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Posted on 07/09/2010 in Full Circle.

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Jed Nichols

Take it for what it is, not what you want it to be.

By the time this article arrives in your mailbox, we will be approaching the end of June. Wow! Where has the first half of the year gone? With the summer months upon us, bringing with them hot, humid days and very little ground moisture to be found anywhere, we as field trialers will be faced with a decision we will have to make every time we cut our hounds loose in a trial. That decision, in my opinion, speaks volumes about a person’s character and all-around honesty as a UKC Beagler. If you are one of those handlers who always votes for whatever will help your dog the most, even when you know without a doubt that it is wrong, and that your dog, along with everybody else’s, does not deserve what you’re trying to get them, then there is a very good chance that your reputation already precedes you. If not, it soon will if you keep going to trials with that attitude.

You are most likely the same handler who doesn’t “see” the rabbit in the last few minutes of hunt when the cast is spread out trying to get a line because you’re currently sitting in the lead and you just took last strike on the track. But your true colors are usually displayed in short order when the dogs come through driving the line not even ten yards from where you were standing and somehow you “missed it”. These are the moments that define the real houndsmen in our sport from the win-at-all-cost weekenders who are definitely not in it to improve the breed and the sport.

The specific decision that I am referring to is which way are you going to vote in your cast when it comes down to whether the dogs drove the rabbit to a place of refuge, or just plain lost the track. If you have been avidly chasing rabbits with your Beagles for very long, whether it be gun hunting or field trialing, you are well aware of the difference between a track that ends in a hole or a place of refuge, and one that the dogs simply lose. This time of year, more than any other, brings forth some of the most difficult rabbit tracks that our hounds will encounter all year long. The biggest contributors to these difficult tracks are the dry summer conditions and, most of all, young half-grown rabbits. As most of us know, young rabbits can provide a challenge, to say the least, for even the most experienced hounds to run by themselves. Then we take four dogs that are competing against each other in a field trial and when they get on a young rabbit together, the chances for a loss increase tremendously. Sometimes they can strike a young rabbit and circle it right back around, score speed and drive points on it and get their strikes plussed, but more often then not, unless conditions are exceptional, it results in the dogs losing the track.

Probably the best piece of advice a person could get for running Beagles on cottontails this time of year would be to have patience. You’ll need it. When we run our dogs at home in the summer and are closely observing their work, we can tell if they put a rabbit down or if they’ve lost the track and are unable to recover it. Rule 8 states that the handler’s duty is to know their dog’s voice and nature. If as a handler, you know the nature of your dog, you should be capable of forming an honest opinion and therefore cast your vote based on your dog’s body language as to whether or not you think they put the rabbit in a place of refuge. Whatever the outcome of each individual track might be, whether the dogs run the rabbit until he is scared for his life and finds refuge or the dogs just simply cannot progress the track and it results in a loss, be fair to the dogs. Don’t give them something they did not earn, and don’t vote for a hole or place of refuge when you know the dogs didn’t earn it, regardless of what the other cast members do. If you really sit back and think about it, how gratifying is it to go out on a cast, run several young rabbits that you know without a doubt the dogs just lost and, as a cast, conspire to essentially cheat and vote to circle their strike points because you didn’t see the rabbit and you don’t want to take a minus? To me that sure doesn’t seem like a good way to make any kind of name for your hound or yourself as a houndsmen. Rule 3(e) is in place to reward our dogs for running a rabbit that has been seen to the best of their ability to a hole or place of refuge and Rule 5(a) is there to protect them from being negatively affected when keeping the track going is beyond their control.

We would all like to think that we have that “perfect” dog at home that can circle young rabbits time and time again, even with three other dogs applying pressure and weaving in and out on a track that didn’t really leave that much scent to begin with, but with the conditions of summer upon us let’s just take it for what it is; a baby rabbit track plus hot, dry weather and four competing dogs usually equals a minus. Take it and move on.

If you seem to be in a mess of little rabbits, wait for the track to end, whether it be a hole, place of refuge or three minutes and a minus and move the dogs to a new area to try and get a larger rabbit. But don’t make excuses for them and vote to give them plus or circle points that they did not earn. At the end of the day, you will feel better about yourself and your dog’s accomplishments.