The Partnership Between Hunter & Hounds
By John Jarzynski
“Did you load the hounds in the truck?” Of the many chores I had as a kid (and those I didn't get to) “loading the hounds in the truck” was one I actually enjoyed. It meant that I was going to spend the day with Dad and a pack of beagles.
I was ever so fortunate to grow up in a family that raised beagles. In a world before cell phones and most video games, beagles were my entertainment. Their unconditional joy and cheerful disposition never failed to put a smile on my teenage face.
Fast forward forty-five years and that smile endures. If I ever need a reminder that someone could enjoy rabbit hunting more than me, I need look no further than the four barking dogs in my kennel or their wiggling tails. It is their dedication to their purpose that has drawn me to them for all these years. They love what they do. It's what is pure about all hunting dogs: their love for what they were bred to do. It's clear to see each time we collar up the dogs on the tailgate. Their undulating bodies shake and shimmy, begging to begin their task. It's electric.
Here in New York State, we are fortunate to have a small game season that lasts through the month of February and even into March. As a result, cold, late winter mornings will find me, along with a few hearty souls listening to the enchanting sounds of a pack of barking hounds as they pursue a cottontail through arrowwood or a snowshoe hare across alder swamps. While technology has changed in the way we track our hounds from the days when my father and his father hunted with beagles, what remains constant is the relationships between hunter and hound and nature. And while the harvesting of game is still the goal, it sometimes takes a backseat to enjoying the sounds of the hunt for this old beagler.
Like today, three hounds are currently bellowing and bawling a few hundred yards away. It echoes through the valley and becomes a musical symphony for all to hear. Unabashed and free, the hounds sing their melody into the February sky warming the hearts of the four brave souls who joined me today.
I marvel at these hounds.
Though each hound has its own subtle personality, tis true: some like to lead while others prefer to make corrections from the back of the pack. Some dogs are more liberal with their barking than others. Ideally, the pack should work in unison, so that when one dog falters or loses the line, the next dog makes the correction, and the run continues with dogs weaving in and out as a dance company or a chorus line. The number of dogs varies depending on scenting conditions and hound availability. Two to five is preferred.
Our three beagles were headed back in my direction. Another miss by me would mean more good-natured ribbing from my hunting partners for sure. As the barking grew louder it was clear that this rabbit would be headed in my direction. I unholstered my Thompson Contender .410 pistol and steadied my feet (rabbits have acute hearing and a good shot is often thwarted by the shuffling feet of a nervous hunter).
“Don't look in the direction of the hounds. Look in front of the hounds.” Words my father repeated some 45 years ago still ring true each hunt.
A flash of fur, some dazzling rabbit footwork and a blur, and this rabbit was across the path with nary a shot from me. This brought me to laughter. What a joyful moment as the three hounds in hot pursuit followed right behind, their long ears scooping up the fresh scent of rabbit and the chase continued.
“Something wrong with your gun?” asked my friend Pete.
“Maybe it's time for new glasses,” chided another friend.
All ribbing humbly accepted as we laughed and joked about the day. Fortunately, Pete was able to harvest the rabbit after another circle and my rabbit jambalaya dinner plans would remain.
We emptied our guns and loaded the tired hounds onto the tailgate where they lapped water, then stepped into the safety of their dog box, weary but proud. This intrinsic partnership between hunter and hound exists quite naturally. It is a relationship nurtured and celebrated by both hound and hunter each hunting season. It's a winsome work of art and I’ve been in the front row my whole life.