A RABBIT HUNT IN PENNSYLVANIA
By RALPH E. BRYNER
NOW that the dogs are housed up in their kennels, the guns greased and put away in their cases, and another hunting season has passed into history, let us draw our chairs closer to those roaring logs — fill our pipes and spin a few yarns to pass away the long wintry hours.
We'll talk about small game this time, because we have had but little experience with anything larger than coon, for the reason that where we now reside the larger game is hard to find — and vacations during hunting seasons few and far between.
Let's see, what shall we have first? The morning we made that record on squirrels; the six pheasants we got in a row (after two days of perfectly rotten luck), or how about the time we stopped those thirty-nine cottontails?
Guess we had best talk about the latter, since that happened several years ago and in another state, where you fellows must first go to get your evidence to the contrary before throwing things at the meek and lowly writer. So, put on another log, boys, and let's go:
Back in Pennsylvania in the year of 1907, a party of two men and one boy — and two dogs, left the little town of Eighty-four before the chickens had even thought about having breakfast. King Jones, Dad and myself made up the part. Jones had a bird dog, broken for rabbits, and I had a little beagle which was hard to beat on a trail.
Proceeding west of town for several miles we left the road and headed for a section of country made up exclusively of old abandoned farms and brier thickets, where Jones maintained rabbits were so thick one could not walk without stepping on them. We soon found that he hadn't exaggerated greatly.
The pointer found the first one, which was promptly jumped and shot by Jones and Dad. Now, Mr. Reader, let me state right here, if you please, that the large number of cotton-tails aforesaid were not all bagged by yours truly. In fact, only a small percentage of them fell to my old sawed-off twelve. You see, I was several years young then, and hadn't won any medals in the field or at the traps — but to proceed:
Jones got two more and Dad one before my chance came. Venus, my little beagle, started one from under an old shed, and seeing it was going to circle, I waited at the shed and got ready. Venus was faster on a warm trail than most beagles and was bringing bunny home at a pretty good clip. He rounded a bend in an old cow path, going about thirty per when I let him have it, and he skidded like a flier on a slushy street. Tried to crawl in a clump of briers but stopped when the left barrel spoke. Venus came up with a rush and gave him a shake or two, then ran to me for the words of praise she knew was coming.
Good little dog. I think of her often when on a trip in the fields, and imagine I can still hear her voice in pursuit of a bunny.
Dad and Jones had gone on through a couple of old fields. I decided to follow them, keeping slightly to the left. Heard them fire several times so figured they were at least seeing plenty of game. Jones' bird dog would point a rabbit and jump him when told, but would only run by sight a short distance and return to look for more. One of these got away without being hit and my dog soon led him a merry chase until he holed up. Having been jumped by one dog and running head on into another he must have reached the conclusion that this was a dog-gone dangerous time for a rabbit to be outside, and that he had better quit while the quitting was good.
I reached the top of a low ridge and crawled through a broken down fence into the woods. Stood leaning there against a tree for a few minutes, watching the dog while she tried to figure out a cold trail. She was getting close to a small uprooted tree which was lying probably fifteen paces from the fence. The branches of this tree was covered with dry leaves, making an ideal place for a cotton tail to hide for the day, so when Venus began to show signs of increasing interest in this clump of leaves I got in a position to let drive at Brier Rabbit should he be there. Having satisfied herself that one was under the fallen tree, Venus jumped into it and barked once. A rabbit was there, sure enough, in fact, I saw five — or it may have been six, all leave that tree at practically the same time, all going in different directions and going strong. I got one of them, but it was funny to see that beagle. For several seconds she couldn’t make up her mind which one to go after first. Just jumped around like mad and barked. But she soon got over that and lined out after one, which was shot a couple of minutes later by Dad. Upon looking through the fallen tree, I found that it had apparently housed a score of rabbits at one time or another. Seemed to be literally alive with little coves which a bunny builds to sit in during the day.
I now had two, so took my knife and cut a short stick from a green sapling to string them on. By this time Dad and Jones were out of sight so I picked up my rabbits and started on in the direction they had taken. After walking a few minutes I heard a shot and soon was in sight of them again. They were both standing near an old house while the dog trailed around and flushed a rabbit within ten feet of them. Both fired and down came bunny.
It was now about eleven o'clock, so I went down to them and we decided it was time to eat our lunch. While satisfying our appetites I told them about the family of rabbits my dog had jumped from under the tree. Jones asked why I had not gotten more of them, and I told him that perhaps it was because I was more excited than my dog.
We rested for a half hour or so and counted up our kill. I forget the exact number at that time but I know it was well over twenty, with Jones in the lead.
We were to work east, back in the direction of the road during the afternoon, so we started, Jones and Dad (Dad hunted with Jones most of the time, or near him) following some more grown up fields and I struck out along the fence, or the remains of one, which ran from the deserted house we had left to another neck of the woods. Had gone a few hundred yards when I found a rabbit sitting in a bunch of short briers about as large as your hat. This was near a thicket and I was afraid he'd get away if I jumped him—'I was a poor shot anyway at that time, so I blew its head off at a distance of about six feet, which made my third. By this you'll observe that I wasn't taking any chances.
Going on a short distance I stepped square on one particular bunny that must have been hard up for a home. Possibly the rent was too high in his neighborhood. Anyway, he was in a little hollowed-out place in the earth, barely covered with grass, but when my shoe connected with him he shot out of there like a rocket, striking my little dog broadside and bowling her over like a ten pin. She was up and-after him in a second, but he never came back there. May be going yet for all I know. A short time later I got another one, my fourth, as it was coming straight towards me.
Along about two o'clock, after we had met and rested a while at the main road, a farmer from nearby came over and after talking a while and admiring our numerous cotton tails, invited us over to his place, where he said the rabbits were eating up his crops and ruining young trees. On arriving we were taken to a small meadow below his barn and therethe fun commenced. The dogs had rabbits going everywhere. Some were shot but most of them made direct for a hole when routed.
The farmer himself jumped one, and, whether accidentally or not I can't say, his gun went off when the rabbit was a scant ten feet from him. The charge of shot hit the ground directly behind bunny and tore up a couple square feet of earth, scattering it in all directions. Momentarily the rabbit was off its feet but when it got going again it was really going some! In fact, I only saw one before or since that could compare with it in speed, but that's another story.
I failed to increase my number here but Jones got three and Dad one before we started for home. They gave the farmer (whose name I have forgotten) several rabbits, and before we left he gave us some fine big apples, which certainly went well after our all-day trip.
We had thirty-four rabbits when we arrived in town, having gotten thirty-nine all told. This was one of the most enjoyable hunting trips I have ever taken — one which was started and finished all the same day. Usually, one must spend several days or a week to have the fun we had.
Hunter-Trader-Trapper. October: 1921,
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