Jan/Feb 2021REBEL Text by David Griffith, Photo by Michael Foster
Known to run circles around the rabbits and birds in the field, this quick little beagle was no ordinary hunting dog.
I have had a lot of dogs. Some were better than others, but one in particular stands out in my memory — Rebel. He was a beagle and black-and-tan mix, unique in his hunting method and remarkable ability to make rabbit hunting during my youth very successful.
I guess this story began late one summer, before school started, when a hunting buddy gave me the pup. It was obvious that, as a hunting dog, he would not be ready by the time the season came in. That meant that I would have to keep and feed him for more than a year before I could tell if he might be any good. I didn’t know if he would be more like a beagle or more like a black and tan. At the time I did not have a dog, so I kept him. By spring, Rebel was pretty well grown, and had developed into a typical hunting dog, as far as his character was concerned.
By that I mean he was not really a people dog such as a collie or cocker spaniel. He mostly was just there at mealtime; otherwise, he slept a lot.
As the days got warmer, he started hunting over at a place we called the apple tree terrace, a large field on a hill above our pond. At one time there had been an apple orchard there, but now there was only one apple tree left in the field, and it was situated near the middle of the field.
We used that field for a variety of things. It had been planted in oats, corn, watermelons, peas and hay. This particular year it lay fallow. Because it was clear land, killdeer were nesting there. They nest on open ground, and when their nest is threatened they flop around pretending to be injured to draw the threat away from the nesting site. Then they fly in circles above the field calling out the sound that gave them their name. Rebel would chase those circling birds for hours until it got too hot, then he’d come home and rest in the shade. He was waiting for the cooler part of the late afternoon. That would be his time to chase rabbits, and we would hear him barking around the old hog pen until dark. This routine went on all summer.
By late November, Rebel was fully grown. A true blend of his beagle and black and tan heritage, he probably weighed 25 pounds which is smaller than hounds bred for coon hunting. His coat was slick and healthy, just black and tan, no beagle white.
Rabbit season came in on Thanksgiving Day, but for some reason we didn’t get to go hunting that day. Friday afternoon, I fed and milked the cows, slopped the hogs and took care of the chickens as fast as I could. It was a little after 5:00 p.m. by the time I finished. Now I was ready to take Rebel out for his first real hunt.
There was a large area, about three hundred acres I think, that I planned to hunt. It had been farmed in cotton until it was worn out. Very little grew on it except for the kind of tumbleweeds that break off and climb up inside your pants leg. There was lots of dog fennel, other weeds and dewberry thickets.
You need clear open spaces to hunt rabbits and watch your dog work. Rebel had trained himself all summer. He loved to run regardless of what he was after, killdeers or rabbits. As soon as we hit the fields, he started his hunt. Rebel ran in a large circle, and at about the same part of the circle he would come in a bit toward the center making his loop smaller. Now, I had never seen a dog do anything like this before, and I wondered what it was all about. Instead of just hitting a scent and following it, he would just continue his shortened circle until he homed in on the dewberry clump where the rabbit was hiding. He’d jump the rabbit, and I would be waiting. Rebel was fast, and as soon as we bagged one rabbit, he was off to a new circle. He was so fast I could hardly get to one rabbit before he was off and running again. We got six rabbits really quick, but it was getting dark. We started back through the woods along the creek when Rebel chased a rabbit down the hill right to me. Bang. We had number seven.
It was good n’ dark when I got to the house, and I had to clean the rabbits outside by the porch light. I was already thinking about the next hunt.
This is freelance writer David Griffith's first feature for South Carolina Wildlife.