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Hunting with rabbit-tracking dogs

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By Shelton Young

Last week, Ed Heckle called to ask if I'd like to go rabbit hunting on his "two mules farm." Why "two mules?" I have no idea! To my knowledge, Ed neither currently owns nor has ever owned two mules!
And, Ed no longer has beagles and neither do I. But, we have a mutual friend who does.
So, on a pleasant morning, which was so much unlike a "typical" January day, we hooked up with Lonnie Moore and his four bunny busting beagles.
Ed and Lonnie "talk" beagle! Jump dogs, chase dogs and dogs described as "cold trailers" or those whose descriptors can't be repeated in a family oriented publication.
Physical attributes such as "self-jawed", and crossbreeding, i.e. a beagle and Jack Russell, to get specific traits was interesting.
As Ed and Lonnie discussed the dogs' physical abilities I couldn't help but think about the condition of the hunters!
First off, Lonnie spent the best part of a year in/out of the hospital with several surgeries. Ed is just recovering from a successful battle with throat cancer and all I had was a routine quadruple by-pass surgery.
For the sake of convenience we decided to each watch the other two, "just in case."
The upside to the medical issues was that neither of us set too fast a pace for the other.
Unlike some other groups I hunt with, this time when somebody said, "Come on, old man," we weren't sure which of us it was!
And, the rabbit gods smiled on us. Right after we put the dogs down they, or Lonnie, jumped a rabbit. The opening squall was excited, then the dogs gave voice and started a run. A dog mans melody echoed off the knobs and suddenly we were all 18 again. Unfortunately, the rabbit gave the dogs the slip on this run. But, a hundred or so yards down the draw and they were off again.
This time the rabbit's circular run was intercepted by Ed. A shot from his 20 gauge side by side put the rabbit in his game bag.
As Lonnie busted bushes, O.K., even though he has dogs Lonnie spends as much time in the bushes as they do, another rabbit broke for a run.
Once we determined the direction the dogs were running we spaced out along a projected route. Again, the rabbit came by Ed and his double barked. One more for the skillet.
Later, Lonnie busted through an old pond bed and got off a quick shot at a departing streak! When it came back around I managed a couple of shots, which took our No. 3 for the day.
Since it was getting "old man late and miles" we mutually agreed to call it a day.
Remember what I said about our "slow pace" of hunting?
Well, on the way back to the truck the dogs jumped one more and took off on another run. Since we were in a wood lot, where Ed's son-in-law was logging firewood, we had some ready-made seats.
As we sat there solving all the world's problems I spied the rabbit nonchalantly hopping up the trail toward us.
My shot turned the rabbit and shortly thereafter Lonnie's 12-gauge broke the silence and one more was added to the bag.
For the day, nine runs resulted in four rabbits in the bag. Not great, not bad, but all fun!

The wife once said that I sometimes take it for granted that everyone is familiar with the terms I use and the habits of game/fish.
So, in that vein I'll explain how a rabbit runs. Usually, when a rabbit is jumped and is running from the dogs they'll run in a big circle. This trait allows hunters to take positions along a projected travel route and shoot the rabbit as it bounds by.
So far everything should be obvious. The dogs are raising cane so the rabbit knows where they are. Knowing the dog's location allows the rabbit to move just fast enough to "stay out of reach!"
But why the circular route? I've also wondered about this, so I did some research. Nothing I could find on the Internet provided an adequate explanation so I knew I was on my own!
Then it hit me! And it was so simple it was almost an insult to my intelligence, such as it is!
This hunt with Ed and Lonnie gave me the opportunity to prove my theory. When a rabbit was jumped I noted which way it ran, left or right.
No, it wasn't to determine if the rabbit was a Democrat or Republican!
What I discovered, from the rabbits we shot, was that those that ran to the left had legs on the left side of their body that were just a tad shorter than those on the right. Just the reverse for the ones running to the right. As stated: so simple!
Just so you don't think I'm crazy, please understand that the difference in leg length is so slight as to be unnoticeable to the eye. You have to actually measure the legs, a feat impossible to accomplish on a wild, live rabbit!
Now you know. But, if you feel it necessary to do your own measurements to either prove, or disprove what I've said, please let me know what you find. Guarantee you'll be surprised!

The stories of the "dropped" dogs both saddened and infuriated me. I don't understand how anyone can be that cruel to animals. Also worried about how they treat people!
So how can a hunter love animals? Don't know how to explain it but all the hunters I know are also animal lovers.
And, unless you are, and always have been, a pure vegetarian, there is no discussion.

The Mid-KY Bass Anglers will hold a meeting on Sunday, Feb. 12, to discuss and schedule our 2012 season.
The meeting will be at the Lebanon Police Department at 6 p.m. I'll try to get Lebanon City Hall if anyone is a little nervous being around the police!
Meeting is open to anyone wishing to fish a tour where having fun and friends is at, or more, important than winning big money. Or, if you just want to check us out, come on out!
Guess that's it for now. Get out, enjoy what Mother Nature has to offer, stay safe and I'll see ya next week!