By R. Alan Richardson
“Be vewy, vewy quiet. I’m hunting wabbits.” When Mel Blanc first used this line in the Bugs Bunny animated cartoon as the voice of Elmer Fudd, he must have had Jay Pickrell in mind. The Rutledge resident began hunting rabbits at a young age with his father, Ronald Pickrell. He grew up in Daytona Beach and learned the art of hunting all sorts of small game as well as fishing for drum (red and black) off the many bridges in the area. He said, “My dad was what rabbit hunters call a houndsman. It’s a love for your dogs and the hunt that goes well beyond the average guy. To become one you have to graduate into a true love of just hearing the dogs bellow and watching them and the rabbits run. Like myself now, a houndsman sometimes doesn’t even carry a gun on the hunt. It’s a term that means you have advanced into a highly advanced (AAA+) level of training dogs and hunting rabbits.”
His earliest memories included waking up before the rooster crowed to go with his father. Pickrell commented, “We’d pick out the 10 or so best dogs out of dad’s 20 plus pack so we’d have enough to break them up. Mom (Brenda Pickrell) would get up way before we did and make us homemade biscuits. I can remember cramming into dad’s pickup eating those on the way to the hunting grounds. The best things were seeing the fog rise off as the sun was coming up and dropping that tailgate. The dogs know what they’re there for. Some of the wisest lessons I ever learned were sitting on the tailgate listening to my dad. After we killed a good mess, he’d let me take some to our preacher. I thought that was awesome. Now the younger is the older so I’m trying to pass some of those lessons onto my son, Collin, and my daughter, Taylor, as well as other young kids that might tag along on our hunts today.”
Pickrell now owns seven beagles of his own and is very particular about what he hunts with. He weighed in on his pack saying, “My dad liked the tricolor saddlebacks, but I prefer the black and tan. All of my dogs are AKC registered and are either pups of or related to Field Champions. I’ve got Ol’ Della, Copper (for his color), Lyric (for her singing voice), RC (remote control), and a new male I acquired named Easy Mac. Our dogs aren’t what people call working dogs. They’re pets. I’ve found that the more you love on ‘em, the harder they’ll hunt for you. I used to run field trials. In fact, I ran my first dog when I was 17 and took home the trophy, but that wasn’t my cup of tea. I found that taking people hunting was my calling. That’s what I enjoy the best. Seeing a father’s eyes light up when his son or daughter kill their first rabbit is what makes me go. It’s a social event, a social sport where you can meet new people and bond together seeing God’s creation and the topography. My dogs are just a tool I use to love on other people.”
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) sets seasons, bag limits, and other regulations in the state to help control and assure that hunters are doing their part to conserve the game that Georgia is so blessed to have. Rabbit season opens on November 12 this year and closes on February 28. There is a 12 per day bag limit. Jay says he feels that part of his job is to raise awareness about these and other concerns he has. “Hunting for small-game animals is in a downward spiral. The main reason is that big-game hunting is the money-maker. Hunting for turkey and deer has hurt our sport for several reasons. People are building food plots and won’t allow you to hunt on their property like they once did. The DNR has also extended deer season again this year. I’ve talked with them about it, but they say it’s what people want more of. They suggested we try out the Wildlife Management Areas (WMA’s) in the state. You can’t even find a parking place there during rabbit season.” said Pickrell.
However, the 45-year-old hunter has his reasons for continuing his passion. He said, “It would be cheaper for me to quit. My dogs have to be taken care of year-round for a short three month season, but if I quit it just speeds up the process of losing people to educate others about small-game hunting. My son is 15 and is already a better houndsman than I am. I feel compelled to keep it alive. This is an inexpensive sport that only takes a 20 gauge shotgun and some #7 small-game load. There are a lot of opportunities when you include quail, dove, squirrel, and other species. It’s great table fare as well.” Pickrell says his favorite recipe is fried rabbit with gravy, but he also fixes a big batch of Christmas rabbit stew to give to friends. If you’ve never tasted either of these, you don’t know what you’re missing. There are some folks from Keencheefoonee who would rather eat rabbit than filet mignon. It’s hard to disagree.
When asked where the best rabbit hunting was in Georgia, Pickrell didn’t hesitate, “Morgan County. If you hunt down near the river bottom of the Oconee and Apalachee Rivers, you’ll find what I call swamp donkeys (swamp rabbits). These are the biggest and fastest rabbits in the state and some people call them cane cutters.” There are four species of rabbits found in Georgia, according to the DNR website. They are the marsh rabbit, swamp rabbit, eastern cottontail, and Appalachian cottontail.
Pickrell added, “My bucket list would be to travel to Maine to hunt snowshoe hares and also chase some jackrabbits out west. They actually use greyhounds to hunt the jackrabbits because of their speed.” If you’d like to go with Jay Pickrell on the small-game hunt of a lifetime you can find him on Facebook under Centennial Kennels.