John Campbell's 'Great Outdoors': The Rabbit Hunt

By John Campbell and Orlan Love, Reporters

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By Grant Burkhardt

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Dan Solomon’s beagles, who bark only when they smell a rabbit, bayed nonstop for four hours Sunday morning in the Cedar River badlands just southeast of town.

Barreling at full cry through horseweeds and multiflora rose, Sadie, 11, the leader of the pack, and her proteges, Storm and Jasmine, hounded scores of cottontails from hiding and drove all but those who found refuge in holes within range of their human companions’ small-bore shotguns.

Solomon and Gary McNeese, both of Cedar Rapids, Keith Lowe of Mount Vernon and I shot an even dozen, whose pink flesh will be transformed into delicacies at an upcoming game feast to benefit youthful cancer patients.

As is typical of a good rabbit hunt, the actual shooting was overshadowed by the hounds’ dogged and melodious pursuits. Every boss would like to have employees with a beagle’s sense of cheerful urgency in the performance of difficult tasks.

Thirst, hunger, heat, cold, pain and fatigue mean nothing to a beagle on the trail of a rabbit.

They never pause for rest. They have to be encouraged to drink. They plunge heedlessly into gnarly brush piles. They hurl themselves through fences. And even when obstructions momentarily halt their progress, they run in place until they find a way through.

Nor do they ever cheat. Proceeding strictly by scent, they won’t leapfrog a packmate or bypass a brambles patch to gain ground on a hot trail.

For all their single-mindedness, however, they remain obedient, leaving, perhaps a little less than willingly, a fresh trail to go to their boss when he hollers: Hup. Hup Hup.

Such doggedness leads inevitably to cuts and scratches at times so severe they leave blood trails in the snow.

With a snowless landscape Sunday, Dan kept a close eye on the pack, pausing occasionally for drinks of bottled water and inspections of their faces, bellies and paws.

With Sadie bleeding from a cut near her one good eye, Dan called off the hunt at noon to spare the dogs further contact with thorny canes.

The dozen rabbits will be part of the fare at a March 10 wild game feast to benefit the Aiming for a Cure Foundation, which in turn helps cancer patients at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital.

The feast starts at 2 p.m. at Touch of Class Catering and Events Center, 5977 Mount Vernon Rd. SE, Cedar Rapids.
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