Big game seasons are closed. Cold and snow cover has pushed most hunters indoors. However, for the most hardy hunters, there remains an option—small game. The most abundant (and delicious) small game animal in many areas is the cottontail rabbit. Still hunting with a .22 or jump shooting rabbits can be effective, but for hunters seeking the most shot opportunities as well as a thrilling hunting experience, beagling bunnies can’t be beat.
Why Rabbit Hunt with Beagles?
Hunting rabbits with beagles is exciting, fast paced, and the most effective way to put some rabbits in the pot. Shot opportunities are abundant, making this type of hunt perfect for introducing new hunters to the sport. The hunter/dog partnership makes this the most rewarding type of rabbit hunt. Hunters who have never experienced a rabbit hunt with beagles may be surprised at how fast their heart starts racing as the dogs close on their position.
Move through cover that you believe holds rabbits. Eventually the dog(s) will flush a rabbit and start barking. Rabbits typically run a circuitous route, ending up about where they started. Listen closely as the dogs start barking and mentally mark the spot. The flush point is a good place to stand as the dogs follow the rabbit. As the chase continues, listen and note the path the rabbit, and the following beagles, take. Try to find a spot along this route with decent visibility to stand and wait for the dogs to bring the rabbit around. The rabbit will usually be well ahead of the dogs. Look in front of the barking, not at it.
The best gun for this type of hunting is a shotgun you can shoot accurately. Rabbits darting in and out of brush are tough targets. If you hit them, however, they don’t require much killing.
A fast pointing 20 gauge loaded with 7/8 ounce of 6 or 7 ½ shot is about right. Hunters shooting 12 gauges should use light target or dove loads, again with 6 or 7 ½ shot. Action type is a personal preference, but semi-autos, pumps, and double barrels offer the quickest follow-up shots.
Most rabbits are taken inside 30 yards, making an improved cylinder the best choke choice. Opportunities typically last only a few seconds so don’t dawdle. Identify your target, raise your gun, and shoot right at ‘em!
Where to Buy a Beagle
Once you have experienced the thrill of hunting rabbits with beagles, you may want to purchase one of your own. If you are buying a finished, or pre-trained, dog, ask the breeder to see it work before the purchase.
Hunters looking for a puppy should make sure the dog comes from hunting stock. Seeing the pup’s parents in action should let you know the level of hunting desire your puppy will exhibit.
Training Your Beagle
Beagle puppies should be introduced to rabbits as soon as possible. Some trainers release rabbits in a large (2-3 acre) enclosure to expose their pups. If this is not possible, a scent drag made from a harvested rabbit’s skin will suffice.
Running your puppy with more experienced beagles will help them learn what is expected and shorten the learning curve exponentially. The more time you put into training your beagle, the better he will perform in the field.
Rabbit meat has gotten a bad culinary rap in the U.S., partly due the unfair label as “poor people food.” In Europe, rabbits are considered gourmet cuisine.
Hank Shaw is the master of cooking wild game. His rabbit recipes will have you licking your chops and heading to the market for ingredients.
If you are looking for a way to extend your hunting season, put some meat on the table, and have a really good time, beagling bunnies is for you. Give it a try, but be careful. This sport is addicting.