After all these years, chasing rabbits can still make for doggone good time

Bill Burton :

November 19, 1991|By Bill Burton

SABILLASVILLE -- Turk Rumsford is my kind of hunter. He has good dogs, treats them well, and enjoys the hunt.

And, there are a few other things about hunting with this middle-aged Silver Spring nimrod. One is that he enjoys rabbit hunting in this age when most fellows his age head afield only for more exotic things like Canada geese, wild turkeys, or pheasants on a shooting preserve.

We met in an Essex sports shop where I was shopping for black powder gear for the deer season, and he was scouting for a hunting vest with a built-in game pouch. Remember them? Nowadays when a fellow leaves the metropolitan area to shoot, he plans on a guide carrying his game.

We chatted about deer prospects before the subject got around to things hunters don't talk about much any more; things like squirrels and rabbits. Rabbits, that was the magic word.

Raised in Washington before moving to the suburbs, he was a city boy, so was his father who taught him how to hunt. Like me and countless others across the country, his first hunt was for rabbits.

With enthusiasm, he said he never forgot the excitement of swift rabbits bounding in zig-zag patterns; eventually got dogs, and wasn't ashamed to concede the chase of the rabbit is one of the most thrilling sports he has ever enjoyed. How could I disagree? The next thing I knew I had an invitation to meet him in Taneytown, for a hunt on a farm bordering a forest near this Carroll County town. And with him came Trixie and Gent, a pair of tail-wagging beagles anxious to run as soon as they bounded from his auto.

I figured they had worked the farm before. They headed straight for a long and overgrown fence-row, yipping as they trotted along, pausing briefly to sniff about. Occasionally we stopped to just watch them as Rumsford offered encouraging words.

The first flushed rabbit took off to the east of the row; we were on the west, and it was too thick for us to break through. "No problem," said Rumsford. "Let's listen."

The dogs nosed through the thicket, and let us know what was going on by their yips and barks. About 15 minutes later, the fields were silent. "The rabbit had his fun and shook them

off," said Rumsford. He blew his whistle -- and called their names.

They reappeared, he gave them a couple dog candies, poured them some water -- both the plastic bowl and cup came from the game pouch. I wondered how he would have room in the new vest for the game.

The next flush was a pair of rabbits, which soon took different directions. I wondered why Rumsford didn't try the second one; it appeared within range.

Both dogs stayed with the one to the right, and their music prompted us to sit on a fallen tree and listen as the chase entered the woods. The dogs were having a ball, and it lasted for about a half an hour before they returned for more refreshments.

The same happened on the next flush as the cottontail took off on the other side of another hedge-row and made it into a swale of thickets.

The dogs were on the other side of the thick stuff when the rabbit bounced almost between the legs of Rumsford about 60 yards from me. He didn't shoot. He didn't have enough time before it got in the thick stuff on the other side.

More treats for the dog, then another rabbit that took to the open fields, the dogs not too far behind. Trixie cut to the outside forcing the rabbit back toward us. It was an easy shot, but Rumsford didn't raise his gun. The rabbit came 40 yards from me, and I raised my muzzleloader -- then lowered it.

Gent was closing in from the other side, the rabbit made a U-turn, and so did the dogs. Rumsford stood watching -- and I then knew why he didn't shoot. And he knew why I didn't.

We stood, and listened, and watched. Maybe each of us get a rabbit or two a year to let the dogs know we're interested. But beagles and bunnies enjoy the chase, and now that we're older we know that's what rabbit hunting is all about -- a sport for boys and dogs.

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