When I was young and living on High Street in Chester we always had two or three beagles for rabbit hunting. My father had some of the best beagles in the area.
He was particular about dogs the he would own. He would not tolerate a dog that chased deer. We were always training our dogs and as a result we had great dogs. My father named all female dogs Heidi and male dogs Mickey.
We hunted rabbits all winter in Mount Holly and Shrewsbury. Sometimes we hunted off the Boynton Road near Weston Island.
A tip my father taught me that few would know today. He would take his bare hand and lightly press down on the snow. If the snow stuck to his hand it was the best conditions for the dogs to pick up the rabbit’s scent.
These conditions usually occur around 20 degrees in fresh powder. A good dog could run a rabbit even if the snow didn’t stick to his hand, but if it did you knew you were going to have a good day.
Vermont has two species of rabbits, Cottontails ‘Coonies’ and Snowshoe or ‘Varying Hare.’ We didn’t hunt Coonies. After being chased by the dog only a short distance a Coonie will ‘hole-up’ in a burrow or stonewall.
We always hunted Snowshoes. They are larger and run in very large circles when chased and never hole-up. They have very large feet that act like snowshoes enabling them to run effortlessly in deep snow.
In summer months Snowshoe rabbits turn brown and in the winter they turn white. Because they change color with the seasons they are called ‘Varying Hare.’
A silly little anecdote, I was about six years old and riding with my father in Shrewsbury when we saw a dead rabbit in the road. My father told me about a man he once knew that saw a dead rabbit in the road. The man stopped, got out of his car and poured something on the dead rabbit. The rabbit immediately got up and ran away. “What did he pour on the rabbit?” I asked my father. He replied “Hare remover.”
Anyway, back to Snowshoes running in large circles. We would situate ourselves in the proximity of the rabbit’s last circle and wait. You would hear the beagle barking way off in the distance but soon the barking became louder as the dog came closer. The excitement would start to build. Keep a sharp eye. A white rabbit on white snow is not that easy to spot.
If the snow is deep the rabbit will be running but not full speed. The dog has to buck through the deep snow, slowing him down so the rabbit doesn’t need to run fast. But if there’s a crust to support the dog, the dog can run much faster. Under these conditions the rabbit will be running full speed while dodging in and out of trees and brush.
Now the dog is within 100 yards or so. Suddenly you get a glimpse of the rabbit. You raise the shotgun to your shoulder hoping to see him again. And there he is 40 feet away running full bore through the thick balsam.
You might only get one shot so make it count. Boom, the rabbit stops in his tracks. You don’t move or make any noise. The dog soon comes into sight and finds the dead rabbit. Now you make a big deal of it for the dog.
“Good girl Heidi. Get the bunny! Get the bunny!”
Pat her on the head as you pick up the rabbit. Soon the dog is hunting for another rabbit.
My mother made the best rabbit pie. Top and bottom crust with potatoes, peas, carrots, onions, seasoning and gravy.
The photo with this article I took in March of 1964. It’s my father with his 12-gauge pump shotgun and his 1962 Scout he bought at Brownies Garage. The dog was my first dog Jill. She was a mutt and house pet. God I loved that dog.
Dog owners today who love their dogs make them part of the family. The bond a man and his working dog have is a true partnership. You become a team.
The next meeting of the Chester Historical Society is Thursday, March 23, upstairs at Chester Town Hall at 7p.m. As always there will be a monthly slideshow of old Chester photos. All are invited.
This week’s old saying is from my mother as she reached across the dinner table for something. “Excuse my border house reach.”