"Dear me! So that's a coyote!"
Hounds out : Sayso, Parrish, Payton, Star, Sting, Paper, Hailstone, Gaudy, Barman, Dragonfly, Bonsai, Stam, Stax, Sassoon, Savvy, Saba, Sage, Saracen, Griffin
ON one hand it seems improper to pick a “hound of the day,” because a pack of hounds should perform as a pack, and thus should equally contribute to the pursuit of quarry. It would do no good to have one or two hounds far superior to the others especially when hunting coyote. A coyote can weigh anywhere from 20 to 75 pounds, and their diet includes cats and dogs. If we are to serve our landowner farmers in keeping the coyotes dispersed, we have to chase them with multiple hounds who can find their scent and push them to get up and move. Most farmers don’t mind seeing the odd coyote passing through, but they do mind seeing four or five together, because there is strength in numbers and a coyote pack is a threat to livestock and house dogs. Coyotes have no predator, because they are at the top of the food chain in the animal world. Paradoxically, because of the hunt they are allowed to peacefully co-exist in the area. We have great fun and sport chasing them, and they are less likely to bother calves and humans. So farmers aren’t likely to shoot and poison them, which they would have to do if they were a menace.
On the other hand, there are moments on a hunt day where one hound does something so remarkable as to remind us all of their individuality even though they are supposed to be “just plain cooks and dairymaids.”
The chase is like a chess game between the coyote’s intelligence, instinct, and scenting ability versus that of the hound. The “checkmate” really goes to both if they play a long and entertaining game, resulting in the quarry finally eluding the hounds. All go home in hopes of meeting again another day. This special matching of the wits between God’s creatures is what foxhunters really enjoy. It is not, as some may think, a “sight hunt,” in which dogs see a coyote and chase it until they don’t see it anymore. Instead, it is a “scent hunt”: hounds mostly use their noses to track the path of the quarry – and the coyote, aware of this, tries to throw them off the scent. Coyotes behave cleverly while being pursued, using their complete familiarity with their own habitat to challenge the hounds.
The Oct. 7 hunt was a good example of the casualness with which a coyote will regard the chase on a day when poor scenting conditions give him the advantage.
The meet was from Dulin’s farm. A long procession of trailers arrived with people and horses anxious to enjoy such a beautiful fall day. The hound list included some first-year entries: Hailstone, Gaudy, and (of course!) Paper, plus three new drafts from England: North Cotswold Bonsai, North Cotswold Dragonfly, and Cottesmore Barman. The new drafts have spent the summer getting used to all the new smells from unfamiliar plants animals and grasses native to Kentucky but not found in Britain. One wonders what goes through their minds when they get the first whiff of a coyote.
The first draw was the biggest covert near this fixture, Pauline’s Ridge. It is very thick with undergrowth and would likely take a long time for the hounds to work through thoroughly. But, as it was, they found halfway through and erupted in cry. A dark coyote was viewed across the top of the Ridge but was not the hunted one, as hounds moved west in the covert, full cry. Hounds lost the scent at the end of the covert, casting themselves about madly in frustration. It was clearly a bad scenting day. However, this is good for the puppies, as they watch and learn from the older hounds to put their noses down and work. They don’t really know yet what they are smelling for, but they feed off the energy and excitement of the pack, and they understand something important is happening.
Hounds continued to work well together, hunt staff counting all on after the next few coverts. They were in the corn by Salts Barn when a coyote was viewed one field west. Later in the season, hounds would be harked to the view, but today a training opportunity presented itself, and the hounds would have to work up to the line unassisted. This is the kind of scene that thrills the field: first Stax became electric, his nose to the ground, as he frantically moved about, searching. Then Payton, noticing this, hurried to Stax, then Sassoon, then Barman–all smelling the same little piece of earth. Their bodies were coiled like springs ready to lurch forth, if their noses would confirm the scent in a certain direction. Paper, sensing the excitement, dropped the small steno pad of paper he had found in Salts Barn and rushed over to help as well. The houndwork was brilliant, they just couldn’t work it out solidly enough but kept moving west occasionally speaking as they would find and lose again.
After about a half mile, still feathering, hounds came up a hill through a small clump of trees. There on top of the hill sat a big blond coyote, casually observing the approaching entourage of hounds, huntsman, and field members. Hounds didn’t see him initially, as they all had their noses down. Had it been a good scenting day, one imagines the coyote would have been long gone, but he wisely sat still knowing that by not moving he wasn’t throwing out a lot of scent.
The huntsman couldn’t contain herself and harked the hounds to the view. They rushed forward, noses still down. Bonsai raised her head, probably distracted and unsure about the noise the huntsman used to hark hounds to the view. Bonsai hunted one season at the North Cotswold, and every huntsman has his own tones and voice inflections to communicate with hounds. Suddenly, Bonsai froze in place: she was face to face with a coyote no more than 10 feet away. She stared, then looked over her shoulder at the huntsman with her intense, black-lined golden eyes, searching for confirmation that this was the right quarry. She faced him again as the hounds erupted in cry. His yellow eyes seemed to squint before he shot away.
In less than a second Bonsai showed much intelligence. She didn’t just blindly rush forward to attack, she carefully thought things through, not wanting to run riot (I could imagine her saying “Dear Me” in an English accent).
This coyote took full advantage of the bad scenting day, weaving through cattle, disappearing into a 10-acre corn field. Found there, he passed into another large, thick covert, then vanished as the temperature rose and the sun began to burn any hope of scent away for good.
Special thanks … to field member Martha Johnson, who was last in line to go over a jump but pulled her horse up and waited to let one and a half couple of hounds go by even though the field was long gone, galloping
— Lilla Mason