Off-Season Training Runs Can Be As Fun As Gunning!
Featured: August, 2001
Training runs can be as satisfying and as memorable as a fabulous hunt. It's a great excuse to get together with some hunting buddies in the off-season and find a few new spots to add to your arsenal. It's also a good time to get a few pictures for the photo album. I like to try new areas and get a feel for the amount of game living there so I'm never without a plethora of fertile hunting spots. We buy an inexpensive running permit from the Fish & Game dept., and that allows us to run hare, on non-posted land, all year.
It's a great time for getting the hounds (and you) into shape for the upcoming season. You find out who packs well with whom, etc. I also find it good practice to get out the blank gun and ensure that young pups are comfortable being fired over. When I see the rabbit I stand off to the side of the line and fire a shot or two in the air--then "down" them when they come through on the line. This accomplishes two things. It gets the pups accustomed to being fired over, plus they get needed practice being "downed" when they'd really rather keep running. We hunt some really big country up here and not all races end in a kill. There are many times when the nearest, camp, house or main road is literally miles from where we cast the dogs. Sometimes you run out of daylight, or you've simply got to get home. So, it's a MUST that your dogs handle well, or valuable hunting time (as well as dogs) can be lost. Hunting season is NOT the time to find out if you've got more work to do in this regard. For these reasons tracking equipment is also a huge plus. Despite all precautions, in big country, occasionally a dog is lost. Sometimes for a few days--on rare occasions forever. A dog's life can depend on this training.
The most recent training run took place in northern NH. This day my friend Aaron ran his 12-month-old female Madeline and his 11-month-old male Maximus. I was running my two 10-month-old pups Annie and Katie (littermates), as well as 2 year-old Roxie and 6 year-old Zipper.
The day started fast and furious. We cast Annie, Katie and Madeline across the road from an old hunting camp; in an overgrown field of hemlock, rosebushes and birch trees. Within a minute Madeline began her "fussing", which meant that she was soon to open. (Madeline proved to be a super jump dog that day as she produced five or six of the hare in the "jungle" of northern NH's summer undergrowth. She hasn't quite decided what her actual voice is going to be-I had fun teasing Aaron about this!) Katie and Annie soon joined her and they all began circling the hare away from the road. They were having some trouble due to the extremely dense undergrowth, but they kept picking him around toward us. Aaron and I stood where the hare was jumped and waited. Within a couple of minutes the hare showed himself. It was a small one-likely from this springs litter. On came the pups in hot pursuit. I had an opportunity for a great photo, but the battery in the camera was dead! "I'll get him next circle", I thought, rummaging in my pocket for a battery. Little did I know that there wasn't going to be a next circle, because the pups made a loss a few hundred yards after we saw Mr. Bunny. After 10 or 15 minutes of the three pups frantically trying to figure out where he'd gone, I decided to pull out all the stops. I told Aaron, "We'll show him." I went to the truck and got the veteran of the group, Zipper. She had run all-out in a LPH trial at White Mountain Beagle Club in Milan the day before, but she was raring to go. A solid, tired, old veteran makes a great teacher for a group of pups. Within a minute of being cast on the old line "ole' Zip" had it figured out. (Many thanks to Steve Corey for allowing me to own such a nice, accomplished hound.) The pups joined her and the chase was on. This time, Mr. Hare decided that he had better make larger circles-and on it went for nearly an hour, with the pack occasionally going out of hearing. We downed the pack as they brought the hare across the road. Zip deserved a break and the pups needed to show us what they had learned. We brought them up the road to an old logging road covered in lush green grass. We cast the same three pups. It was obvious that many hare were feeding on the lush grass during the early morning as the pups were getting scent everywhere. It was apparently confusing for them. There were almost too many hare around. They would run a hare together for a short distance, then jump a different one and have a split race. At one point we had the three pups running three different hare. With our intent being puppy training as well as finding a few more good hunting spots to add to our list for the upcoming season, we decided it was time to move on to another area.
We headed east to a spot that I had last hunted 7 or 8 years ago. It's near the top of a mountain, overlooking beautiful hills of Christmas tree farms. The cover had changed a little over the years, but I assumed that a few of our fuzzy, little friends still resided there. We cast Aaron's two pups alone and in 15 minutes they started a hare in an overgrown power-line cut. The cover was so thick in that cut that we had to shield our faces as we made our way through the cluster of vines, bushes and young softwood trees. The good news was that a majority of that choking vegetation would die off when before gunning season rolled around. The bad news was that we could see none of the hound work, despite being only a short distance from much of the action. The race lasted for 10 or 15 minutes before the tenacious pups lost the snowshoe. It was now nearly noon and we decided that we'd run until around 2 o'clock before making the 2-hour drive home. The summertime traffic can be terrible going through several of the resort towns that were unavoidable to us on our way home.
I decided that it was time to cast a few more dogs [which was quite brave (or foolish) considering that I wanted to leave in a mere 2 hours!] and see how well the 13"'s packed with the 15"'s--considering that they never get to run together at the beagle club. We let them all go on the other side of the road, near an abandoned farmhouse. Within just a few minutes they had one going and the race was on. Twenty minutes passed with the hounds seeming to stay together on the same hare. Then, there was a split race, which lasted for a little over an hour. There were multiple opportunities to see the hare, but all we could see was the tops of tall grass, bushes and vines as the dogs gave chase. Not wanting to push our luck we collected the dogs as we could--it was getting late.
I, never being able to hear enough of that sweet hound music, decided that even though it was about time to head home, I'd like to get just one more good run out of the pups. Aaron agreed. I cast Annie and Katie and he cast him male pup Max. We worked them up a hill through some great looking cover. After working perhaps 150 yards I caught a glimpse of something up ahead of the working pups. I wasn't sure what it had been, but all questions were answered when Katie worked toward that spot. She let out a couple of short yips then opened with her high-pitched bawl-chop. Annie and Max followed suit, joining Katie. Aaron and I stood where the race began and waited for the pups to bring him back around. The first few circles the hare came through just out of our sight. The fourth circle we changed our position a little bit and waited. We made the right move and could see the hare heading our way. We decided to down the pups while we had the chance, as it was nearly 2:30 and we didn't want to push our luck any further. We got them all on lead and headed back to the truck. They ran that hare as hard and smooth as one could ask. It was the perfect way to end a great day.
This coming season will be their first being gunned over. We are certainly looking forward to watching their progress. We both agreed that we had a great time, and that training runs can be as fun as hunting.
Enjoy your hounds.