The state Game Commission will conduct a tour of State Game Lands Nos. 12 and 36, which are in the most remote area of Bradford County. These two game lands adjoin each other and consist of 43,408 acres.
The automobile tour will be held on Oct. 3, with vehicles allowed to begin the tour at 10:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. If care is used, the roads are good enough for most vehicles. The tour, which is about 30 miles long, begins at the top of Wheelerville Mountain along Route 154.
While checking out these game lands for the tour, I observed a man standing along the road, so I stopped to see if he needed help. As soon as I turned the window down, I could hear beagles chasing a rabbit.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BILL BOWER
At one time, rabbits were the No. 1 game species in Pennsylvania. A bounding cottontail was the favorite shotgun game and the supply seemed to be endless, as depicted in this Arthur Frost painting of old-time hunters.
The man's name was Ray Wanner and he belongs to a hunting camp in the area called Camp Fleetwood. Ray raises and runs beagles.
As we were talking, the rabbit being chased came out of the thick brush and stopped in the middle of the road, sat up on its hind legs and looked back in the direction of the dogs' barking. Then, it ran down the road for about 15 yards in our direction and stopped again, stood on its hind legs and again listened for the dogs, turned around and ran back up the road on the same path that it had come from.
When the rabbit got to the area where it first came out onto the road, it stopped, stood up again, checked for the dogs and took one big leap into the thick brush on the opposite side of the road away from the dogs.
Soon three beagles appeared on the road, where the rabbit first had appeared and, after sniffing the ground, came down the road toward us at the same spot where the rabbit had run earlier; however, when the dogs got there, they became confused.
After about five minutes of sniffing, barking and going in circles, one of the dogs went back into the brush, retracing the rabbit's trail. The other two dogs were still confused as to which way the rabbit went. Finally, the beagle that went on the back trail returned to the road, and this time he went straight across the road.
Within a few minutes, he began barking, and we knew that he was back on the rabbit's trail. He quickly was joined by the other two dogs and the chase continued. The sound of their barking echoing throughout the thicket sounded like music to my ears.
When I was young, the rabbit was the No. 1 game species in the state, and my family were dyed-in-the-wool rabbit hunters. Most of the time, we hunted without a dog.
If I remember correctly, when we did have a dog along, more time was spent hunting for the dog than for rabbits.
More than any other game, rabbits can be found in all kinds of habitat, from mountains, swamps, farmland, parks and lawns. It is hard to think of beagles without thinking about rabbits, just like ham and eggs.
Just listening to the beagle barking while on the hot trail of a bunny on a frosty morning is an enjoyable event in itself.
Beagles have been developed primarily for tracking rabbits. They have a keen sense of smell and often are used as detection dogs for agricultural imports that are quarantined and to detect food items in luggage.
Beagles are great at ground scenting but not at air scenting, which is why they are not used for search and rescue dogs.
Our word beagle comes from the French word begueler, which means open throat, referring to the dog's baying voice. Begueler comes from two French words: bayer, meaning "open wide" and gueule, meaning "mouth."
Beagles most commonly are white, black and brown; however, one source stated that they actually change colors throughout their lives.
Beagle puppies are mostly black and white when born and, after a couple of months, a few black areas fade to a brown.
Some older beagles lose almost all of their black color and are only brown and white.
Rabbits are active all year long and are considered crepuscular, meaning that they are most active around dusk and dawn.
Their mating season runs from February through September, and a female rabbit can have as many as seven litters a year.
If all the young lived, mathematically, one female rabbit could produce 35,000 young in just five years.
A typical female will give birth to 25 young over the course of a year.
Juvenile females born in early spring will mate and have a September litter.
However, a lot of young rabbits never make it out of the nest and those that do are food for all kinds of predators and also victims of automobiles.
According to the state Game Commission book, "Wildlife of Pennsylvania," there are three species of rabbits found in the state: the Eastern cottontail, the Allegheny cottontail and the New England cottontail.
All three of these species resemble one another in appearance and habits.
Well, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing Ray's beagles running the rabbit and enjoyed seeing how the rabbit fooled the dogs.
It certainly made me want to buy a beagle and get back into rabbit hunting.
Bower retired after 34 years as a wildlife conservation officer for the state Game Commission. He has published several books about his experiences, the latest being ''Every Day Was Game Day.'' Questions and comments may be sent to him at 153 Redington Ave., Troy PA 16947.