Butch breasted through the deep snow ahead of us, the light tinkling of his tags a sharp sound in the quiet hardwoods. The bright morning sunshine made sparkling rainbow-ladened crystals out of the soft covering that had fallen the night before.
We topped over a knoll and headed down toward the cedar swamp that filled the small valley before us. A small creek that wandered down off the mountain in the distance, meandered through the middle of this depression, backed up on the east end by an active beaver dam.
We came upon the tracks of three deer that had come up out of the thickness sometime in the last couple of hours and worked their way up toward the beech knoll high above us. The light wind had not moved any fluff into their tracks so we knew they were fresh. The deep depression of the dew claws on one indicated he was a big buck. Butch turned his head at the smell as we crossed the run, but kind of ducked and moved on as he knew the penalty for chasing deer.
It was cold this early in the morning, but the warming sun was promising a beautiful day. The long-legged underwear beneath my green Johnson wool pants and wool jacket kept me very warm. This was not the bulky outfityou would wear if you were going to stand around ice fishing. All the wonderful discoveries of modern science have never found a substitute for light natural wool. It is the answer for easy walking in the cold.
Crossing the brook, we turned along the old woods road that led into the swamp. Just at that moment Butch sounded off in the tight cedars to our right. The chase was on. In a few minutes we crossed our first fresh rabbit track of the day and the wide trough just to the left indicated that Butch was plowing along in the chase.
The beagle drove the track hard, his voice becoming a bit muffled as he ran along the edge of the brook, chasing the white quarry that ran ahead. Duane decided to wait right where we had crossed the track. I turned and went back across the brook and worked my way along a deer trail that meandered down the valley. I was probably five hundred feet from Duane when I found some fresh rabbit tracks that went down into the swamp.
Up the swamp they came, Butch yipping and howling, pushing as hard as his stumpy legs would let him. They turned slightly and headed away from me a bit. They passed on by but I could not see the rabbit or the dog. A minute or two passed and I heard the muffled ‘whump’ of Duane’s 20 ga. shotgun. The dog went quiet a few seconds later as he caught up to the downed rabbit. I shuffled on back on my track and met up with the two of them.
The rabbit was a big male that was soon stuffed into the game pocket of the hunting jacket. We continued along the swamp edge, looking for a new track. The sun was now warming the woods and my old bones. The rhythm of our movements had loosened my muscles and it felt really good just walking along the old woods road with the bear paws on my feet. The hound, with his tongue lolling out of his mouth, was eager and ready for another go.
Soon we crossed another track and Butch was off. Away he went, ears flopping, his whole body sort of bouncing up and down as he once again breasted through the deep snow. Soon his voice was almost lost as he disappeared into the cedars. We stopped and listened to him go. This time the rabbit veered down toward the brook and crossed to the other side.
It must have been all the noise that disturbed a rabbit that just appeared in the run ahead of us. He stopped, looked toward us, realized we weren’t something that ought to be there, and bolted toward the underbrush. Not quick enough. He too joined the first unlucky bunny in the back of my orange hunting vest.
This shooting seemed to have no effect on the beagle as he kept up a regular howl as he drove his rabbit ahead of him. Once again Duane and I separated, each looking for an open spot and a run where thought the rabbit might run.
I found a big cedar that curled out from a bank overlooking a wide delta in the brook. There was an old run there that looked promising. I did not have long to wait. I could hear Butch pushing the scent trail hard, coming right at me. A form a little yellower that the bright white snow came loping through the woods. I waited for an opening and fired my little Ithaca. Another rabbit has headed for the Hasenpfeffer.
We spent the rest of the morning walking this little valley. The sun rose high in the sky, the squirrels hollered at us as we wandered on by, and the small birds flitted about the trees, pulling off anything they could eat. Another great day in the Maine woods.