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DFP-ronsmith-rabbit.JPG Ron Smith
Rabbits nibble young plants in my backyard. I only shoot them with a camera.

November and the baying of the hounds

November brought hunting season.

Contrary to young Ishmael's complaint in Herman Melville's classic Moby Dick, "…whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul…," I kinda like November.

By now, fall is firmly established — no more 90-degree days and winter still weeks away, though last week's dive into the low teens and a 2-inch accumulation of snow could argue the point.

Some damp, drizzly days could lie ahead, but November has always ushered in the season of crackling logs in a fireplace, crisp, frosty mornings that give way to mild afternoons, and, when I was young, hunting season.

In Upstate South Carolina, hunting season opened Thanksgiving Day, so we were up early to tag along with my dad and uncle until we came of age to carry our own shotguns into the field.

Our quarry consisted of rabbits, squirrels and quail. We never saw deer in our neck of the woods. They are ubiquitous now.

We had beagles to chase rabbits. And the hunt was as much about the dogs as it was about the final shot. Each dog possessed a unique voice, easily recognizable as we waited and listened to mark the most likely route the rabbit would take to elude the hounds.

"That's Track," my dad would say, "and Trail is on him, too." Track and Trail, clever names for hunting dogs, don't you think?

Rabbits might be fast and erratic runners, making them a tough target at full speed. But they are creatures of habit, often their undoing. They invariably make a circle and, when pursued by a beagle or two that know their business, will return to where they started.

Patient hunters wait and listen as the dogs' baying grows faint as the rabbit tries to outrun its pursuers until it reaches the end of its comfort zone and makes the turn.

As the dogs yapping increases in intensity, we listen and watch for movement as the harried hare tries to slip into some sanctuary. Slower, now, the rabbit makes an easier target.

We always ate what we killed. We skinned it and mom would cut it up and cook it — parboiled and then battered and fried. The gravy from the drippings tasted about as good as the meat.

My last beagle died about 45 years ago. I've owned one English Setter since, also long gone. I still own a shotgun or two and a .22 rifle, none of which has been fired in 25 years or longer.

Wild game often graced our dinner table when I was growing up. Now, I prefer beef, chicken and pork and prefer to shoot the deer, rabbits and turkeys that occasionally venture into the backyard with a camera.

But remembering the baying of the beagles or the image of the English Setter frozen on point still makes me appreciate November.

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