John's Journal...

Games Rabbits Play

Swampers – Wired for Mischief

Click to enlargeEditor’s Note: February is a productive month for rabbit hunting, and much of the country allows small-game hunting then. There are some rabbits that will run a full circle when the beagle dogs get after them and come right into shotgun range – running out into a clearing or go 15 to 20 yards and stop – presenting an easy, simple shot. But, another type of rabbit seems to have supernatural powers to confuse, frustrate, and aggravate even the best of hunters.

Both the Gallberry Thicket Rabbit and the Railroad Track Rabbit were cottontails. But, they were unusual cottontails because they broke from the traditional running pattern of cottontails. However, when you’re looking for a rabbit that plays all the games, you must consider tClick to enlargehe swamp rabbit, an animal wired for mischief. The swamper is a big rabbit weighing about 3 to 5 pounds. He usually is found in marshy, wet areas and has absolutely no hesitation about jumping into a creek, swimming a river or hiding out under a bank next to a stream to escape dogs and hunters. And, unless a dog has worked a swamper before, the four-legged rabbit hound will become frustrated terribly when hunting swampers. One of the best tactics I’ve found for taking swamp rabbits is to wait at a creek where the hunter can see about 30 yards up and down. Many times when the dogs jump a rabbit, a swamper will start swimming either up or down a creek, instead of going directly across the creek like a cottontail will. I have taken many an old wise bunny that’s been swimming in a branch just like that.

I remember a swamper that tried to outsmart my friend Mel Stuart’s pack of field-trialing, gun-dogging beagles. Stuart had some of the finest registered hunting beagles around. This particular swamp rabbit ran across the road, was shot at and jumped into a big, flooded creek. Although the dogs went all the way around the creek, they never jumped the rabbit. I assumed that the swamper had to be swimming underwater, because there was no place he could be in the middle of that creek. Too, the dogs couldn’t pick up his scent on the banks surrounding the creek. Finally, one of Stuart’s dogs jumped into the water and swam out to a little 10-inch diameter knoll of long-bladed grass in the middle of the creek. Just as the dog put his right foot on the patch of grass, the old, smart swamper that had been hiding on the grassy knoll jumped and started swimming the creek. When he reached the other side, the dogs had him in hot pursuit. This time when he came across the road, my brother Archie’s aim was deadly accurate.Click to enlarge

Not all swampers escape by running to water. Once, my friends and I jumped a bunny on a hedgerow that was full of briars between two fields. The dogs, which were right in the middle of the thickest briars imaginable, ran the rabbit about 40 yards before they began to bay at the hole where the rabbit had disappeared. Only one thing was left for the hunters to do. Someone would have to go into the thicket, find a forked stick, and try to twist the rabbit out of the hole. Although this tactic might sound quite simple, the briars were about shoulder-high and as thick as freshly-mown hay. There was no way to get to the rabbit without being scarred by the briars. But, the dogs had done their job. They had run the rabbit, the rabbit was in the hole, and those little beagle hounds expected the hunters to come and get the cagey swamper out.Click to enlarge

After cutting about a 6-foot-long forked stick, we entered the briars, found where the rabbit was holed-up and began to twist. But, there was no rabbit in the hole. Up under this pile of sticks where the dogs were barking were several holes that all seemed to interconnect. And, there appeared to be no way to get that rabbit out of that maze of tunnels. I am convinced that the rabbit knew all along that if he got into that hole, we would have to go through all those briars to try and get him out. I could have sworn I heard that rabbit chuckling as I leaned over the hole, frustrated, while blood trickled down the side of my face from the briars.

Rabbit hunting, whether it’s with a dog or without a dog, can be fairly routine. But, once or twice a season, and sometimes more often that that, there will be one particular ol’ rabbit that knows how to play the game better than the hunters do. That wise rabbit usually survives to be the breeding stock from which other rabbits learn how to play those games.

Check back each day this week for more about "Games Rabbits Play"

Day 1: Rabbits That Confuse, Frustrate and Aggravate
Day 2: The Gallberry Thicket Rabbit
Day 3: More on Hunting the Gallberry Thicket Rabbit
Day 4: Why We Hunted the Railroad Track Rabbit
Day 5: Swampers – Wired for Mischief


Entry 546, Day 5