Rabbit days with Buckshot and Slim....by Bill Byrd

Some of my best huntings days occurred in 1967 to 1972 when I attended the University of Georgia and lived in Athens.

Just about every Saturday at 8AM I drove the short distance to Larry Akers home, we would gather his 13" beagle Buckshot and drive to Royston to hunt with another friend, Bobby Boswell and his 15" beagle Slim.

Slim was an old dog by doggie standards, standing taller and leaner, and when Slim was on scent trailing a rabbit he'd squeal. Buckshot was about a year old plus shorter and broader than Slim. When he scented a rabbit he'd bawl and continue to let us know where he was in the chase. They made quite a rabbit hunting team, and we took them afield as often as we could.

Buckshot was as funny as Snoopy in the Charles Shultz comic strip, but then he was a beagle. Larry and I recently recalled a trip when he and I had been somewhere. It was raining a "frog strangler" and when we returned to Larry's home, we saw Buckshot crouched on his belly on top of his dog house looking straight down watching intently as the waters rolled under his house. It was a scene right out of Peanuts, and we still laugh about it.

When we arrived at Bob's Slim would be up dancing, and shaking, and whining ready to go. He really loved the hunts and lived for them. We could see the age difference because Slim carried a lot of white hair in his muzzle, and arthritis had slowed him down. After the hunts, Slim would drag himself over to get a drink of water, then find a sunny spot and collapse a bag of bones resting in the noontime sun. It took him days to recover after a hunt, but he was always ready for the next Saturday.

Larry reminded me that Buckshot, although being MUCH younger, was absolutely worn out after our hunts. Larry said "he was so pooped, I had to pick him up and put him in the car. He didn't have the oomph to get in himself."

Once ready we headed across the two lane road to at least 40 acres of huntable land full of old style fence rows, brush piles, and tall broom sage. It was a rabbit's hideaway and wonderful cover for the small game that has always inhabited Georgia fields and wood egdes. In those days we never saw a coyote and sighting a fox was rare.

These Saturday morning hunts were as social as they were about hunting. We were just three friends chasing rabbits with the occasional Georgia grey squirrel if one appeared. Rarely a bobwhite quail would be disturbed, explode out from under our feet, and elicit a fast shot.

Slowly strolling through the woods listening to Buckshot bawl and Slim squeal, then the dogs disappearing in woods, only to drive the rabbits back to us -- we covered every meaningful topic from hunting and fishing to everyday life. The dogs would actually range 100 to 300 yards with that unmistakable "music" herding rabbits, as the rabbits doubled back to their starting point. Sometimes they went out of hearing range. Then we'd hear them faintly at first, then louder and louder as they faced chasing the rabbits to their starting point. We watched as the rabbits appeared running and hopping twenty to thirty yards ahead of the dogs. It was a regular parade! Then it was our turn. I'd scare hell out of the rabbit with at least two bad shots tearing up the ground near him, and Bob or Larry would follow with a shot that bagged the critter. (Really I didn't miss all the time.)

That was a dark period in shotgunning for me, because I never had anyone teach me how to properly and accurately shoot a shotgun. I was so bad that I actually believe that a couple of those critters died of a heart attack, because I missed them so closely several times. Assuming the problem lay with the gun, I took my JC Higgins 12 gauge pump and traded it in on a used Browning 12 gauge autoloader and even had Franklin's fit a polychoke to it. I still wasn't hitting where I thought I was shooting.

We enjoyed these days and the stews that followed until Larry graduated from UGA and he, Carol, and Buckshot moved away. I graduated in 1972 and moved to Gainesville, Ga. to pull afternoon drive on one of the local radio stations there. We settled in the Oakwood area while that area was still undeveloped, living in a barn styled house on a corner lot with a small pond in the back yard.

Just down the main road from us was Gainesville Junior College and beyond that were stands of woods -- 350 acres readily accessible to me. I secured permission to hunt there and could fish at the junior college pond in those days.

About that same time I finished up hand building my deer and squirrel rifle, a 38" long barrel .44 caliber percussion fired black powder rifle capable of reaching out for many critters. I learned to shoot it accurately, so I took it to the woods and barked many a squirrel with it. The squirrels that I bagged were the basis for many a gallon pot of either tomato based or beef broth based stews. I filled the pot with broth, onions, carrots, potatoes, and celery and squirrels and after two hours it was ready. A bowl of stew, a bowl of collards, some slathered cornbread, and sweet tea, then I was one happy, broke ex-college student! That's still good eating to me.

I hunted many a morning, then went to work "on-the-air" at WGGA for afternoon drive. Claire worked at a law firm and I was gainfully employed. We weren't getting rich, but we were two happy kids in our new home in our after college life.

I still travel through that area, and it has really changed. The barn styled house we rented is gone. The pond I fished behind the house is gone, and now is a car dealership parking lot. The big stands of woods down the main road have been decemated by development. They've even posted the Gainesville college pond as off limits to fishing.

According to Bob, Slim being the older of the two dogs died first. Then years later Buckshot presumably died in Savannah, Ga. after serving at stud for a dog breeder. Bob, Larry and I are certainly older now, but we're still staying busy. Larry, the second youngest is retired In Illinois and still hand crafting beautiful muzzle loaders like you see above. Bob has been retired and is living in north Georgia. Hopefully I'll remember these days for many more years, but I long for one more hunt rabbit or bird hunt with Larry.

- Bill Byrd