WILLET RANDALL’S LETTER
(From February 1916)
Hunting rabbits with the beagle in the Adirondacks this fall and winter has been about as “tame” sport as we have ever had since the beagles were introduced some sixteen years ago. Why? Well that’s the question. I have only killed a single lonesome bunny so far this season, and if I don’t hurry, am afraid this will be our “hoodoo” year.
The time was, not long since either, when we could go out in any of the neighboring swamps close to North Creek village, and bring home all we could carry in a few hours, but just now the times seem to have changed. Last spring was decidedly cold and wet, which may have accounted for many of the youngsters having died in the nests, then too foxes have increased at an alarming rate, which makes some difference. Then The Northern Hare Beagle club, which makes its home at “The Straight House” in this burg, may also be responsible for the absence of br’er rabbit to some extent.
Bob Higgins was out the other day with a string of his prize winners, and if what he tells is true, am afraid the white hare have made a vow to change quarters. Bob, as a rule is known to truth, and we take it for granted that this latter tale is true.
Bob says he heard a dialogue between some of the big white ones the other day over in Moxom swamp– they were discussing the pros and cons of new latitude, and of the ways of the woods as compared to times gone by, and those that are to come.
One said that so far as he was concerned, that unless the Great Northern Hare Beagle Club could show up better races with their prize mutts than those owned by Zimmer, MacElroy and Randall, that he for one shouldn’t move a peg, and that so far as he was con- cerned, there was nothing to worry about.
Another said: “But listen, I am told that there were some new members added to that famous club last fall, and they will be here next year with some stock that will in all probability cause us to “go some.” I heard it rumored last night that the Hutchings boys from Fall River have written that they will be there next year and to reserve the old buck with the longest legs for their bitch Dixie W, that she’ll be there with the goods, and is able to deliver them, and if that’s so I’m going to move down the river where there’s more cover, and the pine needles will make scenting conditions a little harder for that bitch.
“You know the place where Dr. MacElroy shot at ‘Grandma’ last winter, don’t you? You remember that he shot at her seven times the last three times she was standing on that old moss covered log, and just blinked at him while his gun went off accidentally the eighth time, and then she made off and he said she had “holed”-you remember how we all laughed at that bunch of fellows. There wasn’t a bugger one of them that could hit the broad side of barn, if they had been inside with both doors shut. I am an old buck and have traveled this swamp for a good many years. I was born over the ridge, almost in sight of North Creek. I have seen many hardships, and had many narrow escapes-I used to be more nimble in days gone by than I am now, and I remember when those fellows used to come over here with their long legged foxhounds and give us a whirl. I distinctly remember how my little sister was accidentally shot one fall, and while I know it was nothing but an accident, yet I have always felt a little “skittish,” and while I never feared a foxhound (because we could always fool them so easy) I can’t say that now, especially since they have got to hunting us with those beagles. “Darn ’em, they have such good noses–they can smell you if you run over that long high ledge at the top of Moxom Mountain, and two of them almost caught me last fall in the 13 inch race, but I managed to escape, and I heard Judge Hare cussing those dogs all to himself over something I couldn’t quite understand, but I heard him say: “that thundering mutt can run faster on a back track than she can frontwards.” Of course I don’t know much about beagle trials, but I do know that beagles are funny things, just the same, and it behooves us as a race, to tinker up some new tricks and be ready for ’em when they get back here next November.
“You know they have a race which that is they call a ‘derby.’ I suppose that is some kind of a hat, and I saw one of those fellows wearing one cocked up over his right ear, so that he could locate the sound of the beagles when they were almost out of hearing. I heard him holler ‘look out Judge-there comes the hare’ and just then I looked down the mountain slope almost a mile away, and there, going at top speed, was my half-brother, Weary Willie, and close up behind him was three of them cussed beagles, and all of ’em yelling and screeching at the tops of their voices.
“I sat on a rock up on the side of old Moxom and almost sneezed my head off laughing at the darn fools. I heard the men talking, and they were very much excited over some funny stunt that those dogs did, though I couldn’t understand what it all meant, but this I do know, that four or five more of those dogs ran down the hill within three feet of me and tried to join the others that were making all the racket after Willie, and they never saw or smelled me a bit, but I suppose the right ones didn’t happen to be in that bunch or I would have had a chance to match my lightning speed against a cunning instinct. However be that as it may about those dogs and that big trial that they are going to pull off next year in November, I for one am going to move down the swamp toward Riverside- nobody ever hunts down there with a gun, but Randall and Miggins come there with their pups and do what they call ‘breaking ’em-cuss’ em, I wish they would break their necks, for last fall, I think it was in October, they run old Elsie Matterson the next day after she had her babies, and it just spoiled her milk. Suppose it was by heating her blood so, and the hair came off from every blessed one of them just at the beginning of winter.
“Then, too, those darn little cottontails are beginning to come in here. Only yesterday one of them little bucks chased me, of course I am bigger than he is, but he just sneaked up to me and grabbed me by the-by the rump, and it stung like a stray shot. At first I thought I’d turn and fight him but he was so witty and nimble that he put me off my feet in a jiffy, and I have heard a lot of other hares tell the same thing, so I’m going to move and if the rest of you fellows want to save your hides and get away from those beagles, follow me.”
There were a lot of other things that Bob Higgins heard first handed from the hares over in Moxom. But he didn’t want me to say anything about it, and I promised I wouldn’t-partly because it wouldn’t look well in print, and partly because-to be honest I thought it was a darn lie.
However, be that as it may, the rabbits in immediate our immediate section are becoming alarmingly scarce.
Up to two years ago, cottontails were not be found in the Adirondacks, especially in any but the very southern foothills, but since that time they seem to have made rapid progress toward the north. Personally I do not think that cottontails will drive out white hare, there are reasons why think this-principally because they do not inhabit the same locality.
The big white hare will not take up his abode in the cleared section of the Adirondacks but prefers to live and breed in the midst of the deepest balsam, and cedar swamps, and make his nest on the outskirts of the deep thickets bordering these. He will, however, once in a while, make a nest in a nearby meadow, but I have seen only one or two such nests in my life time.
If I understand the habits of the cottontail correctly he is quite willing to take up his abode near the haunts of man. He will breed in a cornfield or stone wall, old orchard, or rail pile. Even the currant bushes around Burnt Hills are said to be favorite breeding places for them and I have often seen them around the more southern villages, even within the corporation limits.
These are things the Northern Hare never do-they are shy and timid and prefer the silence and solitude of the deep woods.
On many deer-hunting, excursions miles from any clearing I have often seen and shot white hare, but cotton tails-never. True, the time may come when they will get into the woods and gradually work their way into the midst of the forests but of this I have my doubt. What do others think, who are better acquainted with cottontails than I am? Somebody speak up.
It is said by old hunters of the Adirondacks that ever so often, possibly by that they mean once in a few years, that the white hare die off with some contagious disease, that for a season or two there will be but a very few even in the swamps, but then again in a few years more they seem to have reinforced themselves.
I cannot vouch for this latter statement, and never before this past fall have I seen white hare at all scarce around the section of North Creek. It may be that Bob Higgins’ story of what he heard is true in this case, but this of course I can’t say, though I do know that when MacElroy and Frank Sylvester came up a few weeks ago, that we had hard work to get ’em going.
Our rabbit season is open until Feb. 1st in this part of the country, but there are very few hunters. If the cottontails continue to increase as rapidly in the next two years as they have in the past two, we shall have more rabbits than we know what to do with, although at present they are not becoming so numerous as to cause a famine. I have never yet killed one, although I have seen a few of these little fellows when on my hunting trips last fall.
The ever increasing interest in the little beagle is stil1forging ahead, and every day brings a new one who wants to know what a real beagle looks like. It is time we beaglers woke up to educate the bovs as to the real merits of the merry little hounds-many there are who have never seen one, and ask all manner of funny things about them. Some call them “beatles,” and I think from what I read and see, that there are those who use them as such.
The other day a bitch was shipped to my kennels from a well know was breeder-she was a nice type, well-bred, and well-made bitch, but the crate and condition of the dog quickly foretold what was inside of the man’s hide who owned her. Nails sticking through the box and the hair wore off her back in several places.
I can’t see what business any man has anyway with any sort of a dog, unless he is willing to treat it at least like a dog. I know it is hard work to look after a big kennel and keep things clean. I find my own ranch terribly upset and dirty every day, but I don’t forget to clean out every pen at least once a day and put in clean bedding, and litter the floors with sand or saw dust.
Where the dogs have a good sized outside run (and they should all have) it is easier to care for them. I have mine so arranged that the dogs can go outside at all times, and therefore are much cleaner in their habits than when kept closer confined.
We make a crooked outside box to fit over the exit from the kennels, which prevents the snow from blowing in the tramways, and over the holes that lead from the kennels to the yards, we tack on burlap or strips of carpet to keep out the wind and snow. The dogs soon learn to push this aside in coming and going to and from the kennels, and when so made they will prefer to use the yards instead of the kennels or boxes for a closet. Beagles are clean if given a chance, although there is sometimes one that is not only dirty-but nasty. I have an old bitch that always prefers to use the nest box for this purpose and as I am unable to break her I have kept her in a kennel by herself.
As a rule if the kennels are sprinkled once or twice each week with kerosene oil, or creso dip, the dogs will always go out in the yards instead of using the inside and in dry weather it is a good plan to sprinkle everything with air slacked lime, even the inside of the nest boxes.
Flees and lice are not so bad at this season as later or earlier, but we wash our dogs in creso every month no matter what the season is. Of course in winter we keep them inside all that day so that they will be perfectly dry and then when they go out they will not catch cold.
Although I have been many years with beagles, I find every day something new that is very useful to me when thoroughly applied.
So far as feeding goes, that has always been a question of much importance to me. I aim to give as much of change as possible. Dogs, like men, soon tire of the same old routine of feed, they like soup one day and feed the next, and so on.
We are fortunate to stand in with our local butcher and while he is a mortal homely cuss, yet he has a pretty good heart and saves me all the meat scrap and bones from his block. These are boiled in a big wash boiler and mixed with different brands of feed.
We try to get by with as little expense in feeding as possible and yet carry over the old stock in good condition. I have found that by cooking my feed that we can save one-half over what the more expensive feeds cost.
Most visitors at my kennels tell me my dogs are too fat and I know we do feed more than we ought to, but no starved dog here at this place. I would rather have an over fat one than a half starved thing that can scarcely get around. We put the meat into the big boiler and thoroughly cook it, then add carrots, beet, turnips and potatoes-not the same every day, but alternate them-one kind one day and another the next. When these are well done-boiled to pieces-then we stir in either of the following feeds: wheat bran, nice clean corn meal, shredded wheat, or Conners, ready to feed, dog food.
Sometimes a little of all are put in at once and well mixed. This is done while the meat and vegetables are boiling hot, then removed from the fire to a large tin-covered bench and there left, tightly covered, to cook in its own heat.
When this is cold, or nearly so, it should be thick enough to slice off and stand up well. There is no better feed for beagles than this is, and they will all do fine on it-either grown stock or puppies. Be sure that all the bones are first taken from the stew before you add any of the meals, as some dogs are such hogs that they may get choked if the bones are not removed.
Very often, say twice a week, or even more, we feed meat soup without the meals added, but we have of skim or separator milk and I always put in all we have to the dogs. This makes a nice feed and is cheaper and better than dog biscuit. Once a week we give every dog a large piece of meat fresh from the slaughter house, beef if possible, or if we can’t get that we give pig’s heads. The bones are necessary for the benefit of the dogs’ teeth, and all dogs, including the youngsters, should have something on which to gnaw.
I find that one gallon butter jars are as good as anything to use as water vessels-they can be taken to the feed room and scalded. This is something that should not be forgotten. I only fill these dishes once a day in winter, but at least twice in summer.
It’s a mighty hard matter to find a man who will take care of a pack of hounds or look after a breeding kennel like you will yourself, and if those of you who have to depend on hired help have got a good man you are most fortunate, or else I am hard to please. I have never had one yet that could, or would, do it as I do, or as I would like to have it done, but if you must depend on someone a part of the time, and he don’t suit you-there’s no use of changing, you will go from bad to worse, so all there seems to be for us to do is “grin and bear it.”
From now on the bitches will be coming in season, we already have a few litters of little tots in the breeding pens. When whelping comes in very cold weather it is of course necessary to have some artificial heat to keep things well balanced. We used to run a large box stove with a flat top for the boiler but found it always hard to maintain an even heat, so this fall we took it out and in its place put in a coal stove. This is much easier to the gauge and the fire is always about the same, and the house of an even temperature at all times. If it were not for winter puppies I would prefer a house without artificial heat.
I pass many happy hours away up in the big woods among my pets and it is always so warm and cozy that I sit for hours and study the pups that run around the feed room, for as soon as I open the door they will begin to tease to get out.
My kennel is 85 feet long by 15 feet wide, of which about 30 feet at one end is used as the feed and cook room and an exercise room for the dogs. In the middle of this the large stove is situated and for some unexplained reason or other there is always a dog or two that seems to be a privileged character-as there are usually a few that sleep close to the fire and seem to say: “The world is mine.”
If I have a weakling, or a dog that is not doing well, he gets the privilege of this space and when he runs up and down the corridor that runs the entire length of the house and separates the main pens, the other dogs are so jealous that you need a nerve holder some times to keep your head level on account of the racket.
The other day Mr. John L. Kline of Huntingdon, PA, sent me the grand old bitch Derby’s Dorris. She is the mother of Happy Impie and when I took her from her crate I was struck at the resemblance-they are just alike. She has gone to her last home now, and I wrote Mr. K. that he must have a hard heart to part with her at this age in life, but he feels that he cannot breed beagles in the future on account of neighbors, so he sent old Dorris up to me. I have just bred her to Forest Patch and look for some good ones.
It is now over a week since I commenced this little letter: don’t know as I shall be able to get it through in time for the February issue, but I’ll try.
Last night the December number came to hand and I am much interested in some of the beagle letters from the boys-especially in Dr. Mac’s and Mr. North, and Mr. Moss. Come again boys.
It seems good that no one comes around to trouble us when we have these little family talks. I think we as a family have as few “jars” as the most of ’em, and if we want to air our ideas there don’t seem to be anybody to complain or take up the contrary side, although sometimes I feel like saying that I can’t always agree with all that’s written.
MacIntire speaks of “Jockeying” at beagle trials; Mr. McHenry of fox beagle crosses, and MacElroy of “tea kettles of boiling water.” Well all these things are good enough to laugh over and talk about but when actual experience comes into play it means more than hearsay.
I can tell you now that if you don’t believe there’s need of something hot up in this burg, then just come up and make me a 30 days’ visit in the month of February or March and I’ll prove it to you that there’s some cold weather, some wind and-well, occasionally a flake or two of snow. It takes a boy, and a man, and a “bugger” to keep the snow shoveled from the beagle yards, and as I’m getting old, and stiff at times, suppose everything is not as ship-shod as when I was it was younger. However, I’m here to stay-at least in the beagle game, so whenever you come (and I hope you will some time) I won’t have that old excuse to offer like many of the so-called kennels–that I have just sold them all. There is at least a few at all times to look at and play with, even if there be none for sale.
Sometimes we make the sad mistake of selling too many of the good ones. I have often done this thing myself and only last fall, when Ralph Butz, of Bumo fame, took away Jack’s Molly, Devil’s Dream, Spot Cash and Flora Florist, as well as about ten or twelve others, I just felt that there had been a funeral at this ranch, but we can’t keep them all any more than Zim and Dr. Mac.
The spring of 1916 will be a record year for beagles if present indications do not lie. Never before have we had the calls for stock that has come this winter, and everybody else tells the same story, so I am inclined to believe that beagles are not at least going the wrong way down the hill.
I have nothing to sell. When I do have I will advertise it through the columns of Fox and Hound, for I know it is the best medium through which to sell beagles. This alone proves the fact that Fox and Hound readers are beagle buyers.
One of the readers wrote me the other day and asked why I didn’t write another of those “mixed letters,” so I guess when he reads this one his desire will be fully gratified.
If all the boys (whom I am sure have as much talent as I) would only write up a little sketch of their hunts, dogs, and experiences, it would make Fox and Hound so much more interesting and we would feel more acquainted, especially when we meet once more at the big beagle trials of 1916.
Well, Mac, the “teakettle” is boiling; I hear the rooster making a terrible commotion in the hennery-undoubtedly there’s a “hen” that needs assistance, and as the mercury hovers at 20 below, I’ll have to hurry, or-well if you can’t understand, just ask Dr. MacElroy. So here’s wishing for the best for F. and H. and its many readers for the coming season, and success to all with the spring litters.
I shall always be