SWAMPER( MS )
The cold from the black, muddy, ankle deep water, instantly came through his new Christmas present rubber boots. He carefully locked the hubs of his old pickup truck as he thought about how thick the ice on the water filling the ruts in the road had been. The ice in the road had been broken when he got there to the place that required four wheel drive and hub locking. The broken ice told him that one of his friends were already there. He was wrong, they were all there, and not only there, but they had a fire built up.The phone calls had went around the evening before. It was time. Thanksgiving, Christmas and deer season were well past, as well as the college bowl games. It was late in January. Winter had the Ouachita mountains firmly in it’s grasp. His phone call had went like this: “Hey, buddy ! I’ve had about all of this house that I can stand !” “Are your beagles ready to switch over to rabbiting ?”The sound of a pack of beagles working a rabbit track while lined up nose to tail on the rabbit trail, was a thing of beauty. The volume of the pack of beagles was unreal. A mature swamp rabbit would usually be several minutes ahead of the beagles and the hunters deemed it to be a race just about equal to a whitetail deer race.The Ouachita mountains contained a few old farm places that were overgrown with brush that protected the rabbits from hawks , coyotes and so forth. These places were usually down low in a river bottom, bounded by high ridges.Rabbit populations in these places would rise until you could actually smell them when walking through the area. Any stump would have rabbit pellets on the top. Foraging rabbits with voracious winter appetites would often times strip the bark from small trees to feed their hunger.Getting out of the pickup with a thermos in one hand, and cup in the other, he walked to the fire. Offering his friends who were already warming by the fire and drinking coffee, a “warm up” from his thermos, he said,” Geeze, you guys must have cabin fever really bad to want to get out in this cold !” As the thermos was passed around the fire the hunters joked with each other. A lull in the conversation caused one of the older hunters to say, ” everyone shootin’ low brass, with small shot this morning ?” We don’t want no one getting hurt.” Most of the hunters checked the shells carried in their vest and confirmed that no more powerful “high brass”, was present. The conversation picked back up with comments about various Christmas gift hunting items that had been recieved. New rubber boots here, a new vest and gloves there, but most of the conversation revolved around one hunters new shotgun with choke tubes that could be changed out for different uses.The campfire would be the hub of activity all morning long. When a hunter got water in his boots, or just plain ol’ froze out, he could soon be found at the fire. As a beagle “dropped out” of the race for a while, he would soon be at the fire.As mid day neared, several hunters were around the fire, when a swamp rabbit ran up near the fire, made a sharp turn, leaped from the stream bank into the water and swam up stream out of sight. A couple of minutes later the beagles came up his back trail and “made a loose”, some at the fire near the hunters and some at the stream. One beagle with ice frozen to his tail hair came up to the fire and flopped down with a grunt.Watching the beagle, one hunter with his hands stretched out to the fire to capture the warmth, said ” yeh, me too, I think i’ve about had it too”.Cold, ice, mud and fatigue had taken their toll on both hunters and beagles. The escape from cabin fever had been a success, and winter would be a bit more bearable now.