Rabbit Magic, Beagle Music
A great way to spend a day with friends when deer season goes out.
It was a beautiful February morning with only a slight chill in the morning air, and the forecast was for only a short-sleeved shirt, if you weren’t planning on stomping through briars, or you were Stan Weaver, of Screven County.
I’m not Stan, so I had on sleeves and one leather glove, on my left hand for the briars, not for style. After a while, Stan accepted the right-hand glove to help peel away those wait-a-minute briars that were dug into his bare, scratched-up arms.
This all began when Stan called Kyle Johns, and Kyle called me. We are fellow Burke Countians. When Kyle told me of the Screven County farm we’d be hunting, I readily agreed to meet them since the 2018-19 rabbit hunting season was running out in a few days.
Our timing was perfect as we arrived at the appointed crossroads just as Stan pulled into a nearby field road followed by two other vehicles with Daryl Summerall, of Evans County, and Clay Dye, of Columbia County.
Clay and Stan are current Vogtle Nuclear Plant co-workers, while Kyle and I are retired from Vogtle.
Daryl is a long-time rabbit hunter and is a source to some of Stan’s 16 beagles.
Kyle had some dogs, too, but how many… I’m not sure. We had a bunch of dogs, that’s for sure.
It took four of us to man the two doors on Stan’s dog box because when he opened it, eight heads tried to get through each door at the same time. I grabbed a pair of collars in the melee while shoving others back in the box and closing the door. With a glimpse, Stan recognized each dog and handed me tracking collars for both while calling their names. As the dogs were collared, they were released to tend to their “business.” All dogs have to tend to business immediately upon leaving the dog box.
Finally, with briar chaps on, guns loaded and arms over our heads, we waded into the chest-high briars. One dog sent out a yodel and was quickly joined by the heavenly host, or so it sounded. Two, four, eight, 12 yodels of different frequencies and tones lit up the morning stillness as they started to circle back toward Daryl.
Boom! Kyle shot. I looked toward him as he waded in before the dogs, who were just passing Daryl, and Kyle bee-lined to where he just got the first rabbit of the day.
Quickly, another race ensued. Again, they circled toward Daryl. Boom!
“Got ’im!” shouted Daryl.
Again, the eager beagles were on another cottontail. Following a short race, Kyle’s 12 gauge added No. 3 to the early day’s tally. Within 30 minutes, we had three rabbits.
Well, they had three rabbits, and I had yet to even see a bunny.
Clay had gone deep into the thicket, and I flanked him, but the rabbits were sticking to the outside edge. All we could do was listen and watch. I kept a comfortable distance from Clay’s fluorescent orange vest, as well as doing the same for Kyle.
Orange vests and hats are for your own safety, unless you want to risk a load of 6s or 7 1/2s peppering in your direction. Orange isn’t required, like it is for deer hunting, but I like me and I like you, but I like me better, and I don’t want you to shoot me. Write that down somewhere…
Stan commenced his excited calls of “here-he-is, here-he-is, here-he-is,” and the dogs raced to him from every direction. One, three, six, eleventeen beagles were hot on the trail of the rabbit Stan kicked out of a fallen treetop; again, the race was on.
Boom! Boom…boom! Laughter…
“I think you hit him that third shot, Kyle!” Stan exclaimed.
Kyle waded out of the briars with his arms over his head and into the nearby field as the dogs burst from the briar-choked thicket and ran helter-skelter into the clearing.
One older dog followed the scent, while some of the others ran past just barking to get in front of each other. If you aren’t the lead dog, the scenery never changes. They were tired of the scenery.
Satisfied the rabbit wasn’t mortally wounded, Kyle did his best to get the dogs back on the fresh trail, “Here-he-is, here-he-is, here-he-is!” It worked, and they were back on track.
I watched the briars and the little clearing before me… nothing, but the dogs ran right in front of me in plain sight. While I was watching Kyle, the rabbit must have snuck right by me.
“Why didn’t you shoot that rabbit?” Stan hollered.
“He was too little! He had spots! He was only a little 4-pointer!” I muttered some other stuff, too. What rabbit? I didn’t see any rabbit…
Ducking under some limbs, I walked up to some fallen trees and gave one a good kick. A brown blur dashed to my left as I blasted a hole in the briars. I watched exactly where I saw him last and headed that way, keeping an eye on the dead rabbit and my arms overhead.
Magic, pure woods magic. The dead rabbit turned into a log. Where was the rabbit? I could have sworn I killed him, but he wasn’t there. Short-sleeved shirt Stan was soon walking nearby with his arms over his head calling the dogs and quizzing me on the rabbit’s whereabouts, while eyeing a hole in the bottom of a large oak.
“He probably ran into the stump hole over there. One did it last time we were here. Yeow!”
Stan peeled a heavy briar from his bare arms with the gloved hand and held the other arm ever higher over the briars. Off he went, bellowing to the dogs, “Whoop, Whoop, Whoop!”
I don’t know if Stan can sing a tune, but following a season of driving deer dogs through the swamps and rabbit dogs through the briars, he sure has a powerful bellow. He also can get along through the woods in a way that reminds me of a younger version of me, as he seldom stopped and was constantly urging the dogs.
I fought my way through some fine-looking fallen treetops that were laden with oval-shaped deer beds. I stood in one spot and counted seven beds. It was easy to envision a buck lying beneath the overhanging limbs. Stan said he walked right past a doe in a bed earlier while the beagles never jumped her. She never got up as he walked nearby and passed on.
Shortly, we left the briars and entered a broom-straw field interspersed with volunteer pines. The dogs broke into several small groups as each group chased a different rabbit.
Looking up, I spied Stan in a deer stand as he directed the chase, “Coming to you, Clay!” Boom!
I spotted a large uprooted pine with a huge, clay root ball. Walking my way along the barkless trunk, the root ball offered a 6-foot, elevated vantage point from which I could look down into instead of trying to see through the broom straw. Fifty yards away I could see the straw shake and occasionally glimpse a white dog.
One group ran right past Kyle as he wondered how the rabbit got by, then they stopped and retraced their trail to regain the track in a different direction. Apparently, the rabbit turned just as it got to Kyle.
Hippity-hoppity, Boom! My vantage point paid off as a rabbit slipped along in front of me. That one was in the bag, not a log, that time.
I regained my position atop the root ball as I watched Stan wade into a seemingly impenetrable thicket with his arms over his head, leather glove shining in the sunlight. I could hear him attacking the briars. “Dang! There ought to be a rabbit in here.”
If you’ve ever waded through a thick briar patch, you know why he keeps his arms over his head. I’ve seen Stan with way more scratches on his arms than I want to experience.
Boom… Boom! Daryl caught one slipping out and added him to the bag.
Walking through the briars, I came upon a deep, briar-choked drainage ditch. Standing on a pile of dirt, I had another good vantage point down into the briars and down into the ditch. Soon, a yodeling beagle went into the ditch, and I watched with amazement and amusement as the determined little dog squeezed itself under the vines against the ditch bank. It was then I noticed the varied trails along the ditch. There was a veritable rabbit freeway here, but the beagles were leaving no stone unturned.
Boom! Shaking broom straw gave way to the rabbit’s oncoming escape route. Dirt flew as the load of 7 1/2s hit right where I aimed. That one may have been a little close, I thought. Walking over I found where the dirt was kicked up, but nothing was there. How in the heck did I miss that? All I could do was shake my head in mild disgust at myself.
Boom! Shortly after my miss, Clay was hanging a rabbit in the fork of an oak sapling. Not long after that, I made it a pair in the tree when another rabbit tried to slip along a deer trail I was standing in, and I didn’t miss that time.
By the time lunch was becoming a stronger calling than briars, we had amassed nine rabbits. I think everyone killed at least two and someone other than me killed three. Stan didn’t add to the bag because he hardly ever carries a gun. Were it not for his love of running the dogs and stomping through briars, I’m sure our success would have been much less.
My hunt ended at lunchtime, but the others returned and added another six rabbits for a daily total of 15. This was an outstanding day afield and a fine finish to my hunting season.
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