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Hot Rabbit Sets the Woods on Fire

by N. Ray Maxie
N. Ray Maxie
Ark-La-Tex area sportsmen often enjoy hunting wild brush rabbits. Some even make a specialty of it. Often folk are so ‘into it’ they get themselves a couple of Beagle hounds. They head for the wide-open fields and country hillsides, taking their rabbit dogs out every chance they get.

A two-dog team is best to work with, as it permits the pair to put a rabbit into the triangle chase. While one dog is chasing the bunny, the other is cutting him off at the pass, angling in from the side. This angle approach can close in on the prey rapidly.

The Beagle hound is well known as a good rabbit-hunting dog, or “rabbit dog” for short. Even with his stubby little legs, he can really put hot pursuit on a rabbit. The Beagle is a short hair dog, most always basically white with large spots that are light to dark brown. This rabbit dog has very long ears. Ears that sometimes drag the ground. His medium length tail gently curves up and remains pointed upward constantly. Adult Beagles will weigh maybe up to twenty five or thirty pounds and have a loud, low-pitched bark that often comes with a long, drawn out sound when in pursuit of game.

As a country kid, I was about ten years old at the time of this story. I grew up near McLeod in far NE Texas and never owned a Beagle hound. Our economically depressed condition, not to mention always being short on money, never allowed my family and me to acquire a good-blooded hunting dog. We most often raised a puppy someone had given us. We might even allow a sleek, fairly good-looking, energetic ‘stray’ dog to take up permanent abode on our place. At any rate, we always had a dog or two basking about the place. And if we let them go hungry awhile, with a raging appetite, they might even become interested enough to chase a wild brush rabbit on occasion.

Under the driveway to my family home, a piece of steel pipe was used as a culvert. It was about eight inches in diameter. So it was just the right size for a rabbit to run into for refuge while escaping a pursuing dog. And believe me, this scenario played out many times in my childhood. That gave a backward, timid country lad reason to have some fun.

Stunt #1.. On one occasion I recall seeing that our dog had chased a rabbit into the culvert and stood there at the end barking furiously. Suddenly the bright idea occurred to this barefoot country boy to catch the rabbit by punching him out with a fishing pole. But that would only make it run out the other end of the pipe and escape. So, first I had to place a box at one end of the culvert to capture the rabbit. But even if I didn’t catch it, my doggie could continue the pursuit. He stood close by ready for some more action!

So I arranged the little box-trap, and I did, yep, I managed to catch that rabbit in the box. Now, having a wild and rambunctious rabbit in the box, I thought of a very rural, adolescent and eventually seriously disturbing experiment. Which one could win a fight if I placed my mother’s little house cat in the box with this big wild rabbit? Or, would they even fight? I didn’t know! An experiment, I admit, and I truly didn’t know what the outcome would be. I did, however, know that I could rescue mom’s cat if the big wild rabbit managed to get the upper hand of her ‘precious’ little kitty.

So, cautiously opening the box slightly, I slipped the cat in the box with the wild rabbit. After a brief scuffle, the fur really flew. Almost in the blink of an eye, the cat had that big wild rabbit by the throat and after a lot of kicking, jumping and shaking, it was dead in a New York minute. That was totally a sad, sad shocker to me. It was a dumb, thoughtless adolescent stunt! I had really intended to eventually release the rabbit back into the wild. Instead, I had to bow my head, go dig a hole and bury poor ole ‘bugs bunny’.

Stunt #2.. Another silly experiment and learning experience. Some few weeks later, there it was again! My dog had chased another wild rabbit into the culvert and was barking furiously into the pipe. This time I would try something differently. Something I had seen my dad do before, although he had a much better outcome than I did.

I went to the car shed and poured from a five gallon galvanized gas can, about a pint of casing-head (raw oil field) gasoline into a small coffee can. (please don’t try this at home) I took the small amount, maybe two cups full and going to the culvert, I tossed the gas as far as I could into the pipe. I then ran into the house to get some kitchen matches and quickly returned. By this time the gas fumes had completely permeated the pipe. Tossing a lighted match into the end of the culvert, it quickly ignited becoming a flaming inferno with a wild rabbit inside.

Perhaps you have no doubt heard the old saying, “Why, he is just a ball of fire?” Quicker than the gas had ignited in the pipe, that rabbit shot out the far end of the culvert like a flash. And guess what, he was a flash; a solid ball of fire, he was! My dog, in hair-raising fright, didn’t know whether to resume chase or run for cover and hide. He was highly frightened! But soon he just slow trailed that flaming bunny for a short distance back into the woods.

By that time the “ball of fire” was setting the grass and weeds on fire. Entering the woods, he began to set the fallen leaves and brush on fire. Oh, my heavens! Eeekkk!! Eee-gads and yuck!! What had I done? All that excitement highly frightened me, too. By this time, I, now a semi-experienced country kid, was jumping up and down, so terribly afraid myself. I just wanted to go hide somewhere, wishing right then, I was some place else.

Soon, all the commotion and highly elevated excitement got the attention of my mother. She came barreling out the door on the front porch wiping her hands on her apron and hollering, “What’s happened, son? What happened? Oh my God, boy! What have you done? You’re going to set the whole place on fire!”

Sheeezzz!! Now that sure made me feel better! I just sheepishly said, “I don’t know, Ma. That rabbit suddenly came running out of the culvert on fire!” Tee-hee-hee! What else could I say? GeeWhiz! I know that wasn’t very convincing! Was it? But right then we didn’t have much time to discuss it any further. There was ‘FIRE’ to fight!

Mother was highly afraid of fire, having had her childhood home in Louisiana destroyed by fire. She shouted, “Go get some wet toe sacks, Son! Quick! Bring a bunch! Hurry!” In Olympic speed I ran to the feed house, grabbed four or five old (feed) toe sacks. Quickly running by the big black cast iron wash pot full of water in the laundry shed, I dipped all the sacks in it. Returning to the fire, I gave mother two or three of the wet sacks.

She and I beat, smothered and stomped fire around there for about an hour and a half. We didn’t even own a water hose. Didn’t have any use for one. Matter-of-fact, we didn’t even have running water on the place.

But in time, by also using some “green” pine tree branches to swat fire with, we won. We succeeded in extinguishing most of the fire without doing any great extensive damage.

Finally, totally exhausted; all black, wet and smoky, we had the fire put out and were extremely happy we did. Mother and I, after I humbly took a severe reprimand, (tongue-lashing), we wholeheartedly agreed it was one stunt I definitely would never try again.

Where that hot bunny wound up, is anybody’s guess. At least he had quit setting things on fire around there. Perhaps we were extremely lucky he hadn’t run under our house and set it on fire. What a blessing!

And you know? It was such great relief to us, we didn’t care where that rabbit had gone. But frankly, I do believe, had we soon found that “wild, smoking” bunny, we likely would have had fresh “woasted wabbit” on the supper table that evening.
© N. Ray Maxie
"Ramblin' Ray" August 1, 2007 Column

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