I could hear the high-pitched yodels of the beagles heading my way along the canal spoil bank. I chose 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 sons 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 thick understory in front of me. Suddenly, everything was streaking past me along the water's edge — rabbit followed by dogs — right toward the boat.

The unmistakable guttural laugh, the kind that makes you want to grab your side, came from my son Joshua.

"Daddy," he yelled. "The rabbit jumped on the boat and the dogs crashed into the side of the boat!"

That hunt took place 10 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, if they were so inclined.

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 ….

We managed to bust a few rabbits that day, but it was the way those hounds trailed after they jumped our quarry 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 Tumack might have been thinking, just maybe, while the she wolf was away hunting he'd rob the den of a few littermates and see if they could help him put some groceries in his cave woman's alpine fridge.

Whatever the case, over 300 species of dogs and 600,000 years, give or take 10,000 or so, man is still using canines to chase game animals.

Like Tumak, Avoca Island Hunting Club manager Jim Bodin has always enjoyed hunting with a pack of hounds. Through the magic of genetic evolution and years of crossbreeding, those descendants of wolves are now short-legged beagles.

"I've been fooling with dogs for like 38 years, and I think a lot of things have changed," Bodin said. "It's hard to find a good puppy anymore, and I think they're breeding them so fine that they're breeding a lot of the good traits out of them. When I first started, you could go to any guy who had beagles and pick up a couple, and they would turn out fine. I mean you didn't have to do anything special. You'd go in the woods, and they'd run rabbits. What's happened, I think, is winning got involved in it."

What that evolution of winning has come to, Bodin says, is field trials, where hunters wanting to pick up a good dog or two can find one for a price.

"Where field trials come in is they're trying to breed the best dog with the best dog, and I can tell you that doesn't always work," he said. "It's like throwing mud against the wall. Some of it is going to stick and some of it is not. I've bought puppies whose sire and dam were Grand National champions. They had no brains, too much mouth and would overrun checks. You just can't go down to your neighbor anymore, and say, 'I want to buy a couple of beagles.' So the place that we go to is field trials, and some of those dogs sell for $800."

But, additionally, Bodin admits, there is also a lack of places where hunters can run dogs, and that has impacted the sport.

There are numerous wildlife management areas throughout Louisiana that allow hunting rabbits with dogs. Sherburne WMA, just north of I-10 between Lafayette and Baton Rouge, allows hunting rabbits with beagles from Jan. 19 through Feb. 28. Atchafalaya Delta WMA, located along the coast in St. Mary Parish, allows hunting rabbits with beagles Oct. 1-31 and again Feb. 1-28.

These limited windows of opportunities are generally after deer and duck seasons, where running rabbits with beagles would disrupt preferred hunting activities during the mid-winter months.

The WMAs will also have varying levels of pressure, with the easier accessed areas worked over pretty good. Therefore, rabbit hunters planning to hunt state public lands will have to do their homework prior to arrival.

Where hunters who love to hunt rabbits never can go wrong is to invite to their leases someone who loves to watch his dogs chase rabbits and hear them yodel. Both the rabbit hunter and dog owner benefit from this relationship.

From a practical standpoint, it doesn't pay to invite someone who owns a decent pack of canines to hunt rabbits if you're not willing to put some work in to make your hunt successful.

Everyone who has ever hunted rabbits knows to look for sign in the form of droppings when it comes to rabbits. Rabbits love to climb up on logs, boards or anything resembling such debris to poo on besides the trails they run in, particularly after a good frost. Doing lots of scouting is just as important in rabbit hunting as any other game animal you pursue.

Obviously, if you find little fresh sign in the area you plan to hunt, there are few rabbits, and it may not be worth putting the dogs down. By contrast, if there are plenty of droppings, chances are there will be plenty of action come hunt day.

The second bit of work hunters need to do is prepare the areas they plan to hunt in advance. Preparation, depending on the location, may be simply bush-hogging shooting lanes. In other locations, such as the marsh, it may mean doing some controlled burning.

In either case, it allows standers clearer shots than busting a tight pattern of No. 6 shot into a patch of grass or briars.

"If you don't prepare the place to hunt, it's not fun," Bodin said. "It's fun for me because I like to hear the dogs run. But for the hunters, if you don't have lanes cut or pre-burn where they can shoot, it ain't fun.

"I've gone places and run my dogs and killed only two rabbits. I enjoyed it, but they didn't have a good time at all. Don't take me to a field that's 300 yards by 400 yards with no roads cut — you ain't going to see a rabbit. He's never coming out of there. Roseaus, same thing — if you don't have a lane where a guy can shoot, it ain't happening."