a blessing watching your hounds work the scent trail of a rabbit, you probably find yourself a little reluctant to pull the trigger too many times. A successful shot simply means you’ll have to go hunt up another rabbit.

I recently spent a Wednesday morning in a pine thicket with several field-trial guys who are members of a beagle club under the American Rabbit Hound Association (ARHA) umbrella.

The ARHA is located in Blaine, Tenn. It has more than 170 beagle clubs nationwide that host sanctioned field trials for beagles. Alabama has four of these beagle clubs. They are listed at the end of this article.

Before you decide to become active in a club, or just compete in one of their events, figure out which type of division your hound would compete best in. There are four different types of ARHA divisions: Big Pack, Gun Dog, Little Pack and Progressive Pack. Fast tracking hounds compete in Little Pack and Big Pack. Medium speed hounds compete in Progressive Pack, and the tighter line-control hounds compete in the Gun Dog division.

My morning played out just the way a good rabbit hunt is supposed to, at least in my mind. The company was fantastic, full of laughs, cutting up, and there was no pressure to load the tailgate full of rabbits. We were more interested in seeing how the hounds would do on a chilly winter morning. Besides, we were all just glad to have a place to drop the tailgate while deer season was still going on.

Since Alabama’s deer season runs until the end of January, it’s sometimes difficult to rabbit hunt private lands and hunting clubs until Feb. 1. That only gives the guys with beagles one month out of the year when there’s really a good number of private places to hunt.

Within the first 20 minutes one of the beagles pushed a rabbit out of a small head of briars, and the first race of the morning was on.

“I like to let them run the first one a little while,” said Eddie Mitchell, who’s run his hounds with beagle clubs for about 18 years.

I told Eddie he could let them run as long as he wanted to. I came to hear a race. Eddie had graciously allowed me to run two of my hounds with four of his, and they all seemed to be packing up pretty nicely as they quickly took the rabbit on a ride.

Eddie has owned beagles for 51 years.

“My daddy brought me a pair of beagles home when I was 8 years old, and I’ve had beagles ever since,” said Eddie.

Eddie spent two years as the chairman of the board for ARHA, and he’s also a past president of a local ARHA club.

“I love it, I really do,” said Eddie. “I enjoy the fellowship and love to hear some good dogs run. It’s just been a good sport for me. Overall, we have good people. There are some good Christians folks. You can take your kids or your wife. All ages are welcome.”

Eddie owns about 25 hounds of his own and is either running in trials or for fun most every weekend. All his hounds are bred to run in the Progressive Pack class.

“Progressive Pack is a little more line control, and I like that better,” said Eddie. “We call them medium to upper speed. On a scale of 1 to 10, we’re about a 6 or 7 on speed, which is about what you would want to hunt with. Progressive Pack is all I’ve ever done, and I’ve never tried the others.”

Three out of the four Alabama beagle clubs run Little Pack hounds.

“Most people fool with Little Pack,” said said Ashley Bice, of Verbena, who is the ARHA state representative for the Little Pack class. “Where Progressive Pack doesn’t want them getting out of a check area or being a little rough on the line, Little Pack just lets them do that. They’re a little rougher.”

Rougher may not sound better to some, but it does to many rabbit hunters like Ashley.

“I like to gun hunt as well, which is what I grew up doing,” said Ashley. “To me, they’re more of a gun dog because they’ll reach out sometimes. If you’re running a big swamp rabbit and he gets in water on you and starts hopping along and hopping over that little stream of water and getting on out there, than you have to have a dog that’ll reach on out sometimes. I like a pack of dogs to move a rabbit.

“I don’t mind a dog reaching on a check a little bit. If he reaches 10 or 15 yards and hits that thing off, all my other ones will pop back up there. To me, they’re more of a true gun dog.”

Eddie, like Ashley, enjoys the gun-hunting season when a fried rabbit is on his mind. He likes to gun hunt only four or five dogs at a time so he can keep up with his dogs and watch them work. Eddie’s philosophy on the best way to kill a rabbit may surprise some.

“If I was really going to just kill rabbits, and there was maybe two of us hunting, I’d rather have two dogs,” said Eddie.

He said more dogs can put enough heat on a rabbit to easily drive him out of hearing distance.

“A rabbit will only run as fast as he’s being chased,” said Eddie.

Join an ARHA beagle club, and run your dogs against some of these field trialers. The company is great, and it’s always fun to see how your beagles will match up when competing with other hounds.

For some clubs, there is a cheap yearly join-up fee to help pay for a local clubhouse. There is a cost to enter your dog in each field trail. It’s usually around $15 per dog, per event.

On my rabbit hunt, we didn’t kill the first rabbit we ran, and I’m pretty sure we let the second, third and fourth go, too. But eventually we pulled the trigger and showed six eager beagles just what a cottontail looks like. Eddie reaped the reward with fried rabbit that evening, but we all went home happy that we simply had the opportunity to hear a few races. For more information on ARHA, go to <www.arha.com>.


Alabama’s American Rabbit Hound Association Clubs

Bankhead Beagle Club, Moulton
Contact: Randall Parker, (256) 565-4486
Type: Progressive Pack
Hunt Dates: Feb. 4 (State Hunt), Feb. 25, April 7.

Mid-Alabama Beagle Club, Verbena
Contact: Ashley Bice, (205) 280-6244
Type: Little Pack
Hunt Dates: March 17-18 (State Hunt), April 7.

North Alabama Beagle Club, Snead
Contact: Barry Bannister, (256) 200-2615
Type: Little Pack
Hunt Dates: Feb. 11, March 10, May 5.

Washington County Beagle Club, Millry
Contact: Dick Dearmon, (251) 846-2694
Type: Little Pack
Hunt Dates: No hunts scheduled until the fall.

The above Alabama beagle clubs are under the American Rabbit Hunter’s Association umbrella. For more info, and to see other future hunt dates, go to <www.arha.com>.


Rabbit-Hunting Tips

• Safety: Wear orange! Making a pre-determined decision not to jump-shoot, or even load shotguns until the dogs are running a rabbit, makes for a much safer hunt. Always know where the other shooters are standing and the location of the dogs before firing at a rabbit. Some handlers put bells on their dogs simply so they can know the whereabouts of the dogs, further adding to the safety of the hunt.
• Be still and quiet: When the race is on, find a good spot and keep your eyes peeled. Rabbits see very well. When a hunter moves, even slightly, the rabbit can detect that movement and will be gone before the hunter ever knew it was there.
• Get that rabbit: If you shoot a rabbit, you better get your hands on it quickly. Most hounds will tear a rabbit to 100 pieces in a matter of a few seconds.
• Off-game nightmares: Nothing ruins a good rabbit hunt quicker than when a beagle runs deer or some other trash. To avoid these occurrences, you can: buy reputable dogs, run packs of six or less, keep a check on the whereabouts of all hounds, keep the hounds close together, never run more than one puppy at a time and invest in shock collars.
• Join a beagle club: There may be no better way to come up the learning curve than to surround yourself with a bunch of beagle guys.
 
 
 
 
 
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