Dog Gone Hunt by Gary Benton
We were all sitting on the front porch of my bother Larry’s home one evening talking about rabbit dogs. Now, those of us who live in the border states of the South have a great addiction to hunting rabbits and it rates right up there with a honeymoon, or at least the excitement does. And, unlike a marriage, the excitement of a rabbit hunt never declines.
I guess one of the reasons hunting rabbits is so popular is the cost of the sport is low, the action is fast, and rabbits make great eating. About all a person needs to hunt a rabbit is a shotgun and maybe a beagle, though I’ve known a few folks that use a twenty-two-caliber rifle and no dog at all. Me, I’ve done both, but I prefer a good rabbit dog and a twelve-gage shotgun with small shot in the load. At any rate, Larry was considering a new rabbit dog since his old one was about a thousand years old in dog years and on her last legs.
“I’m tellin’ ya, this dawg can run circles around Lady and y’all know she’s the best rabbit dog in the state.” Larry bragged about his old beagle as he picked up his cup of coffee and raised it to take a sip.
Now, Larry’s coffee could float a horseshoe, so you have a pretty good idea what my boy’s stomach lining is like. But, he always masked the taste with lots of cream (never milk) and about a half of a pound of sugar.
“Larry, Lady is good, but she don’t compare to Butch. Uncle Ben interrupted quickly as he pulled out his old briar pipe and started stuffing the bowl with his tobacco. Now, that Butch is a real winner when it comes to huntin’ rabbits and you know it too.” Butch belonged, as you might guess, to Uncle Ben.
“Butch is good, but Lady has a better nose. ‘Sides, this new dog is better than both our old dogs combined.” Larry said as he leaned back in his rocking chair and pushed his hat back to the rear of his head.
Suddenly, I got the idea to make our next rabbit hunt a real test for the dogs, so I said, “Look, Larry, why don’t you bring your new dog and Lady and Uncle Ben can bring Butch next weekend, so we can see which the best is?”
The following Saturday morning dawned cold with the threat of snow in the air as we got out of our trucks and made our way to where Larry was standing by his tailgate. In the back of his truck was a small beagle, I’d say less than a year old, and while it looked intelligent, there was something about it I didn’t like.
“What’s his name?” Bubba asked as he reached over the side of the truck and ran his hand slowly down the dogs back.
“He ain’t got one yet.” Larry replied as he zipped his coat up against a light but cold wind.
“Wait a minute, I thought this was one of them pet-ee-grees? If he’s got papers, then he’s got a name.” Ben spoke as he poured the remainder of his luke warm coffee from his thermos cup into the dirt by his feet.
“I didn’t say he was registered nor had any papers.” Larry replied and grinned.
“How much did you pay for this pup?” Leroy asked as he neared the tailgate and looked at the short and young dog in the back.
“Only a hundred dollars and he’s worth every cent too! I saw him run the other day when I bought ‘em.” Larry replied and I noticed he’d suddenly turned defensive over the whole conversation.
“Larry, did you get this dog from old man Cisco?” I asked, because while Cisco had some good dogs, at times he’d make a little less profit on a bad dog. And, I knew he had a fresh litter of beagles from the local newspaper ads. And, good rabbit dogs were going for more than a hundred dollars at the time.
“Nope, I got it from his son.” Larry grinned and looked at me like he’d just won the sweepstakes.
“Same breed of dog, ‘cause all them Cisco’s are the same animal. It doesn’t matter if you deal with the old man, the son, the wife or the daughter, I don’t trust them or their dogs. They are only out to make a quick buck.” Ben suddenly said as he slowly shook his head.
“Well, we can stand here in the cold and argue the Cisco’s and their dogs all day or we can hunt rabbits. Now,” I spoke as I picked up my shotgun, chambered a round, and slipped the safety on, “I came to hunt.”
The snow suddenly started falling slowly and the flakes were huge as we unloaded the dogs, hunting vests were adjusted, and caps were pulled down low against the wind. Soon we were at the barbed wire fence that circled Uncle Ben’s farmland.
I handed my shotgun to Ben and pulled the wire apart as I quickly squeezed through and stood on the other side. I then took Ben’s gun as he copied me and was soon standing beside me. I glance over at Larry as he crossed the fence and out of the blue saw a flash of light brown on the ground; I noticed it was his new beagle that spurted out after a rabbit.
“By golly, there he goes! I told y’all he was a good ‘un! Did you see him?” Larry screamed like he was watching a million dollar horse race instead of a young beagle pup after a rabbit, but a good rabbit hunt gets in a fellers blood like that and excitement is all a part of the game.
“Well, we’ll just stand here boys and see if that dog is as good as he looks. If he’s a good ‘un, he’ll circle that rabbit back around to us.” Leroy commented in his slow drawl as he grinned.
We could hear the beagles long drawn out howl as he chased that rabbit and he sounded good, he sounded nice and clear. The other two dogs had picked up the chase as well, but they were a little behind Larry’s new dog and you could hear them as they tried to catch up.
“Ya know, boys, there ain’t nothin’ like listenin’ to a beagle on a rabbits trail to make a man feel alive!” Uncle Ben spoke as he looked at each of us with a big grin.
“Oh, I think fried rabbit with mashed taters and white pepper gravy is better.” Bubba said and I knew he was thinking about his belly again. See, Bubba was a big boy and if you took him out to eat, well, you had to take him to one of those all you can eat places or get a large loan.
“Well, son,” I spoke with a grin as I raised my gun, “here they come. I’ll take the first shot and if I miss Uncle Ben can have the next shot.”
Bubba leaned over and spoke just barely above a whisper. “Don’t miss Gary, I’m countin’ on fried rabbit fer dinner.”
“Bubba, ya can’t count your rabbit until it’s in the fryin’ pan.” Larry said with a loud laugh. My brother was excited because his new dog was the center of attention.
“He’s bringin’ that rabbit back on the right side and they’ll break out of those pines over there.” Leroy said as he turned and pointed to a bunch of pines about fifteen feet away and to our right.
Suddenly, the rabbit slipped from the pines and ran across the newly fallen snow right in front of me. I quickly sighted a bit in front of him, squeezed the trigger, and the sound of my shotgun broke the cold morning air. I watched in fascination as the rabbit flipped end over end and landed dead in the snow and Larry’s dog broke abruptly to the left the kept running like the devil was on his backside.
Almost as quickly all of us broke out laughing, because Larry’s dog was as gun shy as all get out. The other two dogs, Butch and Lady were soon standing over the downed rabbit and both had a look of triumphed on their faces. Larry’s dog was nowhere to be seen and as near as I could tell he must have been half the way to Arkansas by then.
“I got a new name fer your dog Larry, let’s call ‘em Killer!” Bubba yelled out suddenly and gave a loud laugh.
“You can call ‘em Tracker, but that’s as far as you can go!” Leroy added quickly and then snorted.
“Larry, you need to stop at the store on the way home for some papers for your dog, ‘cause I think he was pretty scared and that’ll keep your floor clean.” Uncle Ben spoke and shook his head.
The rest of the guys all left to hunt, but I helped my brother look for his dog. We must have spent three hours calling that dog and finally found him shaking up under a huge cedar tree. The poor little fellow was scared to death and we both knew he’d never make a rabbit dog; he was scared of loud noises.
Larry handed me his shotgun, bent down and picked up the beagle and said, “Well, I still like ‘em, but I’ll take him back to the Cisco’s.”
“I’m sorry Larry, I know you had high hopes for this dog, but he’ll never be a rabbit dog.”
As we walked to his truck Larry was very quiet for many long minutes and I knew he was very disappointed over his trip, but then he suddenly said, “I hear old man Cisco has a good duck dog. Do you think he’d let me trade this one in for a retriever and pay the difference?”
“For some reason I think he will, Larry. I honestly do.” I replied but thought, but it’s most likely scared of the water with your luck.