Hunting rabbit using dogs is one of the oldest traditions humanity has. Some breeds are used more frequently than others, and if you look over the records you’ll find that rabbit hunting with beagles is one of the most time honored traditions within small game hunting. If you’re interested in giving it a shot, then we’ve got a guide for you so that you can maximize your success.
How to Train Your Beagle - Rabbit Hunting With Beagles
Step 1: Picking a Dog
Training a rabbit dog isn’t the hardest task in the world, but it’ll definitely consume some time and it should be started when the dog is a puppy. Not all dog breeds are suitable for this style of hunting, but there are a few different breeds which are used.
The most notable of these is undoubtedly the beagle. They’re steadfast, loyal, and good looking dogs which have been bred for a long time specifically for this task.
The second most common is the basset hound, which has been used for some time for chasing small game, and we’ll focus on these two breeds as they’re similar in temperament and hunting styles. Some faster dogs are used, but they’ll generally be trained to hunt in a different way.
Beagles are undoubtedly the most common rabbit hunting dogs in the world, and if you’re planning on raising a dog specifically for the sport then few hunters would recommend anything else.
Step 2: Starting to Train Your Dog
Training a dog to hunt rabbits isn’t the most extensive task in the world. This is good, since anyone with even moderate dog handling skills and willing pup will be able to train their dog to aid them in the field fairly easily.
You’ll want to start training your pup at about eight weeks of age, so it’ll usually be fairly soon after you pick up your dog from a reputable breeder.
Start with a rabbit foot from a previous kill or a piece of rabbit hide Tie it off with some rope or paracord and let the pup play with it. Drag it around the yard on the string and encourage them to chase it. When they get good at that, start hiding the foot and letting them track it down themselves.
Make sure to use liberal usage of praise as well as treats when they pull off something exceptional. You’ll want to do this pretty often for about a month before moving on.
Step 3: Getting the Dog on a Track
Next you’ll want to take your dog out and get it on a rabbit’s track. It’s important not to just drag the dog out to the hunting grounds and let it loose, otherwise it might fixate on a different animal which is rather counter-productive if you’re training your dog to hunt rabbits after all. Visually identify the animal, approach and wait for it to flee.
Place your dog right on the track, if they’re acquainted with the scent, which they should be since you’ve been letting them play with rabbit parts, they should get excited. It might not happen the first, the second, or even the third time, but sooner or later they’ll go chasing the scent trail and begin barking.
You should be trying to do this daily if at all possible. If they’re still not getting it after a couple of weeks, a live trap containing a rabbit can be opened in front of the dog to try and get them more excited for the chase. It really is best to train them on a track without visual confirmation on the dog’s part if possible however.
Once they’ve gotten that down for a few weeks it’s time to begin the next stage of training. Even if you’re planning on using a pack, at this stage it’s best to train the dog by themselves so they can build their confidence.
Step 4: Letting Them Find The Trail
Now you should take your dog out on their own, bring them through the brush and let them pick up the scent trail on their own. Sooner or later they’ll get it and you’ll have your dog finding rabbits and chasing them all on their own.
Once they’re confidently chasing prey on their own you can begin to train them with other dogs. Once again this isn’t usually going to happen the first time you take them out, but soon you’ll find them communicating and actively chasing the rabbits as a team.
At this point, their initial training is done and you’ll want to take them out as often as possible before you go on an actual hunt.
Step 5: Hunting With Your Dog
Hunting rabbits with dogs can be an unusual experience for those who haven’t done it before. For the most part, the rabbit will easily outpace your dogs in a sprint but cottontails and their ilk aren’t generally very intelligent. You’ll listen to the dog or dogs as they chase and try to position yourself().
The rabbit will alternate between a full sprint and just kind of hopping away depending on how far back the dogs are. Listen carefully to the hounds’ noise as they give chase, and make sure you’re in position by the time they loop back.
In most cases the rabbit will circle back to where it was initially and you’ll be able to take the shot. If you’re using a shotgun then a tight choke is preferred and shot timing is everything since you definitely don’t want to injure your hound.
When the opportunity is there, take it. If you don’t get the opportunity on the first pass, don’t worry, the beagle-hare circle is likely to continue for another revolution. Just make sure that you’re set up and not spending time chatting with your partner when your opportunity arises.
Remember to reward your dogs, after all they’ve just inducted you into a whole different kind of small game hunting.
Most of the difficulty associated with rabbit hunting with beagles comes from the initial training and then getting used to the sounds and way the rabbit will move ahead of the dogs. It can be an extremely rewarding experience, however, and the baying of your dogs on a crisp morning will soon be music to your ears.
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