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by Steve McCadams

    Deep in the swamps of Haywood County where bottomland hardwoods have escaped the roar of chain saws for many years came the unmistakable yelp.

    The frisky black and tan beagle negotiated a wet and muddy briar thicket where the silence stopped and a serenade began. First the jump dog sounded off, alerting the pack of his newly found hidden treasure with a series of “look-what-I-found” barks.

    Dogs have a code and while I’m not on the same wavelength or claim to speak the language I’m pretty sure what those call for reinforcements sound like.

     In a matter of seconds five dogs entered the hotly contested race and a swamp rabbit with home court advantage took the pack through sloughs and ditches surrounded by towering cypress and tupelo gum in this Forked Deer River wonderland.

    Every time I hear the music I ask myself why I waited so long to stop and smell the roses. Baying beagles barking to the high heavens never seem to hit a sour note.

     It’s pretty much impossible not to fall under the spell of a rabbit race. Each dog sports a different voice and when the choir sings folks just seem to pause and listen. It’s mesmerizing to any ear that listens.

    From the dark swamp came echoes as the dogs almost faded out of hearing distance before the hot pursuit changed directions, heading right back to the scene of the initial encounter.

    “They’ll come right back to where they were this time of year,” said Adam Hill of Nashville, son of former Henry County native Joe Hill, as he watched for movement in the shadows of the forest floor.

    Thanks to an invitation from Joe, I joined the hunting party with fellow Parisians Brent Greer and Crockett Mathis. We linked up with Larry Hicks of Dyer County and Tommy Bradberry of Dresden, forming a posse in search of illusive swamp rabbits on a cool Saturday morning in rural West Tennessee.

    Four wheelers ferried us and our canine companions a long way back in the bottom where ducks sailed overhead in their lazy after season flight patterns. Deer paths leading into the woods were abundant and the routes clearly indicated we were in a whitetail’s wonderland.

    While maneuvering into position for what I hoped might be a shot a hen wood duck darted by on a low altitude journey, weaving in and around the flooded cypress as though she had been there before.

    As swamp rabbits often do, the master of this mud Mecca used his wit and wisdom, loosing the dogs when he hit water and likely swam to safety. From rapid barks to silence in a matter of seconds, the dogs seemed puzzled as the scent of their prey went cold.

    We moved on and hustled the four-legged brigade of bunny chasers to a new spot and soon it was an instant replay of hit and run as the race accelerated but this time with a different outcome. Bradberry’s borrowed 28-gauge found its mark and our curse was removed as the long, lanky rabbit dangled, almost touching the ground even when held waist high.

    Swamp rabbits are bigger than hill rabbits but today we didn’t have to worry about bulging game bags and heavy loads as Hicks was close by with the Polaris taxicab. Two-way Motorola radios helped pinpoint positions and also served as conduits for embellishment of shooting ability.

    Several good races followed as the noon hour approached. A smack sound of Greer’s Remington Nylon 66, the light 22-caliber rifle that served as an excellent gun for close shots in thick cover, added another notch to the success story.

    At midday it was lunch on the back roads with dogs at our feet. Sandwiches, crackers, bologna, and some of Hick’s special sausage helped formulate a meal fit for a king as stories were swapped of hunts and hunters come and gone.

    Six big swamp rabbits comprised our bounty by mid-afternoon before we called it quits and slammed the doors shut on dog boxes full of wagging tails.

    Whether it was six or sixteen made no difference to me as race after race more than made the trip worthwhile, not to mention the fellowship of shots taken and missed.

    Rabbit hunts seem to bring buddies together at a pace fast enough to remain interesting and slow enough to reflect on the moment at hand. The music deserves an encore. Dogs hot on the trail of a finicky rabbit seem to make all the rest of the world go by without worry and concern.

     Again I wondered why I waited so long and made a silent promise to myself to return more often to such rural rendezvous that always seem to say come back soon. The hare and the hound doing what they do best on a sunny day in the Deep South.

     Some things never go out of style. Baying beagles and buddies seems to rate high on the list.


Steve McCadams is a professional hunting and fishing guide here in the Paris Landing area. He has also contributed many outdoor oriented articles to various national publications.



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