St. Mary Parish could be tops nationally in rabbits

Porter McCollister, Matt McCollister, Jason Flores, and Mark Gowan with swamp rabbits
harvested in St. Mary Parish along a canal bank. (Submitted Photo/Courtesy of John K. Flores)

By JOHN K. FLORES

The high-pitched yodels of beagles, once faint, now were getting louder as the rabbit chase clearly had turned my way along the canal spoil bank.
I had chosen my spot carefully, not just because it would give me a clear shot at a rabbit ahead of the dogs, but it allowed me to also keep an eye on my buddy and my son’s back at the boat.
Long worn out from trudging canal banks, the boys had stopped to enjoy a few snacks and a couple of those drinks in the foil container you stick a straw into.
The swamp dogs came closer, and it seemed I was going to blow an eyeball out straining to see anything that looked like fur sneaking through the thick understory in front of me.
Suddenly, everything was streaking past me along the water’s edge – rabbit followed by dogs – all right towards the boat.
The unmistakable guttural laugh, the kind that makes you want to grab your side, came from my son Joshua.
“Daddy,” he yelled laughing. “The rabbit jumped on the boat, and the dogs crashed into the side of the boat!”
That hunt took place 20 years ago, and to this day, I have never owned a beagle. However, by the same token, I also have never refused anyone’s offer to chase rabbits with their beagles on the lease I hunt, either.
Such was the case with the boat-crashing hounds. My buddy’s father-in-law had a friend, who had some dogs and wanted to know … “Absolutely, let’s set it up,” is how I recall it went.
We managed to bust a few rabbits that day, but it was the way those hounds chased them that excited and entertained us – especially the boys.
Perhaps that is the same way the first Cro-Magnon man felt while peaking over a rocky out cropping, watching a pack of gray wolves take down a mastodon. Old Tumak might have been thinking, just maybe, while the wolf was away hunting, he’d rob the den of a few pups and see if they could help him put a few groceries in his cave woman’s alpine fridge.
Whatever the case, more than 300 species of dogs and 600,000 years later, give or take 10,000, man still is using canines to chase game animals. Moreover, trying to figure out whose dog or what dog is best.
The vanity of competition runs deep in spite of early man’s job of just trying to survive. Who knows? It might have been important to a guy like Tumak, depicted in the movie “One Million Years B.C,” to field trial his “Rock” people wolf pup against the best pup the “Shell” people could put up against him.
As he and Loana, played by Rachel Welch, set off to start a new life together, little did she know, Tumak liked to hunt behind a good pack of dogs.
During the month of February, St. Mary Parish hunters finally have picked up their rifles and bows after 102 days of deer season, and duck hunters reluctantly are stowing their decoys. However, there are always a few hunters who will take advantage of just maybe the best rabbit hunting in the entire United States.
I personally don’t know, nor have ever read, anyplace where a half-dozen guys can go and all kill a limit of rabbits on a hunt. That’s an eight-rabbit-per-man limit. But, it’s done over and over each year by more than one group of hunters here in the parish during February.
Our rabbit isn’t just any run of mill cottontail, either. The scientific name of our local rabbit is sylvilagus aquaticus. It’s the aquaticus part that ought to get your attention, which is Latin for living or growing by the water. We call them “swamp” rabbits in Louisiana.
A few years ago, I hunted with a Tennessean named Porter McCollister, who brought his prized beagles down the marsh, and had this to say about our swampers: “It’s a different animal. Down here, it’s all swamp rabbits, and we don’t have swamp rabbits back home. They’re all cottontails. The animal, itself, is twice as large. It runs faster and runs farther, but it has got more scent, so the tracking is pretty successful.
“And marsh hunts are also completely different than anything I’m used to,” McCollister added. “It’s a little bit more chaotic, because of the high density of animals. Back home, we’re so used to jumping a rabbit, running a race, and when it comes back around, harvesting it. Here, it’s more like flushing them. You could be shooting several rabbits while the dogs are packed up chasing a different rabbit.”
Though, there is nothing like hunting rabbits with dogs. But, if you don’t own a brace of beagles, it’s not necessary if you find a spot along a bayou or canal bank that has a lot of sign. You, and a few buddies can walk them up.
Now that the aforementioned deer and duck seasons are over, there are plenty of public landings locally to hunt swamp rabbits. The Atchafalaya Delta Wildlife Management Area has excellent hunting along some of its higher banks. The vegetation in February is about as low as it’s going to get, with spring just around the corner.
Attakapas Wildlife Management Area also can be productive. It’s a little tougher to hunt, but if you look for low patches of briars, knee-high clumps of grass and wood piles near cover — if the sign is there — there will be swamp rabbits, too.
I don’t know the area Tumak hunted one million years ago, but if it was in St. Mary Parish, it’s no wonder man survived. There sure is plenty of sylvilagus aquaticus to eat around these parts.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Flores is The Daily Review’s Outdoor Editor. If you wish to make a comment or have an anecdote, recipe or story you wish to share you can contact him at 985-395-5586 or at gowiththeflo@cox.net or on Facebook at Gowiththeflo Outdoors.

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