TAKE A PUP RAB­BIT HUNT­ING

Field and Stream - - THE MIXED-BAG CHEAT SHEET - —W.B.

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.

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