I live and hunt the foothills of the Appalachian Mountain chain, where cottontail rabbits can often be difficult to find. Our Ohio Department of Natural Resources claims rabbits are increasing in Ohio (based on mail carrier observations), but I am sure that is not the case in my hunting region. Where rabbits have heavy cover, they can maintain a good population, but in these days of "clean" farming where everyone has a four wheel drive tractor, most non-wooded areas are cut for hay or kept mowed. Wooded forest land makes up 60-70% of the area where I live, and this is generally not good for rabbits unless there has been some form of timber cutting to allow light to generate plants on the forest floor.
So, I think a lot about searching ability when making breeding decisions with my hounds. Some are better at finding rabbits than others. Some search hard and never seem to find anything, while others just seem to have a knack for starting a chase. Below are the best at this I have had over the last 40+ years...
This dog, whelped in 1998, was the best I have had at starting rabbits. He liked to hunt ahead of me, keeping one eye on the direction I was working, and his other on working the thickest cover. He would start more rabbits than the other hounds, partly because by working ahead, he got to them first.
Bruiser got his searching ability mostly from his sire, New City Brass Chip. I remember watching Brass tear brush piles apart while hunting with John New in Kentucky. I have linebred heavily to Bruiser over the last 20 years, and I believe the searching ability in my pack has improved as a result. Bruiser was one of my favorites.
2. Woodpont Baffle
Baffle, a pretty tri-color female, was the third generation in my female line, whelped in 1985. Her sire was a good running hound named Loy's Gaye Baker, Jr. I bred to Baker to get the famous rabbit finding ability of his sire, the great Gay Baker, and also to add the additional Little Ireland lines from his dam. Baffle certainly got Gay Baker's hunt and search. She typically found the most rabbits on our gunning trips. I have seen her leave a dead rabbit and immediately go back to start another, almost as if she kept track while running so there was no delay in starting the next chase. She had that kind of amazing ability. My hounds today have many crosses of Baffle, and she is the great-great granddam of Bruiser (above).
3. McApple Bear
Although this fine dog had a short life due to an unfortunate accident, he was around long enough to prove his ability as a rabbit finder. Like his sire and grandsire before him (Bruiser and Brass), he was relentless at working the thickest cover. No briar patches were too tough for him. I always will remember one particular hunt where the pack found and ran 9 rabbits, with Bear finding 7 of them himself. His blood carries on today through his daughter, Woodpont Beeswax.
Rabbit finding ability is treasured among beaglers. May the blood of these fine hounds produce many more like them in the future!
Bruiser working in cover -