Desert Hare Classic Hunt 2004

Text and photos: Steve Garth

The Desert Hare Classic Hunt is held once a year in New Mexico. Hosted by renowned author and hunting man Dutch Salmon (, this prestigious event pits the best hunting dogs in the US against the toughest jackrabbits in the US.

Jo and I had been talking about entering Cai for a while. We wanted to try the New Mexico desert to see how he would take to it, but we knew he was still very young and only in his first season. Would he be up to the challenge? We eventually decided to enter him. He was in tiptop condition and improving every hunt. More importantly he was enjoying every minute of it. What the hell we thought - let's take the opportunity while it's there!

It was a two day trip to get there. Bleary eyed, and desperate for caffeine to get our hearts started, we joined the rest of the hunters at the El Camino for breakfast at 6am. We greeted old friends and met some new. However fate was to take an unfortunate turn, half way through my third cup of coffee and Eggs Mexicanos somebody casually commented there was a snowstorm outside! Ordinarily snow, as long as it's not too bad, isn't a problem, but visibility is. You don't want hounds running two mile courses when you can only see for two hundred yards. Dutch decided conditions were against us and we should regroup two hours later and hope they improved.

We did and they had. We arrived at the field at 9.30 am to glorious conditions. The snow had stopped. The sun was breaking through the clouds, the ground was soft, but not too soft, and the temperature was about 40F. Perfect for hunting.

They call New Mexico the Enchanted Land and that morning I understood why. I was surrounded by snowcapped mountains with the western most peaks on fire from the early morning sun. At 5000 ft I was drinking in large gulps of clean cold air making me feel truly alive. And here I was but a speck of sand in this enormous still, quiet, peaceful and yes - enchanting landscape. It's going to be a great day.

We had an eclectic mix of hounds competing. Two Salukis from Wisconsin, a longdog from Arizona, two longdogs from Texas, a greyhound from New Mexico, two salukis and a longdog from Northern California, an Azawakh from northern California, six salukis from New Mexico and last but not least, Sunny our lurcher and Cai our Galgo Espanol.

Eighteen dogs entered, which meant six preliminary runs. The winners of those move on to the two semi finals of three dogs each. The winners of those two runs then compete against each other in the final. The two finalists would run three courses, a demanding task for any dog but even more so in the tough New Mexico conditions.

It's a very different kind of hunting in New Mexico from California. The fields are about ten times the size which means a lot of room to run for the Jackrabbits producing some long courses. The groundcover is a mix of yucca, prickly pear, the odd greasewood, a little grass, and cholla cactus, all pretty low on the ground giving the hounds much more visibility than in California.

The New Mexico Blacktailed Jacks have a reputation for being the toughest to catch in the country. They are much bigger - up to 12lbs, faster, way more agile and much more difficult to find. It's a good dog that can put a turn on a New Mexico Jack, - most end up as straight tail chases.

Cai was in the second course together with Argo, the longdog from Arizona, and Belle the New Mexico Saluki. The Jacks were sitting tight and after about an hour one came up ten yards in front of us. Cai and Argo were on it almost immediately and put on some great wrenches and turns on the rabbit but couldn't quite get close enough for a take. After sweeping around us in a wide semi circle they disappeared over a ridge out of sight. Dutch however was still sighted and continued judging.

Belle and Argo returned shortly after but Cai was nowhere to be seen. We waited for a few more minutes and still he didn't return. My heart was in my mouth. This was very unusual. Cai always came back. He was either injured or lost. Dave, Argo's owner, and myself started out to look for him. After ten minutes Dave spotted him in a field full of cattle. What Cai had actually done was found himself in a huge bowl from which he couldn't see the horizon. It's extremely disorienting and dogs easily get lost in these. I'm just glad we were able to find him so quickly.

The six preliminary runs were finished at about 3pm. It took six hours to find six rabbits. The wind was briskly picking up and it was getting colder. We were tired, the light was failing and we had three more rabbits to find. It was going to be a challenge to finish the day.

Jo and I huddled together with the dogs wondering whether Cai made it through to the semis. We knew Sunny didn't get through because she was unsighted on her course. After a very long five minutes Dutch read out the scores. Cai got 74 points - the highest of the day so far. Jo and I were over the moon!

In the next course Cai was running with Barracooda, a Saluki, and Argo the longdog again. Romy the Greyhound had scratched and Argo being the next highest pointed dog replaced her. This course was spectacular. It was long and hard. Cai was constantly pressuring the rabbit and putting turn after turn on her. This was when I started to see Cai maturing. With each turn on the rabbit Cai was turning completely in sync. He was reading the rabbit and using his strength and agility to keep pace and close the distance, no matter how many turns that rabbit made. It was awesome to watch. He ran over a ridge after the rabbit and out of my sight. I knew he'd won that course.

He was the last to return and came back with a huge smile on his face. This is the Desert Hare Classic however. He'd definitely won the course but the final was next up. No time for a rest. I had to put him straight back on the line. This was going to be tough for Cai.

He was on the line with Fanny the Texas longdog, and Pistolita the long dog from Northern California. They had both tied for second place. Ten minutes later we got the Jack we wanted. Cai and Fanny were straight on it with Pistolita closely behind. They all started putting turns on the rabbit. Cai and Fanny were working it well and Pistolita started trailing. Soon Cai got out in front and really started pressuring the rabbit. They ran out of sight after that.

Eventually Cai came back with his tongue on the ground and an even bigger smile on his face. This dog had just run two back to back long and hard courses and he was still smiling. Jo and I knew at that point what an extraordinary and very special dog Cai was. We also knew he had plenty to smile about because he had just won the Desert Hare Classic! Fanny was second and Pistolita third.

This young novice dog in his first season earned his coursing mixed champion title, is the top dog in TCC ( and won the Desert Hare Classic. An incredible accomplishment for one so young - and he can only improve. We're both very proud of you Cai!