Hunting Rabbits with Beagles – Is One Dog Enough?

Throughout the centuries, the Beagle has been the iconic rabbit dog.  When you hear the words “Rabbit Hunting”, does your mind take you to a scene of baying Beagles running through a lush green English countryside, followed by well-dressed men?  Or does it take you to backwoods USA, where a single man is chasing after his dog, hot on the path of that rascally rabbit?  No matter what comes to mind, the Beagle has always been on the chase.

A good Beagle has the capability of hunting rabbit alone, making for an enjoyable time spending one on one time with your dog in the woods.  With one dog, you have a lesser chance of distraction, and they will have the ability to pick up more of the scent they are trailing.  Running with multiple dogs can be an enjoyable hunt as well, adding to the length of the hunt, the opportunity to switch out dogs as needed, as well as adding other talents that one dog alone may not possess.  Either way, the best thing to do is to get out and enjoy the hunt!

Beagle hunting, or Beagling, has been practiced for centuries.  Whether it be for competition or for pleasure, it has been a widespread sport, enjoyed in many different countries.  It was something any social class could participate in, as long as they had access to a dog.  

Traditionally, a foot pack of Beagles could contain 10 to 40+ dogs.  These hunting parties were typically retired fox hunters, who could no longer pursue fox due to injury or age.  It could also be used as a learning experience for young people, which gave them the opportunity to learn how to handle a dog.  Depending on the era, social status, and where you are in the world, you may see rabbit hunting more commonly on foot then being pursued by mounted riders, which was more commonly used for hunting fox.  In the UK, the Hunting Act of 2004 was passed, banning the hunting of wild mammals with dogs, particularly hare, deer, mink, and fox.  Similar acts have been passed as well throughout the years, but each has its own set of rules and exemptions. 

Running Beagles for Fun or Competition

Competitive running is more for sport and less for the hunt.  During the competition, you take your best dogs and run them to win money or titles.  The better the dog does, places it in different classes and adds worth/value to the dog.  In some competitions, you don’t take a gun, and you may not even be tracking a real rabbit, instead of tracking a laid scent, making the only noise you hear in the woods the baying of the Beagles.  Participants may have kennels, where they house over a dozen dogs.  By having a wide variety of dogs, they have the opportunity to “cherry-pick” their best dogs and alternate out the dogs, replacing dogs due to injury or ability. 

Pleasure hunting is just that, a fun run.  The goal of this is not for adding worth or winning money, but for enjoying time in the woods, listening to the baying of a Beagle hot on a rabbit’s tail.  Whether it’s a quick run after work before it gets dark, or a weekend run with some buddies and their dogs, the point of pleasure hunting is to enjoy yourself, give your dog purpose, and hopefully get a tasty meal out of it. 

Why are Beagles the Go-To Rabbit Dog?

When looking at the Beagle’s body and disposition, you should take note of the great attributes they have. A Beagle’s hardy stature, determined will, and undying stamina can keep them out on a hunt for lengthy periods of time.  A medium and stocky build, with a boxy square head, along with medium length ears, a short smooth coat, and a variety of color patterns make them a popular breed.  They are steady and agile, going easily through brush and over rough terrain.  They are notorious for climbing fences and ladders, which can get them into some interesting predicaments.  Their sense of smell puts them class along with the Bloodhound and the Basset Hound.  A laid back and happy demeanor, they make a great family dog, but their one-track mind leaves them harder to train beyond basic obedience. 

What other Breeds are Good for Rabbit Hunting?

Other common rabbit dog breeds are Basset Hounds, Dachshund, Labrador, Jack Russell Terrier, Redbone Coonhound, Harrier, and Weimaraner.  Realistically, most hunting breeds would be happy to hunt bunnies so the above list could go on and on.  Even some non-hunting breeds when their natural instinct shines through.  It’s not uncommon for someone’s pooch to trail or even catch and kill a rabbit.  

Getting a Good Start

Getting a puppy is a lot of fun, and Beagles are adorable, but it is important to start training your puppy young.  It is highly advised to start the pup on basic obedience and then train on basic scent tracking within their first few months.  Although they have natural ability and instinct to track scent, opening them up to specific prey, in this case, rabbits, will give them a preference on what to track and, hopefully, keep them from tracking other potential prey when your exclusively hunting rabbits.  

Some people start their pups by exposing them to pet rabbits to spark their interest and introduce them to their future prey. Over time, they do scent drags and expose them to trailing that way.  Don’t forget to make sure you expose your pups to guns!  The loud noise of the gun could send your pooch running, so teaching them young is going to be a huge benefit to you so they aren’t scared or surprised at the sound of the gun. 

When they get a few months older, introducing them to running with seasoned dogs can help lead them in the right direction and reiterate the prey they are after. Many hunters use 2-4 experienced dogs, in addition to, but no more than, 2 young dogs. This helps to give them the opportunity to learn their new rolls based on mimicking the other dogs.  It also can help shorten the time put into training alone.  Keeping them excited about chasing rabbits will help you to keep them from hopefully getting distracted by other critters on the trail, which could ruin a hunt.  

If you prefer to only run one dog, the training process may take a little longer, depending entirely on the dog’s demeanor, natural hunting instinct, and willingness to please you.  A benefit of running one Beagle is that they are able to absorb more of the scent on the trail.  Although they are taking on all roles of the pack, rather than sharing the responsibility, they will create their own way in order to confront their prey.  

Eventually, once properly trained, you will be able to take your dog out to the woods and release them. They will pick up a trail of the rabbit and then push it back towards you.  Some hunters will attach bells to their dogs so they can hear them coming.  

Quick Tactics for Different Rabbits

Depending on the variety of rabbit your hunting, your style of hunting may have to be adjusted.  Jack Rabbits may head straight to a hole, in which you would place yourself near it to get to it before the rabbit has a chance to.  A Snowshoe will run a circle around and around, making sure it keeps the dog close enough and then will simply hop off the trail, so the dog continues to run that same circle completely missing the fact that the rabbit is no longer running that circle. 

If you’re looking to broaden your horizons, you can find different groups through the AKC website, or even chat with local hunters in your area to obtain more knowledge and meet other people who enjoy the same things you do.  You may be able to learn new tricks and techniques, as well as teach someone else tricks and techniques you may have. 

To wrap it up, there is no real right or wrong answer as to how many you need.  As you can see there are so many different variables and each is based on intent and personal preference.  I’d say as long as you can find yourself the “right” amount for you, that’s how many Beagles you should be using.  Just enjoy your time in the woods, or on the field,  with your dog or dogs.  And be sure to share your love of hunting with Beagles with friends and family, so the tradition can live on.  “

Scott Phelan

I came from a non-hunting family, in my teens I got interested in hunting and taught myself to hunt. I got my first hunting dog after college and became obsessed with all things hunting dog and hunting dog training. I have spent the last 10 years training and hunting with dogs. My dogs and I have hunted quail, chukar, huns, pheasants, grouse, woodcock, ducks, and geese all over the USA and Canada. Hunting dogs are my passion.

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