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"Look in here! Seek! Get 'em! Look here!" My hunting buddy's shouts were measured and rhythmic. He repeated the words over and again, giving emphasis when he stepped in likely looking pieces of cover. When he reached something he thought was especially inviting his tone would change and he would increase the tempo. This meant get here, everybody, right now!

His charges, a pack of no less than nine beagle hounds, seemed to hang on his every word and would rush to him as if they were one giant beagle, all connected. I watched from the side, 20 gauge double over my shoulder, unnoticed by man and dogs, they were in the zone.

Just then a cottontail rabbit squirted out of the cover and all heck broke loose. The rabbit disappeared in three jumps but the beagles exploded in gales of hound music and were on his trail. Unless this rabbit elects to go in a groundhog hole (happens often), swim the Mississippi River, or sprout wings and fly, these beagles will follow him to the ends of the earth.

This moment, when the beagles are clamoring on a hot rabbit track, telling the world they are trailing their quarry, this is what it is all about if you are a dyed in the wool rabbit hunter. Our line of four hunters settles into likely places to watch, standing quietly and soaking up the beagle symphony that was filling up the cold January air.

The text book chase here would be for the rabbit to make a large circle, beagles in hot pursuit, and come back somewhere close to the area from which he sprang from cover. Sometimes this happens, sometimes not, often the sneaky little bunny will dive into a hole in the ground (a' la Buggs Bunny) and the dogs have to look for another rabbit to chase. No problem, you can't win 'em all.

If you are a hunter, especially one that enjoys hunting with dogs, there are few ways to better spend a winter day than with a pack of beagles, busting the brush for rabbits. Deer season is usually over, and following a pack of the little hounds through good rabbit cover can be very entertaining. Add your favorite shotgun and a couple of buddies and this type of hunting is just plain 'ol fun. Something I think many of us in the hunting world are losing sight of these days — if we are not having fun out there what are we doing?

The beagle hound is the center of the universe for this type of hunting. You can hunt rabbits without a dog and you may have some success but it just ain't the same without a few of the animated little hounds. Beagle dogs have existed for thousands of years, according to people who study such things (can you get a degree in Beagleology?) Beagles descended from larger trail type hounds like foxhounds and the St. Hubert hound. No less than Queen Elizabeth I had several beagles of a small variety known as "pocket beagles".

These little hounds were so named because they could fit in a pocket or bag and were often carried this way while larger hounds ran their game on open ground. Once the deer, hare, or other game ran into heavier cover the little beagles were released to continue the chase. Elizabeth reportedly would sometimes entertain at dinner parties by letting some of the little beagles run amok on the table among the plates and dishes. Boy, those royals really know how to party!

Today's modern beagle most likely comes from breeding endeavors started in the 1830's in England and improvements on this by the 1870's in the good old US of A. We had beagles around when I was a kid, and I thought I knew a little something about them. When I am around beagle hound aficionados today I am always amazed at the variety of modern rabbit hounds, mostly in the speed realm.

There are now evidently several speeds of beagle hound for you to choose from. Some want a very slow, methodical hound that runs the track of the rabbit exactly, not varying one inch from the actual track that the rabbit ran. Others want a faster dog that moves the track much faster and cuts corners here and there, making the rabbit pick up the pace and get out of Dodge. There is apparently all manner of degrees of speed in between these two extremes. If you are interested find a beagle guy and question him about all this. (Warning, this may take several hours.)

My advice to you as usual is simple. If you have a chance to join a friend with some good beagle hounds, grab your shotgun, make haste and go. Enjoy the beagle music and hopefully you will collect a few cottontails for dinner. If you have never tried rabbit I think you are in for a surprise. Baked in the oven or fried, or in a stew like the famous Brunswick stew, rabbit is excellent.

I can't help but think of the words in a song, a Tom T. Hall classic "Don't forget the coffee Billy Joe".

"Well they wonder why they ain't no rabbits left this day and time, to tell the truth I guess we ate'm all in '49".

"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at larryocase3@gmail.com.

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