By DAVID GREEN
Get a group of rabbit hunters together for a conversation and it soon becomes obvious what they’re really talking about.
Shooting at rabbits isn’t the focus; that’s just incidental to a morning in the field. They’re talking about their dogs. Running those beagles is the reason for the hunt.
“It’s all about the dogs,” says Travis Thompson of Morenci.
Those dogs could run forever.
“Beagles are the most stubborn dog,” he said. “They don’t know you have to go back home and go to work.”
Travis was one of five area hunters who joined a trio from the Michigan Out-of-Doors television show Jan. 24 to go after rabbits. The group spent about six hours at Hickory Hill nursery northwest of Morenci.
Travis’s father, Don, called the Michigan Out-of-Doors office last June to suggest a rabbit hunt and he received a return call a few weeks ago. Kelly Gotch from the show said they were interested in watching the group run their dogs, but that’s not what Don had in mind.
“No, come down to hunt,” he told Gotch.
Nobody invites the trio to hunt, she told Don. That was a very unusual request. She promised to get back with him after discussing the invitation with producers Jimmy Gretzinger and Gabe Van Wormer.
She called back and the date was set.
“None of us slept very well the night before worrying about the weather,” Travis said, but in the end everything worked out just fine.
“You couldn’t have asked for a better day,” said Ed Eyer of Wauseon.
He was at the Thompson home Sunday morning with his brother, Tony, and dog running companion Joe Dillinger of Leipsic, Ohio.
“They were real down-to-earth people,” Don said about the television crew. “It was a good group. And all of them got rabbits.”
Tony said he let a few run by in an effort to make sure everybody, especially Kelly, went home with a rabbit.
“I could have had seven or eight rabbits that day,” he said. “We worked hard that day getting them a rabbit.”
Van Wormer, behind the camera, had his own challenge. It wasn’t easy to capture an image of a dog in close pursuit.
“They should have given me the camera,” Tony said. “You’ve got to move.”
Running the beagles
For the three Ohio men, running their dogs is much more than a hobby. The Eyers have a 40-acre training pen for their beagles and a smaller area to train puppies. Along with Dillinger, they travel to several states to compete in dog trials.
“Me and Tony have been in it all our lives,” Ed says about the two Pennsylvania natives. “To have a good dog, you’ve got to have it on the ground a lot. Two or three times a week.”
“It’s like training an athlete,” Tony says.
Travis runs a speedy young male and a slower female.
“He has one of the fastest dogs I’ve seen,” Don said. “He doesn’t bark much, but he’s always 20 to 30 yards ahead of the pack.”
The slower female, actually a house pet that belongs to Travis’s wife, has an excellent “cold nose,” Don said, talking about her ability to pick up on an old trail that might elude other dogs.
Travis has good results with the pair, but the Eyers aren’t so fond of that mix.
“The object is to have the same speed of dog,” Ed says. “They have to work together.”
But if it’s working out, Tony’s going to be satisfied.
“You have to account for the game,” he said. “That dog better keep running it.”
Dogs are getting too fast, the Eyers said.
“These dogs are designed to be in front, but they’re getting too fast for hunting,” Tony said.
He and his brother aren’t about to own two separate packs—one for trials and one for hunting. They’ll just keep working with the best overall dogs they can find.
“A good dog knows when it’s time to stop and turn around,” Ed said.
According to Tony, rabbits are one of the most difficult animals to track. He says the eastern cottontail is designed to out-trick its enemy, but the snowshoe is designed to out-run it.
Rabbits leave very little scent, Ed said, particularly the doe. This helps prevent predators from discovering the nest.
“People don’t understand what keeps the scent on the ground,” Ed said.
Adam Johnson of Morenci, who joined the group Sunday morning along with Mike Shoemaker, always thought that moist air was a key to holding the scent on the ground, but that’s not how the Eyers see it.
It’s the barometric pressure, Tony says. The air temperature and ground temperature need to be close to the same, Travis explains further.
“And the position of the moon and stars,” Adam says, not quite convinced of the reliability of a barometer reading.
He no longer has a beagle of his own to run, but he’s with the others when it comes to enjoying the hunt.
“Half the fun is just watching the dogs,” he said.
• Michigan Out-of-Doors appears on various PBS stations. The show featuring the rabbit hunt is expected to be broadcast either this Thursday or Feb. 14.
The local hunters look forward to seeing what was produced from the six-hour jaunt. It might include the Eyers’ unique field dressing technique they learned from Canadian hunters.
“They probably edited that out,” Tony said.