The beagles bellowed as we loaded our things into Corey Robinson’s truck. I translated their excited yips and howls in my head as: “Take me! I want to track rabbits!”
Corey, guide and owner of Briar Run, loaded the last of four beagles into the metal dog box in the back of his truck. The license plate on his mud-stained Tundra read “GOT HARE.” My friends Jeanie Cote and Krysta West climbed into the backseat. Sitting shotgun was a perk of being nearly 6 feet tall, so I sat in the front and turned on the heated seat. The dashboard read 20 degrees.
“Maybe it will warm up as we get closer to the coast,” Corey mused as he pulled onto I-95 South in Lincoln. “This is truly a ladies’ hunt, all the beagles I brought are girls, too,” he continued.
“That’s perfect because I got a pink camo gun for Christmas! Seriously? Pink?” Jeanie said, poking fun at her new shotgun.
An hour later, the Toyota bounced along an old woods road and Corey put it in park. I shook up my hand warmers and stuck them inside my gloves as Corey put GPS tracking collars on each of his dogs. One problem hunting with beagles is regulating your own body temperature. You might spend an hour walking through the woods (and begin to sweat), then you might spend an hour sitting, waiting for the hare (and begin to freeze).
The four beagles, Molly, Abby, Whiskey and Rosie, took off toward a cedar swamp, noses to the ground, sniffing incessantly. We walked in their general direction and pointed out hare tracks and droppings to one another. Krysta had never been hare hunting, and though Jeanie had been hare hunting before, she had never been successful. I explained that there wasn’t much we could do but wait until the dogs hit fresh scent.
Finally, after about an hour, Whiskey started howling. Corey stopped in place atop a small ridge and we all stopped in line below him. Then Molly started howling, and soon the yodels of all four dogs echoed through the woods.
“That sounds serious!” Corey said.
We turned to face the direction of the howls and waited. The barking intensified; they were coming toward us. Jeanie, at the bottom of the ridge, exclaimed, “I see it!” and fired a shot, but the hare continued on. She must have missed. “It’s this stupid pink gun!” she said.
“It’s OK, maybe it will come back around,” I said. But then I noticed the dogs had stopped barking.
Corey walked over in the direction the hare had run. “You got it!”
Jeanie was ecstatic.
“I guess that gun isn’t cursed,” Krysta said, giving Jeanie a high five.
“Pretty impressive you trained your dogs to run the hare toward us. That was the quickest hare hunt ever,” I told Corey.
After the excitement subsided, our group continued tromping through the woods, waiting for the nose of the beagles to trigger the alarm. When it did, we froze, and Corey studied his handheld GPS receiver. It showed our location and the locations of each dog. “They crossed the road over there,” Corey said, referring to the small skidder road we drove in on. “Krysta, you and Christi stand here in the road, each looking in opposite directions.”
Aptly named, snowshoe hares have large thick-furred feet that allow them to run efficiently and silently atop the snow. They also have good hearing, great vision, and when still, are impossible to spot against the snow.
“There! It crossed the road, too far away and too fast though,” I said to Krysta. Two minutes later, the four beagles crossed the road, way behind the hare, but still on its trail.
“Come on, let’s get closer to where they crossed,” I said. Once jumped, hare tend to run in circles, or figure eights, so I hoped it would cross near the same location.
Then we heard a gunshot and a woman laugh. “Jeanie must have gotten it,” Krysta said. But the song of the beagles continued, and strengthened. Suddenly, I spotted a flicker of white running downhill straight toward Krysta. Jeanie had missed, but Krysta did not.
Krysta and Jeanie both had their first hares ever, and now I was up. We hiked for over an hour before Abby sung the familiar chorus of howls and yips.
“Let’s wait here and see which way they go,” Corey said.
The four of us kneeled in the snow, watching different directions in silence. The barking got closer and closer. My heart raced. Then the howling turned and headed away from us. Corey studied his GPS.
“Krysta, you stay here, Jeanie and Christi, follow me.” He was practically running through the thick woods. I struggled to keep up and my hat snagged on a low hanging branch. When we caught up to Corey, we kneeled again and waited. The cold burned my fingertips.
“There, to the left!” Corey whispered. The hare was running about 30 yards ahead of me in thick brush. I aimed my 20 gauge, expecting a running shot, when suddenly the hare stopped. I squeezed the trigger. “Nice shot!” Corey patted me on the back.
On our way back to the truck for lunch, we discovered an old tree stand, long retired. Only a few boards nailed to a large oak remained. I thought about all the hunters who had enjoyed this wild piece of Down East woods before us. Back at hunting camp that night, we did what those hunters had surely done, and what humans have done for centuries.
We shared hunting stories.