Beagles

Beagles use innate skills and effective training to become wonderful partners in the outdoors.

Of all the partners I have in outdoor adventures, some of the fondest memories have been created by those with four legs. Whether serving as an active participant or a friendly spectator, dogs seem to elevate outdoor activities in many ways.

Andy Schafermeyer Adventures Afield

In my small circle of canine partners, none is more impressive than the beagle. They have been part of my adventures afield for a long time and winter rabbit hunts are one of my favorite challenges.

By most standards, the beagle is a small dog that weighs between 15 and 30 pounds. Coloration includes white, brown, and black in a large, spotted pattern. Their calm demeanor and friendly attitude have made them a favorite family pet and partner. This small type of hound is well-known for its powerful sense of smell and as such, makes it the perfect scent-hunter.

For thousands of years, dogs have been perfecting those innate traits for which their specific breed has been used. To perform at their peak, they need a little fine-tuning in the specialized activity in which they are involved. Said another way, beagles do not need to be trained to detect and pursue rabbits. Instinct alone drives these skills, which only get better with time. The type of training that they require involves attention, discipline and obedience. All of this is necessary for them to stay focused and form an effective partnership with a hunter.

Like all hounds, the beagle has one of the most highly developed senses of smell among domestic dogs. Their skill in finding and following ground scents is better than those smells that are airborne. This trait alone makes them perfect for hunting rabbits.

Not known for speed, the beagle is well-suited to the erratic, circling pattern of rabbits on the run. Rather than leave their small home range, a rabbit might end up back in the same location that it was originally flushed. While in the midst of a circular chase, rabbits will make short bursts through the snow, the dogs barking behind it, and the hunter will be watching and waiting for a good shot. A well-positioned and patient hunter might have the dogs bring rabbits directly back to them and into a good shooting zone.

While hunting with beagles, I am often amazed at the slow pace of the chase. One might think that, once flushed, a mad race ensues. In fact, most of the process is a slow and calculated observation of nature and sport. Good dogs are never rushed and seem to work with methodical strategy, even while moving at a great distance from the handler.

There is no reason for a hunter to move quickly, either. Running after a dog or trying to cut a rabbit off is rarely effective and adds a sense of chaos to an otherwise calm event. Dogs often notice and pattern their own pace off that of the hunter. A well-trained team can create the perfect speed and effective approach.

Because beagles make great pets and hunting partners, developing a bond with them is not difficult. Watching their excitement grow as they sit impatiently on the tailgate of a truck can bring a sense of enjoyment before a hunt even begins. When good training is coupled with their born instincts, these dogs can enhance the sport, {span}camaraderie{/span}, and enjoyment of a time-honored New England tradition.

Adventures Afield with Andy Schafermeyer appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Contact Andy at troutandsalmon1@gmail.com.