MIAMI – There's nothing quite like the sound of a baying beagle on the trail of a rabbit. This breed of dogs are small hounds with a great sense of smell developed primarily for hunting hare.
Beagle clubs are gaining popularity in the state of Oklahoma and across the country. Over the weekend almost one hundred hunters came from all over the United States to the state to take part Saturday in the American Rabbit Hunters Association Oklahoma State Beagle Hunt.
Travis Burki of Wyandotte and his beagle club, the Ottawa County Beagle Club, organized and hosted the event in Quapaw.
Beagle rabbit hunting is a competitive sport involving a man and his dog in the great outdoors. The hunters enjoy the thrill of allowing the Beagle to use its natural instincts to track rabbits. Burki said some hunters use Beagles to hunt coyotes or fox. Many beagle hunters hunt other breeds of dogs such a bird dogs or foxhounds.
“There's an abundance of rabbits here. I was originally a coyote hunter. A beagle you can run on seven acres of ground, and you don't have to worry about it,” Burki said. “The beagles I’ve been in for just a year. I used to field trial foxhounds. I started a club here last January. There’s a club in Chelsea called the Sooner State, then there’s one at Oilton and one at Waggoner. It’s not new, just with the times, people haven’t kept it going.”
The state hunt began in the early morning hours at 6 a.m. on private lands with permission from landowners. Dogs and hunters were divided into casts, or groups of three to five dogs, and judged on the way they performed
Burki described how a typical beagle hunt is operated, “The hunter will come in in the morning and we have a deadline to where the hunter has to have his dog registered for the hunt. Then we'll assign each dog a number. Depending on how many dogs are there, we'll draw out for each cast, and we'll put three to five dogs in a cast. Once we get all that done, we'll draw judges for each cast.”
Burki said judges must pass a national test to get a judge's license for sanctioned hunts. The dogs are judged by how well they track, jump or check a rabbit.
“The judge will evaluate that dog for one hour. The way they judge them is by strike, jump and check. Strike is where the beagle just finds a scent and starts trailing it, and a jump is where they actually jump the rabbit, and the judges see the dog jump the rabbit, and then a check is if they lose him, it will be in an area that they visually mark off in their mind and the beagle has to come back in that area to find the rabbit,” Burki said. “The judge will have a score sheet and he’ll turn it in. Then on the eraser board for each cast we will list the hound’s number and scores – then we’ll set out a new cast from those. Hunters can follow their standing throughout the day’s hunts, ”
Strikes are worth 10 points, jumps are worth 30 points, and a check is worth 25 points.
The object of these types of hunts is more of a dog trial and not to kill or harm the rabbit, according to Burki.
“I’m not saying a beagle doesn’t catch a rabbit, but it’s more about finding a rabbit,” he said. “It’s a field trial, a sanctioned field trial.”
Fees are minimal to enter most hunts, for example, the local hunt charged a $20 entry fee. The winners receive trophies and various prizes in nearly all hunts.
It can be hard to find landowners willing to let the hunters run their dogs because either they don’t understand the sport or may not want the responsibility, according to Burki, but many others are open and graciously allow the hunts.
“I hunt my dogs all year round and most of the guys do,” he said. “In the summertime in July, August and upper September we may not run much due to the heat, but for the most part most of the hunters and field trial guys hunt year round.”
Burki currently owns four beagles he hunts and his goal is to win an Oklahoma State Hunt.
“It takes a different style of dog to be a field trial dog compared to what they call a gun dog,” he said. “ In our style of field trial, it takes a faster dog, wherein the gun dogs it’s better to have a slow dog to where that rabbit will run less.”
“I’ve been fortunate and been pretty successful. The organization I hunt through has three classifications, the opens, the champions and the grand champions. When you’re in the opens you have to win one hunt and accumulate up to 100 points - and points set up the places. Once you graduate a dog to the champions then you have to win three hunts and accumulate a 100 points total,” Burki said. “ You can always find a hunt if you wanted to travel like last week was the Missouri State Hunt. We had a hunt in October and I won that hunt. Last month I went to the Sooner State Hunt at Chelsea and placed second.”
The clubs list hunts across the country in specialized publications such as the Rabbit Hunters magazine.
“There’s prestige behind winning a state hunt, “ Burki said. “The state representative for our organization chooses the location. We were fortunate enough to be chosen because we started our club back in January. They kind of bounce it around and give each club a chance to hold the state hunt. If you place in the top five of a state or county hunt, you’re automatically qualified for the world hunt. The world hunt has been held in Indiana every year and is almost a weeklong event with hundreds and hundreds. It takes them three days to do the hunt. ”
In the immediate area, Burki knows of a couple other competitive beagle hunters, Carroll Hopkins of Miami and Derald Boman of Commerce. Sunday’s hunt drew participants from Ohio, Illinois and many other states across the country.
The four-state area beagle clubs also have come together to offer a “Hound of the Year” competition with Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma clubs.
“We based it on how the dog places and how many dogs he beat,” Burki said.
Many of the clubs also hold benefit events and charitable hunts with proceeds going to causes such as breast cancer or juvenile diabetes, so the hunters give back while doing what they enjoy.
The results of Sunday’s event, the Oklahoma State Beagle Hunt saw winners in the Opens of "Hopkins Rack Back Bart" owned by Carroll and Linda Hopkins, the Champions “PeeWee Geico” owned by Tony Upton.
Burki did well with his dogs with “Circle S’s Prissy” placing sixth in the Opens, and “Fuzzbusters Black Betty” placing as Best Puppy.
Burki said he and club members would love to share their passion for the sport with others and help them get started. “We would be more than happy to. We have a Facebook site, Ottawa County Beagle Club, and they can leave a message there. There is no age limit, and we have hunters of all ages involved.”
Burki’s son, Brayden Burki helps train and run the beagles with his father.
The love of the sport is evident in Burki’s enthusiasm. “I love the competition. It’s about knowing that I can train or produce a dog better than you can.”