When the recent snow started falling, many rabbit hunters started to smile and make preparations to load up the beagles and go hunting. The cottontail population, although down from the good old days in the 40s and 50s, is better than it was a few years ago.
Jack Lowe, Warsaw, is a rabbit hunter who said, "Beagles and bunnies go together and when there is snow on the ground, there is no better time to get them. So far this season, there hasn't been much snow until Christmas and, in some places, there was too much, but hunting will get better there as well. I was hunting near Bolivar where the snow was only a couple inches deep and it made for great rabbit hunting."
Lowe and his two beagles were in a favorite spot the day after Christmas, a place where the rabbit population is huntable because of the good habitat. There was just enough snow on the ground and it was his first rabbit hunt of the long season that started in October and runs through Feb. 15.
"Back when I was in high school, I hunted rabbits with my .22 single-shot rifle in the same area. Back then, there wasn't any limit on rabbits and you would never have thought the supply would ever run out. It was nothing to get 20 or 30 rabbits in a few hours hunting. Today, if you get a limit of six rabbits, you have had an excellent day," he said.
Many rabbit hunters wouldn't go out if they didn't have a dog to aid in the hunt. Bob Lewis is a 76-year-old hunter from Carthage and is one of those hunters. Lewis said, "If I didn't have a beagle when I hunt rabbits, I doubt if I would go. It's hard enough to kick up a cottontail with a dog, let alone without one. Most of the guys I hunt with carry shotguns, but I still use my .22, especially when hunting in the snow.
"When a dog hits the trail of a rabbit, I stay close to the spot where the trail started because, more than likely, the rabbit will come back to the starting point and you can be ready for it. I have hunted most every part of the state and I don't mind driving a few miles for a good hunt. While most drivers are in a hurry to get away from the snow, I head for it."
Lowe admits he is addicted to rabbit hunting in the snow and, although he is a Kansas City Chiefs fan, he didn't mind missing the game on TV Sunday, especially this year when the Chiefs are having a hard time winning a game. He went rabbit hunting instead.
The spot Lowe hunts is located close to several grain fields where there are brush piles and ponds nearby. He and his son, Brian, keep the beagles running between the various brush piles and he stations Brian at the edge of the largest piece of cover while he and the dogs work the heavy cover along the fields.
This tactic proved best because Brian had plenty of action as the rabbits scurried for cover. Brian said, "I thought there must have been a hundred rabbits around because there were thousands of tracks." His father said, "A couple of rabbits can make so many tracks that you would think there were a hundred rabbits using the area."
Cottontail numbers and good habitat continue to dwindle, but there are places like the one Lowe hunts, where suitable habitat exists and the hunting is still good and that's a fortunate thing for hunters who put up with fighting heavy cover and maybe miss a football game just for the chance to get a shot at a brown blur heading for cover.
The days of no limits and plenty of rabbits statewide are gone, but when there is a cover of snow on the ground, there will be hunters who get a lot of satisfaction from tromping through the brush and hearing their beagles howling on the trail of a cottontail.