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Southeast Georgia Rabbit Hunting

Dixon Memorial, Little Satilla and Altamaha WMAs are some of Joby Mattox’s favorite places to hunt.

Craig James | December 6, 2018

Joby Mattox has been at the rabbit hunting game with his pack of hounds for more than three decades. Along the way, he’s gotten pretty darn good at it. 

With thousands of hunts under his belt and hundreds of field trial competitions to his credit, it’s safe to say he knows a thing or two about the sport of running rabbits.

Joby is from Waycross, where he runs a pest control business during the week and works at his kennel (JoBo’s Deep South Kennels) in the afternoons and hunts every weekend during rabbit season.

I recently met Joby at his home and went straight to his man cave to talk about the sport he is so passionate about. As I walked inside, I was greeted by what seemed like hundreds of trophies, plaques and certificates along the walls. Though he’s quite proud of his field trial success, Joby said that’s not all he’s about.

“I’m a hunter and a houndsman first. Field trial competitions are great to work at getting better in the off season, but I’m a hunter first and always will be,” said Joby.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon talking beagles and rabbit hunting, and then we hit the briar patch to run a rabbit or two. 

Traits Of A Good Rabbit Dog

The first thing I wanted to know was what Joby looks for in a good dog.

“I’m always looking for a dog that has plenty of brains, is bold and not skittish, has plenty of stamina for long hunts, and he has to have plenty of chop mouth,” said Joby.

For those who may not know, chop mouth is a reference to the fast-barking cadence some hounds exhibit.

“I like that real fast barking action in my pack. It gets my heart going every single time I go,” said Joby.

Joby prefers to keep mostly females, citing that for him they tend to make better hunters. Joby says a rabbit dog is in their prime when they are between 3 and 6 years old, but his oldest dog Lily is almost 15 and still running strong with the pack.

He has been breeding dogs for years to conform to the traits he’s looking for in a good rabbit hunting dog and says it’s not as simple as it seems.

“An old man once told me that what you put in a well is what you get out. You have to buy dogs and breed for what you need in a hunting dog,” said Joby. “A dog fit for the swamps of south Georgia might not be worth a flip in the hills of middle Georgia and vice versa. You have to use the hounds that fit your style of hunting.”

Dog Training

Joby has a large running pen next to his house where he trains his puppies to learn to run rabbits, but he understands that most hunters don’t have access to such an area.

“You need to reach out to other rabbit hunters in your area and pair up the dogs your training with veteran dogs. It saves a lot of time and makes them tremendously better hunters when they are able to learn from older, more experienced dogs,” said Joby 

Joby says another good strategy is to put them in an area loaded with rabbits and let them use their nose to work.

“Another factor that makes the training process so much easier is to use proven bloodlines to start with, and avoid using hounds that aren’t from hunting lineages,” said Joby.

In addition, Joby uses shocking collars to help train his dogs, but he uses this tool very sparingly.

“A shock collar can be great for teaching commands, but I’ve found some dogs don’t handle it well at all,” said Joby.

Hound Health

Before you can go rabbit hunting, you have to have healthy dogs, and Joby says a good feeding regimen is

Joby likes to carry 12 dogs when he goes rabbit hunting. He’ll run six in the morning and then have a fresh pack for the afternoon hunt.

where hound health begins. He prefers to feed his dogs Victor  dog food that is 30 percent protein and 20 percent fat for peak performance.

“Some hunters will use a higher fat, lower protein feed in the off season when dogs are less active, but I prefer to use the same feed and cut their daily ration back to compensate for the lack of activity,” said Joby.

When I was at Joby’s kennel, I also noticed that the pens where remarkably clean and free of odor. Joby said the lack of odor is largely due to a ditch he had dug directly behind his concrete kennels. The ditch allows drainage to the back of his property.

“If living in filth will make a human ill, you can bet it will make a dog sick, too. I clean my pens out every single day, and I feel like I owe it to my hounds to give them a good place to live.”

As an additional measure toward keeping his dogs healthy, Joby worms them on the first of every month and uses a parasite preventer on the 15th. He recommends consulting with your local veterinarian to find out what preventive measures will be best for your pack.

Rabbit Hunting

When we took Joby’s dogs out to run for the afternoon, he loaded six into the dog box, but says he normally will bring two sets of six when going out for a full day of hunting. This enables him to keep fresh dogs on the ground as he rotates out the packs as needed.

Every dog in the pack is equipped with a Garmin TT 15 tracking collar that is color coded, so Joby knows where each dog is, and how they are performing during the hunt. Joby says that though the tracking system is a valuable resource, hunters don’t need to stay too focused on the screen.

“I like to do things the old fashioned way and use my ears and instincts to listen to the race. If the dogs aren’t performing well, then I will take a look at the Garmin to get an idea of what’s going on,” said Joby.

Before you turn your dogs lose to hunt, Joby says be sure you have plenty of room, with a minimum of 500 acres to stay off of adjacent properties.

“I’ve seen races go in a 2-mile circle at times, so having plenty of woods to run is important,” Joby said.

Joby says that rabbit populations just aren’t what they used to be due to habitat destruction, spraying of herbicides and other factors.

“A rabbit has to have plenty of thick cover to stay safe from predators, and unfortunately these areas are slowly disappearing, along with the rabbits,” said Joby.

The majority of Joby’s rabbit hunting is done in the thickest briar patches and swamps of south Georgia he can find, and he says that many of Georgia’s WMAs have good rabbit populations and plenty of land for dogs to run.

“Down here in south Georgia, I hunt Dixon Memorial, Little Satilla and Rhetts Island, which is part of the Altamaha WMA. They are all excellent options for hunters who don’t have access to private property,” Joby added.

On Dixon Memorial and Little Satilla, Joby hunts thick briar infested areas that are near food plots, wind rows and overgrown low, swampy areas where rabbits like to hide.

Joby Mattox and his wife Tabitha, of Waycross, with the results of a morning rabbit hunt in southeast Georgia.

When he hunts at Rhetts Island, he likes to hunt the time around low tide and says the WMA is loaded with marsh rabbits.

“They are a small, quick rabbit, and there are piles of them down there. It’s fun to hunt that place,” said Joby.

To find out what areas are open for rabbit hunting and dates, be sure to check the 2018-19 Georgia Hunting Seasons and Regulations booklet since dates can change from year to year.

When it comes to gun choice, Joby likes to use a .410 shotgun for all of his hunting, saying that anything larger is just too much firepower.

“The sport of rabbit hunting isn’t for the faint of heart. You have to really love it if you’re going to make it as a rabbit hunter. Be sure to share that love with younger hunters and take them as often as you can,” said Joby.

With yet another rabbit season upon us, this is the month to load up the hounds and head to the woods to enjoy a sport unlike no other.

Whether you kill a dozen rabbits, or just listen to the hounds chopping, it’s bound to be a pile of fun, and that’s what the sport is all about.

To reach out to Joby Mattox to talk rabbits, you can find him on Facebook or at http://jobosdeepsouthkennels.weebly.com.

  

 

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1 Comment

  1. Wendell Wiggins on September 5, 2020 at 7:05 pm

    I’m looking to buy a running dog or 2.

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