Beagles Roust Rabbits from the Fog and Brush
Updated: Jun 14, 2019
CAZENOVIA, Wisconsin – Four beagles ghosted through the gray haze where fog met mushy snow, their silver bells jingling their whereabouts as they sniffed for crouching cottontails below brush and deadfalls.
Only two days before, this wooded hilltop on Richland County’s northeastern corner resembled the Arctic, with brutal winds barricading fencerows and woodlot edges with snowdrifts stripped from frozen fields’ white blankets. On Sunday, Feb. 3, however, the winds were mild and the temperatures March-like, creating a stubborn fog that kept visibility just beyond a .410 shotgun’s effective range.
The beagles, of course, kept their noses to the snow as their stout legs churned through icy mud and slushy troughs. Their species cares nothing about small-talk over weather. These hounds leave such trifles to their owners, Jonathan Braun and Brad Holtz. These lifelong friends from Marshall had driven over that morning with Braun’s son, Remington, 11, to hunt rabbits with me and my friend Doug Duren, one of Cazenovia’s native sons.
Duren and I often get together to hunt deer, or discuss deer, but we eagerly made plans to hunt rabbits when Braun and Holtz said they’d bring the beagles. Beagles were bred for such duty nearly 200 years ago in Europe, and are renowned for their ability to follow scent trails along the ground.
How renowned? During a 13-year study beginning in the 1950s, researchers John Fuller and John Paul Scott compared the beagle’s scenting abilities with other breeds by putting a mouse in a 1-acre field, and timing how long it took dogs to find it. Beagles found the mouse in less than a minute, fox terriers took 15 minutes, and Scottish terriers never found it.
Perhaps coincidentally, it took the Braun-Holtz beagles about a minute to roust our first rabbit after we crossed a field to the nearest woods from our trucks. Braun’s beagle, a 2-year-old male named Abel, isn’t much of a singer or trailer, but its small stature helps it poke through the tight confines of deadfalls and brush piles to find rabbits other dogs can’t reach.
Even as the other beagles lost interest in a brush pile at the woods’ edge, Braun kept jumping on fallen branches and encouraging Abel to keep searching. “There’s one in here,” he assured us while studying Abel’s tail, which had lost its relaxed upward curve. The beagle’s tail twitched rigidly at attention, much like a bird dog’s tail when it’s on point.
Just as Braun stepped away from the pile to join our departing group, I saw a cottontail make its break. “There it goes!” I shouted while spinning around, cocking my .22/410’s hammer, and firing a shotgun load a foot behind the bunny. Our friend Tyson Hall covered for me, and ended the rabbit’s run a yard later with one 12-gauge blast.
Holtz got our second rabbit minutes later after two of his beagles, Mia, age 7, and Pride, 2, bayed loudly while unraveling a fresh track through a thicket of prickly ash and multiflora rose. Meanwhile, another rabbit streaked behind me without offering a shot, and then Pride and Mia lost the scent after chasing yet another bunny across a wooded ravine.
We eventually followed the dogs in that direction after rounding up Abel and Holtz’s third beagle, Loretta, age 4. Braun said the dogs were struggling to keep up with fleeing bunnies, which didn’t sink as far into the melting snow as the heavier, more squatty beagles. As a result, the rabbits had more time than usual to scoot down holes rather than make their famous circuitous runs that swing them past waiting guns.
And so we kept following the beagles as best we could through dense thickets and prickly patches of thorny vines, sometimes straining to hear their collar bells. Braun and Holtz never lost track of them, however, pausing occasionally to verify their locations with GPS-enabled monitors. By the time we returned to our trucks in early afternoon with four rabbits, the dogs’ GPS units indicated they averaged about 8 miles each, with Abel covering 7 miles and Pride tallying 9 miles. Braun said the GPS credited him with 4.5 miles.
Hall then headed home while the rest of us drove southward two miles to hunt the eastern end of Duren’s property. First, though, Hall made a quick push through some brush on his own 40-acre parcel near Duren’s farm, where he shot two more rabbits.
About the same time, Braun and Holtz turned their beagles loose to scour Duren’s woods. Braun said this winter marks the second year the four beagles have hunted together, and their owners are noticing better teamwork and complementary skills. Abel and Loretta are good “brush-pile dogs,” meaning they’ll quietly and patiently root rabbits out of deadfalls and other woody piles, while letting Mia and Pride alert them with high-pitched barks and prolonged baying when finding fresh rabbit tracks.
“A good pack of beagles learns how to hunt together,” Braun said. “They all have different strengths. Mia and Pride can pick up colder scent trails and work them. Once they get going, you’ll see Abel and Loretta pick it up as they get going. The more shared work you give beagles, the better they hunt together.”
Braun bagged the day’s final bunny after the beagles first checked a brush pile below a pond, and then worked the brushy downhill edges of its containment dam.
We then started walking uphill to our trucks. The beagles had likely enjoyed drier days afield in better snow with fresher tracks, but they don’t concern themselves with bygone comparisons. They just keep hunting. Once they reached our trucks, Braun and Holtz lifted them into their kennels.
Given that the beagles’ stout, muscular legs easily doubled our mileage the previous five hours, we assumed they snoozed all the way home to Marshall.
Patrick Durkin photos:
-- Jonathan Braun, center, his son Remington, left, and Brad Holtz prepare to lead their beagles afield for a day of rabbit hunting in Richland County.
-- Jon Braun, right, talks to his son Remington, age 11, while hunting rabbits Feb. 3 near Cazenovia.
-- Remington Braun, left, and Tyson Hall, Brad Holtz, Doug Duren and Jonathan Braun line up for a photo with the group’s four beagles and some rabbits they bagged in Richland County.
Patrick Durkin, @patrickdurkinoutdoors, is a free-lance writer who covers outdoors recreation in Wisconsin. Write to him at 721 Wesley St., Waupaca, WI 54981; or by e-mail at patrickdurkin56@gmailcom.<