GWP’s like rabbits, sometimes too much
One of my 1st experiences with a rabbit and a GWP might have been a real bad situation, but I think I got lucky. I was running Cruiser off a horse when he was around 15 months old and we were in an area in Idaho that had lots of rattlesnakes. I watched him run up a hill and he was working back down it when a snake started buzzing around 75 yards from me. It was big snake right at the bottom of a large boulder and my horse wouldn’t get any closer. Cruiser came running down the hill and right into the snake, but he had been snake broke, and he jumped back away just in time. I thought that was close, but just then a small cottontail rabbit went wobbling out in front of Cruiser and he jumped on it. He was bringing it back to me and acting like he might want to eat it. I finally got him to spit it out and it was still just kind of wobbling around for maybe thirty seconds then it just died. I inspected it and could see the fang marks. I concluded the snake had just bitten the rabbit and it wasn’t dead when Cruiser grabbed it, but if he would have eaten it he would have got the venom in his stomach. Of course that is just my theory and maybe it’s not accurate at all. I have no idea how much venom was in the rabbit, or if it would have caused issues, but I thought it was better he didn’t eat it.
It wasn’t too long after that I was doing some yard work with a young male in a five acre sagebrush area at my house when he went on point. I noticed it was a jackrabbit that had snuck through the net wire somewhere. This was the 1st real good rabbit point I had seen. Most of the time I saw rabbits the rabbits were running full out with a dog right on their heels. The dog and rabbit were both frozen so I decided to work the rabbit like a bird for the dog. I got a little closer and the rabbit took off, and the dog broke. Before I could even really think about a correction the rabbit was in the dog’s mouth. It ran the wrong way and the dog ran the right way. I was standing there thinking how did a wirehair just catch an ultra-fast jackrabbit? Then the dog dug a hole, buried it, and tamped it in with his nose. All this happen within a few minutes while I was still thinking how did that happen? Unfortunately this is the dog that was killed by a wolf a few weeks later.
After I had lived in South Dakota I started getting lots of work on rabbits out on the prairies. I had many points on cottontails and a few broke dog situations where I was able to flush the rabbit, shoot it, and then send the dog for the retrieve. Mostly it was white jackrabbits I found, sometimes in herds. A few places the white jackrabbits were so thick the dogs would have a point every fifty yards. I had one dog that always found plenty of the big jackrabbits to point. I would shoot a couple as a reward for good work, and they were a workout to retrieve them as well since they were pretty big.
What I have started to figure out is pointing rabbits is much harder for a dog than upland birds. The rabbits just don’t hang around that often when they know the dogs are in the area, but once they get pointed they usually don’t bust until I get within range. Even a dog with lots of point seems to have some difficulty getting rabbits pointed. I think they try tracking them too much, and don’t lock up fast enough when they get in the scent of the actual rabbit.
Of course weather can help you out just like upland bird hunting. I had a couple dogs out in some real nasty weather last winter; it was around -10 degrees without the wind, 20 mph winds, and snowing. Not too pleasant for me, but not the worst I have tried hunting my dogs in either. I always take dogs out in the bad weather just to see how they perform. On this day one dog looked great and one was not so good. The dog doing the good work did get five different snowshoe hares pointed and I got close to most of them before they busted. That was the most snowshoes hares I ever had pointed in a day by far. I didn’t get any shot because the dogs were young and not broke which meant they were right on the hare’s heels and I didn’t have a shot. The best time for me to get on cottontails is winter conditions with some fresh snow. Most of the time the cottontails are in the rim rocks where I hunt, but some are in brush piles and thick cover in creek bottoms. It seems like they are never too far from the rabbit hole, usually in a rock pile. After I have hunted a dog a few times most of the time I can tell by the dog’s tail if it has a point on an upland bird it is familiar with, a deer, a porcupine, or a rabbit. Until the dog has had many rabbit points it just won’t look quite as confident on a rabbit as say a covey of sharp tail grouse. I also try to find the rabbit by looking from a far if I think it is a rabbit point. Sometimes they will be out in the open on a rock, or maybe under a piece of brush. If I can locate it I will just use the rifle portion of my 223, 20 gauge combo gun. If I just have a shot gun I have no choice but to try and get close and hope I can hit it running full out, and hope the dog doesn’t break. I have never tried to shoot a rabbit for a none broke dog just because I don’t want to run the risk of shooting my dog. Even if the dog is broke they might want to break on a rabbit. I usually work a few rabbit points and blank while watching the dog with broke dogs just to make sure they stay broke before I shoot any rabbits.
I know many hunters just want their bird dogs to avoid rabbits, and if you mention rabbit points around field trailers some will look at you like you need to visit a mental hospital. After watching many different gwp’s, with different styles work rabbits I’m convinced if your dog can handle rabbit points, it can handle pointing any upland birds, even wise old pheasants. I would never discourage my dogs from pointing rabbits because I don’t see the bad things that some dog people or dog trainers seem to think are out there because of rabbit points.