What a quartet!
Boots, Max, Rambler and Sammi in hot pursuit of a cottontail rabbit, who seemed to be enjoying the race as much as the dogs and doing its best to outsmart the pursuing beagles. “Arooo, arooo, yip, yip, yip, arp, arp, arp” they harmoniously bawled and chopped. Beagle music!
This is the world of beagling, a long tradition of hunting rabbits with dogs. I got my start as a seven-year-old kid who tagged along with my dad and my Uncle Chuck and Uncle Don. They came over every weekend, and after coffee and cookies Mom made, we loaded up. We usually hunted a Christmas tree farm south of the small town of Rockford, but we had other areas too: orchards, aspen stands, and old fields with patches of brush. Uncle Chuck and Uncle Don unloaded Brownie and Queenie.
The hunt was on.
Brownie was a big black and tan hound and Queenie was smaller, the more traditional tri-colored beagle with patches of white, brown and black. Brownie’s deep, bawling voice stood out above Queenie’s high-pitched chop. We followed the rabbits circular path by the dog’s voices. I still have vivid memories of beagles, rabbits, snow and a boy starting a life-long love of beagles.
A lot has changed since I was a young boy. Dogs today are more than likely registered, either in the American Kennel Club (AKC) or another registry, like the National Kennel Club (NKC.) Breeds include Blue Tick, Red Tick, Black and Tan, and Patch Hounds, a predominately white dog with patches of red, lemon or tan. Bred for size, better noses, more speed, and the ability to run and hold a track, these little dogs are a joy to own. Most have mild temperaments and are eager to please. They are happy in the house or kenneled outside. They require little maintenance: shots, an occasional worming, food and water, and a warm, clean place to sleep. Most people use traditional dog houses, but a raised plastic barrel, laid horizontally and filled with straw bedding, works well too. Just keep the bedding clean and dry.
Not only have dogs changed and gotten better, but electronics have made the pursuit more enjoyable.
Tracking collars use GPS to follow the dog’s path and location. On most units, you can record the outing for future reference. Apps are available for some models that show thickets and other cover types. Lost dogs are almost a thing of the past. Electronics add a lot to conducting the hunt. It’s easy to follow the dog’s travel from a distance. Smart phones allow you to make videos and recordings of the dogs running.
Even if hunting is not your goal, there’s a whole field of competition—field trials—that might interest you.
In field trials the dogs compete against each other. Points are earned for establishing a track, for moving the track forward if the dogs lose it, and for jumping a rabbit—getting it to move from it’s resting place. The fun really begins when the other dogs hark in to the pursuit. There are several different formats for beagle trials: Progressive Pack, Little Pack, Large Pack, AKC, Hunting Beagle, etc. You can Google each format to learn more or attend a local field trial club and watch a trial. In Little Pack the dogs run for an hour in packs of three to five, depending on the number of dogs in each of three classes or groups. An Open Class dog is just starting out. A Rabbit or Field Champion has won enough points to advance a class. The Grand Champions are the dogs that have reached their highest potential.
No rabbits are killed and firearms are not allowed in field trials.
A judge follows and watches his assigned pack, awarding points as the dogs run the track. There are also minus points assigned, for minor infractions, like leading the dogs in the wrong direction or running a track backwards. Each format has its own rules. In Progressive Pack, if a dog runs anything other than a rabbit, it is removed from the competition. In Little Pack, only running a deer, fox, coyote or other specific animal will disqualify your dog for that trial. It can compete at the next one. You can find the complete set of rules for Little Pack and Progressive Pack at arha.com.
Field trials are not just for boys! Lots of women, who may not enjoy hunting, participate in field trials. Whether or not it’s being outside, the competition or listening to the varied chorus these happy little hounds sing, I can’t say—but the women, and their dogs, not only compete—they win!