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Rules and Ramblings with Ken Murray

What's a Good Rabbit Dog worth?

What makes a good rabbit dog? Have you ever gave a lot of thought to that question? I suspect there are many different opinions on just what makes a good rabbit dog. If you ask the general population you might get an answer like; "a dog that is good at catching rabbits." If you ask a sample of rank and file outdoorsmen, I expect you might hear answers like "a dog that can finds a lot of rabbits and chases them back to you." Of course these are naive answers and why shouldn't they be, the general population knows as much about what a rabbit dog should do as most of us know about rocket science. Heck, even the average outdoorsmen knows very little about our niche sport. That's what it is you know, a niche sport. Quite amazing that it has survived so long.

Well, for this article, I'll be working on the assumption that we all agree a good rabbit dog is first and foremost a beagle. A beagle quite capable of searching and finding game, where game exist. I've run dogs with knowledgeable hounds men from all over the county (east of the Mississippi) and talked to hundreds more and I think we all agree, a good dog should recognize and search cover in an earnest attempt to locate game. Next the dog must pursue the rabbit enough to make him hop so we the hunter can see him to get a shot. Unfortunately, that's where a lot of the agreements end and trouble starts.

What I'd like to do is share some of my thoughts and experiences. I have my ideas of what makes a good rabbit dog, you have your own ideas. I hope you'll read this with an open mind for I've discovered, what is a good dog to one man, is junk to another. There can be good reason for this situation, for example, in the north its not uncommon to hunt snow shoe hair in deep snow. A large beagle of 15,16, or even 17 inches may be best suited for this. At the same time, it's against the law in South Carolina to pursue Mr. Cottontail with a hound larger than 15". So with that in mind, I'll discuss a few of the qualities I believe make a good rabbit dog.

What quality do I start with, since we all agree search is a key characteristic of a good rabbit dog, I'll jump right in to the variable I believe may be responsible for more controversy in this sport than any other.speed. Ever wonder why there are so many different "speeds" of dogs out there. Ever wonder why one group of beagle clubs have a reputation for running speed X and clubs in another state groups speed Y? Maybe it isn't the speed at all, that's different. Maybe it's other variables. In fact, I suspect more often than not, what most people call speed is not speed at all. It a compilation of other more important variables that I elect to discuss in another paragraph or even another article. With that said, the speed of the pursuit really needs to match the nature and speed of the quarry. Remember one of the keys we agree on is the rabbit has to be pursued enough to make him hop. If the rabbit doesn't hop along, we have almost zero chance of shooting him. You can't shoot what you can't see. No hop-no see-no shot-no fried rabbit! So finally, my view on speed. If the dog pursues at a very slow speed, say a turtles pace (well call this speed 1,) the rabbit would only need to hop a short distance 30-40 feet and could sit quietly for hours before needing to move again. Conversely, if the dog had the ability to give chase at a race horses pace (lets call this speed 10,) there would be no shot because the rabbit would be caught in seconds of the jump. Here again, we can all agree on this as no rabbit hunter or please runner desires either one of these situations for very long. The problem arises when we get around speeds 3,4,5,6,and 7. I've seen dogs in the 3-4 range look awesome going across an open field or down a plowed row. Never bobbling as they continue on the rabbit track while Mr. cottontail stays just ahead and out of sight. This makes for an easy kill for the hunter as the pray us usually loping along stopping ever so many jumps to listen for the bay of the hounds as it closes in. The hunter that sings the praises of this pack of hounds he just so easily killed the rabbit in front of may have a different tune when those same dogs run old bunny into a 2 acre briar patch. He's able to run around and around in these briars as the dogs give steady chase. All the while the hunter has no chance at a shot. On the opposite side, I've watched as a pack of 6-7 hounds bust through a thicket making the rabbit look like a John Smoltz split finger fast ball juking and diving through the briar tunnels. This same pack of hounds look a lot like a jar of marbles dropped on the concrete, when they hit an open area. No idea when the rabbit changed course. You might think some where in the middle is what we need. That's a reasonable conclusion to reach. The problem I see is, this is still a compromise. Why shouldn't we strive to produce, in fact demand, our hound be able to fill all of these gaps! That is, use speed 3 when necessary and use speed 7 when possible. Hey, wait a minute, that sounds a ton like the AKC field trial judging standard. I don't have it in front of me as I am typing this on my lap top at work and quite honestly haven't looked over my rule book in quite some time. I believe I remember it saying something like "a hound should purse as fast as conditions allow and as slow as conditions demand." I may not have that worded just right but you get the idea.

The next time you won't to say so and so has slow dogs or so and so has fast dogs, take a minute to reflect. Are you making a true statement. Remember when you first got interested in beagling, you got confused at what you heard easily. Don't start new beaglers off thinking fast vs. slow. We all need to think gears vs no gears, adaptable vs not adaptable. Once we get the hunters and field trialers in our Niche to thinking and expecting higher standards, we'll start producing hounds to meet these requirements.

Well, I don't know that I was able to say much in this article. Maybe next time I can dive into some to the other hound qualities, maybe even check work or competitive spirit. Shucks, maybe I should just break out the judging standard and go through it step by step. Let me know what you think.

 
 

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