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The formative years

Growing up, in my formative years, the months of January and February were meant for rabbit hunting. I’d often spend snow days, when school was canceled, with a buddy — or two or three — hunting bunnies. Sometimes we’d walk the fields along Goose Creek and Big Creek, following tracks and taking turns jumping up and down on brushpiles to flush out the next cottontail.

Other times my friend Kenny and I would load up his dad’s beagles, Flash and Gertrude, and drive a couple miles to a good access to the railroad tracks. While hunting along railroad tracks is frowned on these days, at the time it was a great place to hunt rabbits. We’d slowly meander along the tracks while the beagles worked the brushy fencerows of the neighboring farm fields. When a dog began bawling, signaling he was on a hot trail, we’d stop talking and pay close attention. The rabbit would do one of two things: 1) exit the brush and run up onto the rail grade and head one direction or the other along the tracks, at which time we’d quickly end his escape with a 12-gauge small game load, or 2) exit the brush into the field, at which time we’d watch him keenly and cleverly meander in a large loop through the field before returning back to the thick brush close to where he exited in the first place. In this instance the dogs would either dash after the rabbit if they saw him (but, of course, they couldn’t keep up), or howl and bawl as they feverishly tracked the running rabbit. Most times the little dogs would make the entire loop of the hot trail and return back to the brush pile to, in time, find and flush the rabbit out again.

Rabbit hunting is not overly-physically demanding. That makes it a great sport for most people. To that end, the MDC is offering “Discover Nature — Women Rabbit Hunting with Beagles Clinic” at Duck Creek Conservation Area on Feb. 12.  The rabbit clinic is part of the “Discover Nature — Women” series of outdoor skills workshops for women.

According to the MDC, “The clinic will be a one-day training session and guided hunt. The morning session will combine classroom and hands-on training in the field. Topics will include the history and biology of eastern cottontail and swamp rabbits in Missouri, rabbit hunting with beagles, equipment, regulations and shotgun shooting techniques. Lunch and equipment will be provided to participants.

“The afternoon hunt will team participants with local rabbit hunting experts on privately and publicly owned areas near MDC’s Duck Creek Conservation Area. Applicants must be at least 16 years of age and are required to purchase appropriate hunting permits. A $25 pre-registration fee must be included with applications. This payment will be returned to the participants at the clinic on Feb. 12.

“Applications and pre-registration fees should be delivered to the MDC Southeast Regional Office in Cape Girardeau by Feb. 4. Applicants will be notified of the results of the selection process after Feb. 4. Applicants born on or after Jan. 1, 1967, must complete a Hunter Education Course or purchase an Apprentice Hunter Authorization in addition to their regular small-game hunting permit in order to attend the event. For more information contact Conservation Agent Mic Plunkett at 573-495-2737 or the MDC  Southeast Regional Office at 573-290-5730.”

And there’s more to do in late January and February than rabbit hunt. In recent years squirrel season has been extended to Feb. 15. I hope to be squirrel hunting as most people are opening their paper and reading this story on Saturday morning. Hunters can also target coyotes and crows — neither fit to eat, but both make for a fun day afield. Both are drawn in using calls, which makes for a fun, interactive hunt. Along with species in season year-round, anglers can also fish for black bass in Ozarks streams, or snag or gig non-game species.

Looking ahead, turkey hunters have until Feb. 28 to fill out an application for managed turkey hunts during the upcoming spring season. Like the state’s managed deer hunts, the MDC intends to hold managed spring turkey hunts at August A. Busch, Bois D’Arc, Caney Mountain and Weldon Spring conservation areas. There will also be managed hunts at Smithville Lake and Current River State Park. More details can be found online at, or in the MDC’s 2011 hunting and fishing regulations booklet.

And the bosom of winter also offers ample opportunities for folks who neither hunt or fish. This is a great time to take in one of the region’s hiking trails. The landscape, naked of most foliage, provides vistas unseen the other three seasons, as well as unending wildlife spotting chances. There’s even a likelihood of spotting a bald eagle or two this time of year.

Until next week, remember we’re blessed to be living in the beautiful Ozarks … so why not get out and enjoy.

Doug Smith lives in an old house, drives an old truck, tinkers with old tractors, is married to a young woman, hunts and fishes often, and can be found on any given day wearing his Buffalo plaid flannel jacket and matching Elmer Fudd hat.

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