Dawn had yet to awaken in the eastern sky, but a half-dozen hunters from Moore County did not need either the sun or an alarm clock to get them up and going. After being hauled a long way from home in the backs of pickup trucks, 23 beagles were barking and howling, impatient to start their day.
Above the roar of their dogs, hunters had to holler in order to understand what they were saying. Ronnie Dowdy fitted a GPS tracking collar to a beagle named Skeeter.
“We drove 2 1/2 hours to hunt rabbits,” said Ronnie Dowdy, 51, a farmer from Carthage. “Some of us hunt two or three days a week and others can only hunt on the weekends. We try to get in a couple of road trips each season and this is one of them.”
The hunters had spent the night at Conman’s Hunting Guide Service at Creswell. While Conman’s is renowned for hosting hunts for tundra swans and black bears, a lesser-known opportunity it offers is rabbit hunting.
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“Back home, on some Saturdays, we might kill eight or 10 rabbits and on others, three or four,” Dowdy said. “Some deer hunters sublease their land to me after deer season goes out and I also have a lot of rabbits on my property. It is a lot more trouble finding a place to hunt rabbits than when I was young. My grandfather took me rabbit hunting as soon as I was big enough to tote a gun. Now, we have to pay for a rabbit lease and there was no such thing as that, back then. If you found a block of woods where the timber was cut, you just got out and hunted.”
The beagles’ owners were Dowdy, Eli Purvis, Randy Flinchum and his son, Derrick. Purvis is the group’s scorekeeper, keeping track of how many rabbits each hunter takes as well as the group’s season total.
“We have had a down year as far as the number of rabbits,” said Purvis, a 19-year-old from Carthage who is a student at Sandhills Community College. “If we go somewhere around home and kill four rabbits it is a good day. The most we killed in one day at home this season was seven. We also made a hunt at Denton, which is along the coast, and killed 11.”
Purvis described the hunters as just a group that gets together on weekends. However, the past few years, the group became more serious, hunting rabbits more and other game less.
“If everybody gets one or two rabbits, it is a good hunt,” he said. “But, the hunt is not about killing rabbits. We enjoy listening to the dogs run. We also like getting out and seeing new places. We hunted at Fort Pickett in Virginia this year and it is a nice place to hunt. We enjoyed driving down here and staying overnight.”
Purvis said it cost $500 to $600 per year to keep up one beagle and he has 10. He has hunted rabbits since he was old enough to go and has had his own dogs since he was 15. Considering the cost of keeping up his dogs, he said paying a fee to have a place to hunt is no deterrent.
The other hunters were Larry Hall, 49, a Moore County employee from Carthage, Richard Thomas, 49, a lineman for Randolph Electric from Carthage, Randy Flinchum, 47, a plumber from Carthage, and his son Derrick Flinchum, an 18-year-old student at Sandhills Community College.
The hunters headed to an area with fields bordered by thick undergrowth, where they hunted all day until it got too dark. However, the number of rabbits their dogs ran as well as the number of rabbits the hunters bagged was no more than average, despite the long journey. Dowdy, Hall, Purvis and Randy Flinchum each bagged one cottontail rabbit for a total of four, which increased the group’s season total to 73.
“The scent conditions were bad,” Randy Flinchum said. “The air was too dry and the dogs could not make out very well, but why we did not kill any more rabbits is hard to say. There may not have been many rabbits, but I saw a lot of rabbit sign in one of the cut-downs. Ronnie is my brother-in-law and got me started rabbit hunting. We used to hunt deer with dogs before he got out of the deer-dog business and then we still-hunted for deer. Now, we are hunting rabbits. We keep them cool and dress them out and Ronnie’s mom cooks them by parboiling them to make them tender. Then she fries them. Fried cottontail rabbits are really good to eat.”
For more information about Conman’s, visit conmans.homestead.com or call 800-668-7124.