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Beagles and Bunnies

Saturday, February 2, 2013

A beagle works on staying with the trail of a cottontail rabbit during the youth portion of this year's Missouri rabbit hunting season.
Although the cottontail rabbit numbers are down from the good old days, there are still pockets of huntable numbers of bunnies.

Tim Marshall, Lebanon, Mo., is one of those rabbit hunters who waits for snow on the ground to go rabbit hunting.

He said, "When the snow starts falling, there is no better time to go rabbit hunting. So far this season, I haven't been out but one time. As the season runs out, I would be happy to see some snow."

The Missouri rabbit season runs through Feb. 15, so hunters have a 4 1/2-month season. With a daily limit of six rabbits and possession limit of 12, not too many hunters bag their limit, unlike years ago when it was nothing to bag that many in less than an hour's hunting.

Marshall, like most rabbit hunters, likes to hunt with beagles.

Beagles and bunnies go together like bread and butter. Many rabbit hunters wouldn't go hunting if they didn't have a dog to aid them.

Brush piles provide cover and safety for cottontails. They stake out temporary shelters all across their territory, so they are never too far from a refuge. When they sense danger, they scurry to the nearest shelter and remain motionless for as long as necessary.

Tom Carter, Ozark, recalled recently that when he lived in Sedalia, "When I was a teenager and started rabbit hunting, there seemed to be rabbits everywhere and most all my friends were rabbit hunters. Today, I can't find anyone to go rabbit hunting, unlike when I first started hunting.

"Of course, that was when there were plenty of cottontails. I think there are places where there are a lot of rabbits if you know where to hunt."

Bob Mason, Marshfield, Mo., is a hunter who would agree.

Mason said, " I have several spots where I can still find rabbits. The reason is there is plenty of cover and food for them. We are never going to have the numbers of rabbits like there were back in the market hunting days, but there are still places to have a good hunt."

Robert Underwood, Carthage, has been addicted to rabbit hunting ever since he was in school in Carrollton, Mo. "My dad had a beagle, so I started hunting with a dog. It's hard enough to kick up a rabbit with a dog, let alone going without one," he said.

"Most of the guys I hunt with use a shotgun, but I still use my .22 rifle, especially when hunting after a snow. I have learned that if a beagle is on the trail of a rabbit, I stay close to the spot where it was flushed because, more than likely, the rabbit will come back to that spot and you can be ready for it."

Hunters who use beagles when they hunt rabbits not only have better success when hunting, they also enjoy hearing their beagles on the trail of a bunny.

Underwood said, "Over the years, I have had several beagles that love to hunt rabbits. It's fun to watch a new dog using its nose to trail a rabbit and the sounds they make while on the trail. I wouldn't hunt rabbits without a beagle."

Underwood is also a football fan, but he said if there is snow on the ground Super Bowl Sunday, he will pass up the big game to go rabbit hunting. Besides, he is a Kansas City Chiefs fan and is disappointed after a poor season this year.

Gum-Branch Beagle Kennels near Everton, Mo., is focused on developing rabbit hunting beagles.

Bill Cork, owner, starts beagle puppies. He uses older, seasoned beagles to help a pup start the process of using its nose, instead of just sight chasing. For more information on Gum-Branch, contact Cork online at runningspringfarm.com.

Cottontail rabbit numbers and good hunting for them continue to dwindle, but there are still places where you might find the population high enough to hunt. Where suitable habitat exists, the hunting is still good and that's the fortunate thing for the hunters who put up with fighting the cold and windy winter days and maybe missing a football game just for the chance to get some shots at a brown blur heading for cover.

The days of no limits and plenty of rabbits are gone, but when there is a cover of snow on the ground in a Ozark winter, there will be hunters who get a lot of satisfaction from tromping through the brush and hearing their beagles howling while on the trail of a cottontail.

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Ken White
Outdoor Living