TAKE A PUP RABBIT HUNTING
My buddy Ryan McCafferty keeps a pen full of beagles, and by the end of winter, he’ll have a freezer full of rabbits. McCafferty, a self-proclaimed meat hunter, takes a practical approach to his training. “I’m not into field trials and registered dogs,” he says. “In fact, I’ve only ever paid money for one beagle, and that was the biggest waste of $25 in my life. Papers have never put rabbits in the skillet for me.”
Still, he has a new pup or two in his pack at any given time, and he likes to get them into the field as soon as rabbit season opens in November. “At 6 months old,” he says, “a pup is big enough to keep up with the grown dogs and begin learning the ropes. At a year old, you’ll know they’ve either got it or they don’t.”
Before taking a puppy into the field, McCafferty wants her to understand basic commands and be comfortable around gunfire. “I want a puppy to be easy to handle and come to me without fail when I call,” he says. “I fire a .22 pistol a few times when I’m feeding them, and that breaks them of any gun shyness. After that, it’s simply a matter of dropping a puppy out with a pack of older dogs, and letting them get a nose full of rabbit.”
There’s not much you can really do to teach a beagle to trail a rabbit and bark, McCafferty says. It’s about instinct. “If you have a couple good older dogs, the pups will learn quickly by following their example,” he says. When you shoot a rabbit, give the pup plenty of time to smell it—and lots of praise. Usually, that’s all it takes.