If this world were void of beagles, I believe Aubrey Holcombe would still be trying to find his purpose in life. His love for hounds and rabbit hunting run as deep as any I’ve ever seen. Beagles and hunting are so important to him that family, friends and even his preacher don’t call him Aubrey.
“Everybody calls me Daddy Rabbit,” he said. “That’s just what my boys started calling me when they were growing up.”
Born June 30, 1940, Daddy Rabbit was raised in the Vanner Community of Hart County on Hwy 17 between Royston and Elberton. He grew up on a 40-acre cotton farm that had good rabbit habitat mixed in.
“When I was about 10 years old, daddy would give me one shotgun shell and say ‘go kill a rabbit for supper.’ I knew I had better bring home a a rabbit or I wouldn’t get a shell the next day.
“I had an old beagle named Bill, and a black/tan, runt coon dog. I’d possum hunt with him at night and rabbit hunt at day. He’d know the difference, too.
“I’d go out there with that 12 gauge and stomp around. If I could kill a rabbit, I’d do it and skin him and mama would cook him up with some rice. That was the only meat we had back in the late 1940s.”
As a kid, Daddy Rabbit could remember Thanksgiving and Christmas as special rabbit-hunting days.
“Everybody would bring their dogs — there’d be 10 or 15 of us,” said Daddy Rabbit. “Guys would show up with rocks and sticks. Not everybody had a shotgun back then.
“There were a lot of rabbits back then. It was nothing to go out and kill 10 or 15.”
Daddy Rabbit went to a small school in Vanner and then moved on to Royston High School in the mid 1950s. It was at this time he started getting a little more serious about raising beagles. With help from his two uncles, Fred and Assie, Daddy Rabbit was able to get his start.
“If they had a little runt they’d give me one,” said Daddy Rabbit. “Maybe I’d save up and buy another one — back then you could buy one for $10.
“The next thing you know I had a little pen and a pack of dogs. I was never up on football, baseball and basketball. I was always fooling with my dogs.”
There was a short time in the late 1960s when Daddy Rabbit was living in town, and he couldn’t have dogs.
“I had neighbor who complained about the barking, so I bought 50 acres on the outskirts of Royston,” said Daddy Rabbit. “I built a kennel down there on the creek and moved my hounds out of town while the wife and I continued to live there in town.”
Daddy Rabbit put a trailer on the 50 acres so he’d have a place to stay overnight while working with his dogs.
“In 1997 we came down here to that trailer, and we never did go back to the big house in town,” said Daddy Rabbit. “We built us a small house here and just love it.”
To this day, Daddy Rabbit lives in that house on 50 acres just outside of Royston where he spends his time working beagle pups as they learn to run rabbits in running pens. When he trains a beagle pup, Daddy Rabbit’s No. 1 goal is that the pup will turn out to be a super hunting dog and a good field-trial competitor. However, he’s quick to tell you that a good hunting dog far outweighs the importance of a good field-trial dog.
“The same dogs I hunted Monday through Friday were the ones I entered in the field trials on Saturday,” said Daddy Rabbit. “A good hunting dog is first, then comes the field trials.”
Daddy Rabbit said he really enjoys the camaraderie that comes with a field-trial event, enough so that he still trains his puppies to be ready for some friendly beagle competition.
“A lot of dogs don’t react good in field trails because you got a lot of people and judges running through the briars so they can see,” said Daddy Rabbit. “Now I train them, and I’m right on top of them. They’ll run a track right between my legs and won’t pay me any attention.”
Although Daddy Rabbit doesn’t get to as many field trials as he used to, he started a pretty serious field-trial career in the late 1980s.
“There was an article in GON about a field trial in Thompson,” said Daddy Rabbit. “My son read it and said ‘we need to go.’ I said ‘they’ll run us out of the country.’”
Back then there weren’t ‘Progressive Pack’ trials, which is just a steady, smooth-running trial.
“They had a ‘Little Pack’ and those dogs are fast, like fox dogs,” said Daddy Rabbit. “I had a pretty good little steady dog, one called Cry Baby. My son Stacey (Snake) took a dog named Hum-Dinger.”
At the trial there was a guy there named Dalton Rivers, a retired football coach from South Carolina.
“I drew out with Dalton Rivers,” said Daddy Rabbit. “Everyone said ‘there ain’t nobody that can beat Dalton Rivers.’
“He had a dog in every cast, and there were about 10 casts that day. They said ‘he always wins — he loads up on everybody.’”
The object was to win a cast — have the best dog out of five or six dogs. The winning hound in each cast would advance to the second round until finally there’s a final cast run to determine the day’s winner.
“We turned them loose,” said Daddy Rabbit. “Dalton had a big ol male, and he was running around peeing on stumps. Cry Baby ran up under a honeysuckle patch and ‘WEEEEE,’ it sounded just like a baby crying when she barked.
“I got the jump and strike points. About an hour or so later when it was over they all came up and shook my hand. I didn’t know what was going on. I said ‘what’s happening?’ They said ‘your dog scored like 400 points.’ I’d won the first cast.
“Dalton came up and shook my hand, and said ‘that’s a heck of a hound, how much would you take for it?’ I said, ‘she’s not for sale.’”
Daddy Rabbit’s son won his cast, and after a long morning it was down to the final dogs. Cry Baby, Hum-Dinger, one of Dalton’s and two others.
“We turned them loose, and Cry Baby got that jump again,” said Daddy Rabbit. “I won first place in the first hunt I ever went to. Dalton was second and Snake was third.”
Daddy Rabbit and Snake had it in their blood that they liked field trials. The next weekend they went to Henderson, N.C. to the North Carolina State Championship.
“We drove up that Friday evening and got a motel room, and you ain’t never seen so many hounds,” said Daddy Rabbit. “There were trucks and hounds from everywhere.
“They kicked our butt. We didn’t do nothing. We just thought we had some dogs.”
Daddy Rabbit ended up with three dogs that made “Hall of Fame” status, a fact he’s really proud to share. Beaglers who participate in today’s field trials don’t have to worry too much about competing against Daddy Rabbit’s Hall of Fame dogs. At 65 years of age he’ll tell you he’s a traffic accident waiting to happen, so it’s put a damper on those field trials.
“I don’t do the Hwy 85s and 75s so well anymore,” he said.
Now, most of his beagle time outside of hunting season is spent at his house.
“My running pens are 2 1/2 and five acres,” said Daddy Rabbit. “I train a lot of hounds for folks, although I don’t have as much time as I used to. I’ve got my own dogs to train. I’ve got 18 or 20 running hounds and about that many puppies right now.”
When Daddy Rabbit trains a puppy for someone, he wants the pup to be at least six months old.
“I’ve got some of my puppies down there right now that were running this morning,” said Daddy Rabbit. “They’ll be four months October 1. They just kind of yip — they don’t even have their mouths yet. It took a lot of work to get them running so young.”
Daddy Rabbit fools with dogs every day, enough that he knows just what’ll make a good hunting dog.
“I like one that hunts real hard, and I like one that doesn’t care about trash (anything other than rabbits, like fox or deer),” said Daddy Rabbit. “This day in time there’s so much trash out there. Think about how much is running around out there at night. It’s just hard for puppies to turn that stuff down.”
Daddy Rabbit said to be careful when you buy puppies. It’s good to know a little history about the parents of the young beagle.
“If you have a female and she’ll run a fox or deer and you have a male that runs a fox or deer, I’m going to discourage you breeding those two together. When those pups come, they’re going to be really good, super trash dogs. I’m a firm believer in that.”
To avoid dogs running trash, Daddy Rabbit said you have to be careful when you run with other dogs.
From the middle of November to the end of February it’s pretty hard to get Daddy Rabbit on the telephone. Six days a week he’ll be listening to his dogs burn up a rabbit trail while he stands waiting with his old Stevens 410 shotgun.
“I don’t hunt on Sunday at all, I go to church and be with my family,” said Daddy Rabbit. “God has been good to me.”