Leader of the pack

Larry Dillard, shown here in his trophy room with one of his dogs, Albus, has been raising and training beagles to hunt and compete in field trials since he was five years old. (Contributed)

Larry Dillard, shown here in his trophy room with one of his dogs, Albus, has been raising and training beagles to hunt and compete in field trials since he was five years old. (Contributed)

By JOSEPH ANTONIO / For the Reporter

When it comes to rabbit hunting, few people in Shelby County, or even the state of Alabama for that matter, do it as well as Larry Dillard. Dillard, 77, has been raising and training beagles to hunt and compete in field trials since he was five years old. Even to this day, most of his back yard is dedicated to being a dog kennel. In fact, part of his kennel serves as a trophy room. The walls are adorned with plaques and keepsakes while filing cabinets are literally overflowing with ribbons. One of Dillard’s proudest accomplishments is that he has trained 7 field champions.

Dillard claims the key to finding good hunting dogs is to get them on the bunny trail at an early age. “Some people will keep a whole litter till they get them started,” said Dillard. “You usually get them started at about 6-7 months old. Then they will run them a little while and decide what they are going to sell and what they are going to keep.”

Dillard however is a bit more calculating in his selection process. “I try to pick one out by seeing which ones are really using their nose and checking things out,” he said. “Ones that aren’t interested in playing but interested in researching the area.”

Dillard also commented that he prefers not to hunt with overly competitive dogs but ones that work well as a team.

Of all the blue chip beagles Dillard has trained, there was one that stood out from all the rest. “There was one named Roho I had,” Dillard recounted. “He had a baritone, operatic mouth that would turn into a hard chop. When you’re out hunting you want to hear that chop mouth.”

Throughout his life Dillard has kept between six and twenty dogs at a time. However, these days, he errs on the lower side. “I’ll never have on that high side again since I’m 77 years old and I’m not a dog jockey,” he said. “I’m not raising dogs to sell to make money. It’s a hobby for me and about the only vice I got.”