It was really cold and the blustery wind howled through the trees. The two 14-inch beagles, Mabel and Dan, danced through the scant snow that covered the ground. Neither of us had on snowshoes. My old Bean boots were just enough in this winter without snow.
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 wind howled over the top, but down here in the swamp it was just a whisper. No fluffy snow had blown into their tracks so we knew they were fresh. The deep depression of the dew claws on one indicated he was a big buck. Dan 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 outfit you 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 Mabel 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 Dan and Mabel were plowing along in the chase.
The beagles drove the track hard, their voices becoming a bit muffled as they ran along the edge of the brook, chasing the white quarry that loped 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, Dan yipping and Mabel howling, pushing as hard as their stumpy legs would let them. They turned slightly and headed away from me a bit. They passed on by but I could not see the rabbit or the dogs. A minute or two passed and I heard the muffled ‘whump’ of Duane’s 20 ga. shotgun. The dogs went quiet a few seconds later as they caught up to the downed rabbit. I shuffled on back on my track and met up with the three 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. The hounds, with their tongue lolling out of their mouths, were eager and ready for another go.
Soon we crossed another track and Dan sounded off first. Away they went, ears flopping, bodies bouncing. Soon their voices were almost lost as they disappeared into the cedars. We stopped and listened to them 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 beagles as they kept up a regular howl as they drove the rabbit ahead of them. We looked for an open spot and a run where thought the rabbit might run.
Duane 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. We did not have long to wait. We could hear the hounds pushing the scent trail hard, coming right at me. A form a little yellower that the bright white snow came loping through the woods. Duane waited for an opening and fired his 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 Vermont woods.