Boisterous Beagles Capture the Heart of Hunting

I’ve hunted over many excellent dog breeds, and have owned a couple of good ones myself. Of them all, I believe the beagle comes closest to capturing the heart of hunting. No truer, more enthusiastic or dedicated hunter exists. I think these little guys are the best hunting dogs in the world, and here’s why.

Archeologists and anthropologists tell us that even back when man sheltered in caves and gnawed on bones, he had canine companions. In the natural scheme of things, this is a most unusual pairing. As a general rule, totally unrelated species don’t co-habituate or cooperate. But early man and early wolf formed a mutually beneficial relationship that lasted throughout time. The first matches no doubt formed over food. Both man and beast discovered that by combining their abilities they could greatly increase their chances of capturing other animals to eat. They hunted together and they ate together, and sharing meals moved the relationship from a dispassionate survival technique into true companionship.

Today, we have various descendants of the wolf and love them for reasons that are as varied as the hundreds of distinct breeds developed over the years. But I believe the most profound bond still exists between those species of man and beast that still celebrate the original reason: hunting.

Both man and dog are hunters at heart, and when the blood of both begins to pump faster with the chase, it rekindles a bond that speaks to the natural heritage and instincts of each in ways that still ghost around in them.

The unsung epitome of this ancient melding of man and beast is the beagle.

If you let him, a beagle will hunt until it drops. Often, I’ve seen them limp back to the truck, their tails bloodied from beating the briars and so utterly exhausted they had to be helped to their cages. But in the heat of the chase, they feel no pain. This, and the passion and “music” of their voices ringing through the hills, moves me with admiration.

Depending upon whom you’re listening to or whom you are reading, it’s called a bugle, a yelp, a cry or a whine, or a wail, a bay, a howl or a bark. It is the primal music off in the distance that causes the rabbit hunter to stop and cock an ear. He gets a far away look on his face as he listens for the slightest infractions in the tone and cadence of his canine companion’s lyrics.

He not only understands this language, he feels it. As he listens, he can visualize just how fast his beloved friend’s tail is wagging like it was happening in front of him. The hunter knows when the dog puts its nose to the ground and when it raises it to bay or howl with excitement. He can also easily imagine how fast its paws are moving and how often its nostrils in his snout are flaring to keep the scent fresh in his brain.

When the dog overruns the track, his owner knows it by the absence of sound and can picture the dog zigzagging frantically, pausing here and there to blow and sniff, but desperate to renew the chase. If he doesn’t regain the trail right away, the beagle will pause occasionally to let out a single yelp, which is more like a cry or whine of despair. All the while his nose, legs and tail are working overtime as if he has done something terribly wrong. This elusive trail is the most serious thing in the world to a beagle at that moment.

The second he gets back on the trail, the beagle lets out a high-pitched wail and the hunter knows the chase is on once more. He may grip the stock of his gun tightly or finger the safety, but mostly, he listens and lives the excitement of the hound. There probably is no form of communication between man and animal that is clearer or more commonly kindred.

As the beagle begins to circle back and leads the rabbit or other prey straight to him, the hunter scans the woods or the field for a sign of hopping fur. The rabbit may burst upon the scene or come lollygagging along, and then the kill is made.

In this modern day, neither man nor dog actually needs the meat to survive, but to not close the deal would be like breaking the time-honored bond between man and hound.

A beagle is much more than a pet taught to do tricks for treats or bones. It should be allowed to pursue its true nature with utmost passion and primal purpose. It may just be that rabbit hunters love their beagles nearly as much as they do their children—tallyho!