Larry Hicks, Bobby Goode, Travis Hill, Adam Hill and Joe Hill

Sharing a late-season rabbit hunt in rural river bottomland of West Tennessee recently are (from left) Larry Hicks, Bobby Goode, Travis Hill, Adam Hill and Joe Hill.

Soon, the bark of the beagle will go silent. The race of the hare and the hound will fall on deaf ears.

Sad days are ahead for most rabbit hunters as the season draws to a close. Squeaky doors on kennels no longer burst open with enthusiastic black and tan bundles of joy, ready to get the show on the road somewhere deep in the swamps and hillsides.

This weekend will see the last verse sung by baying beagles who howl with delight at the sight and scent of an elusive cottontail that tiptoed beneath the briar thickets and honeysuckle hedgerows.

The curtain falls on Saturday, bringing the show to its culmination.

Small game seasons such as rabbit and quail end every year on the last day of February. Squirrel season ends, too.

So if you encounter a few sportsmen who appear to be down in the dumps, it’s nothing more than the “post season blues.” The spell comes on every year about this time, a dilemma that no pill or potion will cure.

This week, I shared a day in the swamps of West Tennessee with a few hunting buddies and their dogs. I hate to see the season end, too; I can only imagine how they feel.

Listening to a pack of beagles run will help cure whatever ails you. The black and tan choir will sing you back to youth, if you pause and allow them to enter your thoughts.

Rabbit races never go out of style. Smart rabbits trick and outwit even the smartest dog at times. Darting here, backtracking there. Hiding in a hole at times. Just sitting still, too, hiding in thick cover and allowing the dogs to pass is another finicky move.

During the cat-and-mouse game, buddies pair off or gather in a group to monitor the chase’s movements and direction.

Sometimes, a hunter can isolate himself in the marsh, standing on a timbered stump from a bygone era that provides a better vantage point.

Dogs fade away in the distance on a long race and perhaps the choice of location has proven to be far away from the action, but it lets the silence creep in. Ditch banks from days gone by emerge when rabbits darted by and old dogs barked a language only their owners understood.

Back to better days when trials and tribulations were held at bay, trapped by youth that kept them buried beneath the sound and journey of canine companions on a mission.

Outings like a rabbit hunt let you come a bit closer to the trickling of a flowing creek or the wind swishing through treetops of bottomland hardwoods, or up close and personal to a giant redheaded woodpecker pounding a dead snag with relentless enthusiasm.

Such moments are there on a regular basis, but we’re often too busy to witness and partake. The bunny and the beagles are catalysts that have taken us out of our comfort zones, exposing nature as we venture off the beaten path of hustle and bustle.

I’m lost in the moment, sharing the outdoors with a lot of critters who command homecourt advantage. This late February day had me reminiscing about old friends who are gone but not forgotten, guiding hands of a dad and granddad that helped get over tall fences or trod through muddy creeks and avoid still waters that ran deep.

 

THE CHASE

Before drifting deeper into yesteryear, the pack suddenly changes course, pushing the wise ole’ rabbit back to the origin of the race. He’s smart and takes the eager crew over water at times, masking his scent trail.

Teamwork from the five beagles comprised of Hobo, Toby, Slick, Smokey and Moe have lived up to their reputation and rediscovered the path of a smart swamper. He returns to a marsh riddled with briars, and the intensity of the race resumes near my locale and disturbs my daze.

I never see him but know he’s out there. Suddenly, one of my hunting buddies takes a shot several yards away, bagging the hefty rascal that slipped past me without so much as a glimpse.

Today I’m sharing the Hatchie River bottom hardwoods of Bobby Goode of Dresden and his son Crockett visiting from Nashville. Rounding out the hunting party are Larry Hicks of Yorkville and Joe Hill of Union City, plus his two sons Adam of Nashville and Travis of Paris.

After long walks through mud holes and thickets, we pause midday for lunch in the field, resurrecting hunts and fishing trips of yesteryear the way hunting buddies often do.

A few more ventures toward jungles of cover and up to a few overgrown gullies on a hillside puts us back near our trucks where the day started and now draws to an end.

In the journey of life, it was but a short distance. A bag of five rabbits are piled in the bed of Larry’s Polaris Ranger and hands shake as we say goodbyes and head back to the everyday life of concrete paths and asphalt jungles.

For a few short hours we have found solace down deep in the sloughs and dirt roads of a Tennessee river bottom, a place where you can easily lose yourself in the midst of it all but never really be lost.

It’s here where the sights and sounds of nature keep you company. That is, if you pause long enough to let them in.

 

STEVE McCADAMS is The Post-Intelligencer’s outdoors writer. His email address is stevemc@charter.net.

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