Basic Beagling Etiquette for Rabbit Hunting

If you're lucky enough to be invited by a tried-and-true hound man, here's what to expect when the tailgate drops.

Basic Beagling Etiquette for Rabbit Hunting

Photo by Stephen D. Carpenteri

An invitationto hunt with an experienced rabbit hunter and his pack of well-trained hounds should be considered a special gift. Most avid hound hunters spend years developing a pack of hot-nosed beagles and are not wont to waste their time and energy on anyone who doesn’t understand and appreciate the sport.

When the call comes in to be ready to go at 7 a.m. on Saturday, do everything in your power to be up, dressed, armed and prepared for a long day in the briars. If you’re lucky, your host will stop for breakfast along the way, but in most cases the hunt begins at sunrise and does not end until sunset that evening—a long day in the woods by any standard. Bring enough snacks, sandwiches and water to last you all day unless your host plans to provide them. Ask them before you go so you can show up ready to hunt—shopping on hunt day is not an option.

CLOTHING MUSTS

Rabbit hunting is like no other consumptive sport. The best Southern cottontail habitat is thick, full of unforgiving briars and vines along with plenty of stumps, logs, tall grass, potholes and wetland habitat. There will be bloodshed and some of it will be yours. For safety and comfort, wear a brimmed orange hat, leather gloves, a heavy canvas-type shirt and game vest plus full-length waxed canvas briar-proof coveralls. Know that any part of you that is exposed will be cut to pieces by those nasty briars, barbed wire and assorted other sharp, pointed objects.

Handy items to bring include a pocket knife (for dressing rabbits), lip balm, sunglasses and a bandanna. Make room in your coveralls or vest for a bottle of water, a few snacks and a dozen shotgun shells. Leave everything else in the truck and be sure to shut off your cellphone when it’s time to get into the woods. Rabbits are not attracted to ring tones or loud conversations. If you ruin a chase by talking on your phone, your host is likely to throw it and you out of the woods with no second chances. Rabbit hunting is serious business, so be serious about it.


BASIC FORM AND ETIQUETTE

Odd as it may sound, there are some rules to chasing rabbits with beagles that all newcomers should be aware of. First and foremost, never make fun of a hunter’s dogs, their performance or their voices. Second, never brag about anything—your clothes, your gun or your experience—until the hunt is over and you actually have something to brag about.


Most hunts begin with a few minutes of jovial “tailgate talk” that generally finds all hands leaning over the sides of the truck, admiring the dogs and joking about what a great day it’s going to be. Don’t bring up politics, religion or anything other than rabbit hunting. We’re not here to talk—we’re here to hunt. Stay focused!

Find the best day and time to hunt in your zip code

Once the dogs are turned loose and the hunt begins, there are any number of ways to proceed. Some hunters stay by the truck until the dogs strike a rabbit, at which time everyone scatters to find a good place to ambush the cottontail as it evades the dogs.

One common rule is to let the rabbit make one complete circle before shooting at it, just to give the beagles a chance to unwind and get in the mood. Remember, to a hound man, listening to the dogs is just as important as killing the rabbit, sometimes even more so. Also, a good pack of hounds, more often than not, will run the rabbit long enough for a shot. You do not need to take a quick shot before the rabbit “gets away.” Ask your host how you should proceed before the dogs are released.

Another common rule is that the youngest, newest or (sometimes) oldest hunters are allowed to hurry into the briars near the place where the dogs started the rabbit. About 90 percent of the time, the rabbit will make a big, wide circle and come back through almost exactly where he was jumped. This is the prime place to be and is usually reserved for beginners or (in your case) guests. When given such an opportunity, it is crucial that you do not miss the rabbit or you will pay dearly for it via endless teasing from the rest of the group.


Rabbits
A rabbit won’t stay in the open with a beagle on its trail. Shots come suddenly at moving targets in cover. (Shutterstock image)

Should the rabbit get through the first circle unscathed, he is likely to continue circling far and wide in an effort to shake the dogs. The best, most experienced hounds can’t be fooled by everyday rabbit tricks but they can be occasionally stalled by something new, which in the vernacular is called a “check.” The rabbit loses the dogs momentarily but the hounds will work it out and soon be back in business.

When this happens, do not talk, yell or move around. The rabbit is likely to be nearby and doesn’t know how many hunters are around him. Any noise you make will be picked up by the crafty cottontail and you will once again be left standing there by yourself with a bunch of guys laughing at you. Sit tight, wait for the dogs to unscramble the trail and then see what happens when they start howling again. Let the dogs work the trail and (hopefully) bring the rabbit around to you.

If the chase goes into the distance or you can no longer hear the dogs, it’s acceptable to move to a new spot and hope that the rabbit will come through on the next circle. Ditches, wetland cover, dense evergreens or honeysuckle thickets are common escape routes for rabbits. Look at the available cover and go where it’s thickest because that’s what the rabbit is likely to do.


COMMON MISTAKES TO AVOID

I’d never thought of it in all my 60 years of rabbit hunting but one guest I invited on a trip thought that the hunter’s job was to keep up with the dogs. When they took off, he took off right after them, apparently thinking that he would catch up with or (maybe) run right past the dogs and get a shot at the rabbit that way. Not a good (or productive) idea.

Click to subscribe to Game & Fish Magazine

Another hunter I knew had a problem with staying where I put him and, time after time, the rabbit would run right past where he should have been. If your host says, “Wait by this fallen oak tree,” stay there till they say otherwise. A rabbit may come by in five minutes or an hour but chances are he will run past right where you host had placed you. Get bored, get tired or have your doubts, but don’t move!

Another rabbit-hunting faux pas is when a hunter makes every effort to shoot all the rabbits the dogs kick up. Keep in mind that everyone is working just as hard as you are and they all want to get a shot or two. Once you have a couple of rabbits under your belt back off and let someone else have a chance.

A common mistake is when several hunters converge on the same spot. The general rule is first come, first served. If you see someone else in the area you want to hunt back off and find another spot. Rabbit cover is dense enough that leaving 50 to 75 yards between hunters is plenty. If you can see the other hunter’s orange hat you are too close.

If another hunter shoots and misses, the rabbit is fair game for anyone, but if he makes the shot don’t worry, the dogs will quickly find another cottontail to chase. Remember, you’re going to be hunting all day and some of the best action takes place in late afternoon.

Perhaps the worst mistake a novice rabbit hunter can do is shoot too near the dogs. Sometimes the beagles will be just feet behind the rabbit, which is too close for comfort. If you can see the dogs and the rabbit it’s usually not safe to shoot. Pull up, let the cottontail gain some distance and try again on the next circle.

Rabbit hunting is not rocket science, but it matters a great deal to those who run beagles. Be patient, use common sense and err on the side of common courtesy. If you don’t know what the right thing to do is, ask your host or another experienced hunter. Doing so will almost guarantee you a second invitation.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Berkley

Berkley's New Terminal Tackle

OSG's Lynn Burkhead and Chad LaChance, host of World Fishing Network's Fishful Thinker television show, talk about Berkley's new innovative terminal tackle being introduced at ICAST 2019.

New Abu Garcia Baitcasting Reels

New Abu Garcia Baitcasting Reels

In the booth of one of fishing's all-time great reel makers, Outdoor Sportsman Group writer Lynn Burkhead and Andrew Wheeler of Pure Fishing discuss one of the brand new baitcasting reels from Abu Garcia being released at ICAST 2019.

13 Fishing Omen Black Baitcasting Rod

13 Fishing Omen Black Baitcasting Rod

Multiple time FLW Costa winner Jessi Mizell is no stranger to catching big Florida bass on a popping frog. As he tells OSG's Lynn Burkhead, with the new 13 Fishing Omen Black baitcasting rod, the job just got easier.

Costa and Captains for Clean Water

Costa and Captains for Clean Water

With the company's heavy involvement in initiatives like Kick the Plastic and Captains for Clean Water campaigns, Costa's Amanda Sabin tells OSG's Lynn Burkhead all about the sunglass maker's unwavering commitment to help the freshwater and saltwater environment.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Unlike many game fish, catfish can be harder to catch during the spawn. Here are some strategies. Catfish

Understanding Catfish Spawning

Keith Sutton - June 06, 2006

Unlike many game fish, catfish can be harder to catch during the spawn. Here are some...

While wildly popular amongst anglers around the world, the IGFA World Record book shows the biggest pike come from Europe. Records

Top 10 Biggest Pike World Records of All Time

Jack Vitek - August 19, 2015

While wildly popular amongst anglers around the world, the IGFA World Record book shows the...

Want to test the outer limits of your shooting skill? There's more to successful long-range Ammo

10 Best Long-Range Cartridges Ever Made

David Hart - January 14, 2015

Want to test the outer limits of your shooting skill? There's more to successful long-range

 A 7 pound giant taken on a jig during the pre-spawn transistion in the Midwest.

Although the art Bass

4 Tips When Jig Fishing For Bass

Chris Schneider - August 25, 2015

A 7 pound giant taken on a jig during the pre-spawn transistion in the Midwest. Although...

See More Trending Articles

More Small Game

Kentucky offers many hunting opportunities, and with the cooler weather comes the desire to get out and pursue game.  Small Game

Kentucky's Fall Hunting Roundup 2018

Ken McBroom - November 26, 2018

Kentucky offers many hunting opportunities, and with the cooler weather comes the desire to...

 Traditions Crackshot (Photo courtesy of Traditions Frearms)

When Game & Fish editors decided Small Game

2 Great Starter Rifles for Young Hunters

Game & Fish Staff - December 15, 2017

Traditions Crackshot (Photo courtesy of Traditions Frearms) When Game & Fish editors...

 The fourth annual Squirrel Master Classic was sponsored by Gamo Precision Airguns and Buckmasters. Small Game

Shooters Recall Youth at Squirrel Masters Classic

November 13, 2017

The fourth annual Squirrel Master Classic was sponsored by Gamo Precision Airguns and...

As habitat improvements accumulate, the future for rabbits (and rabbit hunting) and other wildlife will brighten. Small Game

Rabbits: How to Manage Your Land for More Cottontails

Keith Sutton - August 14, 2018

As habitat improvements accumulate, the future for rabbits (and rabbit hunting) and other...

See More Small Game

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.