By Rev. Bob Ford
It is August, and that means that we are getting closer to two things that are related, at least for me, here in Pennsylvania. Longer chases and corn. Let me explain. By late August, we will be getting some cooler mornings, hopefully, and that means that the dogs will be running more, in preparation for hunting season. I will probably brace or solo dogs, in my favorite hunting spots, to assess the population of rabbits in each location. A couple of those locations are near farms, or at least land that is leased by farmers, and there are chases that start in the brush and then go into a 100-acre cornfield. Sometimes, the chase never leaves that corn, and when it is time to go home I have to wade into the rows of stalks and catch the beagles.
Many of you might live in states that do not allow year-round running in the wild, and it was once that way here in Pennsylvania, until good science showed that training dogs does not have much impact on rabbit population at all. Not compared to the crows that will kill an entire nest of babies at once, or the fox and coyotes that kill rabbits with regularity. When I was a kid, we were allowed to return to running dogs in the wild in late August or early September as I recall. For some reason, I think it was late August, and it is because of this story that I am about to tell you.
As kids (teenagers) we would go camping with some regularity. It didn’t even require much preparation. We just grabbed a tattered tent and went. None of our tents were “water proof” so we always set them up under a canopy of trees and put plastic tarps above them, tied to the limbs so that any rainfall would be diverted away from the tents. Naturally, when you pitch a tent under trees, you will have a certain number of roots under your tent floor. No matter how hard you tried to find a spot free of roots, you would have some. As a result, once your tent was set up, you would roll around inside to find a spot that was mostly free of protruding tree roots. Once you discovered the angle you would have to lie down to be comfortable, you would then put your sleeping bag in that exact location. It was not at all uncommon to find yourself along one edge of the tent, or at a 45-degree angle, or curved into a C shape.
In late summer, we always preferred to camp near a large farm. Why? Well, many people may not realize this, but if you cook field corn (the stuff grown for livestock) within an hour or two after picking, it tastes as good as sweet corn. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t taste as good as the best sweet corn you ever ate, but I guarantee it is better than the worst sweet corn that you ever had. It is even better than the decent sweet corn that you bought at the grocery store for a lot of money. We started to boil the water before we even picked the corn, and we cooked it within minutes of taking it off the stalk.
We would often go camping on Friday or Saturday night, when we did not have work the next day. My friend Steve never had work the next day (he never had a summer job), and he also had a truck of his own, so he would drive. “Hey,” I asked, “Can we haul the beagles out?”
“What?” he asked.
“I wanted to take the dogs to get a chase. I am sure we will get a rabbit up and running by the farm.”
“Your old man makes you take care of dogs all week, why do you want to haul them along?” Steve shook his head.
“I haven’t been able to run dogs too much lately,” I said, “So all I have done with them is shovel poop and feed them. But if you don’t want them, just say so.”
“No, go ahead,” Steve said.
Don’t miss the rest of this article starting on page 32 of our August issue of Hounds and Hunting!