IT WAS a sight for sore eyes and a song for sore ears (to make up a new metaphor). We’ve spent so much of this winter indoors due to the unusually bad weather, only getting out occasionally with the foxhounds. So when the end of February rolled around with the annual beagling weekend on the calendar, the houndbloggers hared over to Mercer County to watch beagles and bassets at work.
The Farmington Beagles usually attend this weekend-long festival of rabbit-chasing, but they didn’t cross the mountains this year. That left the hosting Clear Creek Beagles and the visiting Sandanona Harehounds from upstate New York, who cleared out of the Empire State just before another blizzard dumped a foot of snow along the east coast. The Sandanona Harehounds actually refers to two working packs that Betsy Park hunts, one a beagle pack and the other a basset pack.
You might not be familiar with working basset packs. Like beagles, they hunt cottontail and/or hare, and the field members follow on foot. But they’re longer and lower hounds, of course, and their voices differ, too: they have deeper, booming cry, which you will hear on the video below and can compare to the beagles’ cry in their video below. They are hugely, longly, floppy-earedly entertaining–and they are fine hunters, too.
The area where we met is winding down its cattle operation and has spent much of the last year restoring natural grasses. And what a difference that has made to the cottontail population! We hunt this vast acreage at least once a year, and in recent years the number of good runs had dwindled–except, notably, in the initial natural grass patch that started the reseeding project, where we always seemed guaranteed to meet up with a sporting rabbit. Last year’s lush summer probably also didn’t hurt our chances at finding more rabbits this season, but I think I’m a big, big fan of natural grasses as a positive reinforcement for game.
In one field alone, which we refer to here as The Bunny Patch, the houndbloggers saw 10 rabbits on Saturday afternoon with the bassets; other members of the field saw considerably more than that throughout the day.
If you’re expecting the really low-slung bassets of the Hush Puppies and Westminster type, the Sandanona bassets and other hunting bassets will probably surprise you. These guys are leggier, and their speed and agility surprise people hunting behind them for the first time. They excel at being cute, as all bassets do, and in their extraordinary deep and melodious cry–which we heard to great effect as the pack raced along in full cry around a pond, where their voices echoed off the ridge and water as if it were coming to you from centuries ago.
The multitude of rabbits provided a real challenge to the huntsmen this weekend. As Betsy Park put it, “There are too many rabbits. It encourages independence, which is not good.” And, in fact, there were so many rabbits whizzing around The Bunny Patch that on several occasions hounds could hunt by sight rather than scent, and from time to time the temptation would prove too much when random bunnies, simply getting out of the way of the pack as it hunted one rabbit’s line, crossed paths close by.
Both the beagles and the bassets had a phenomenal weekend with these game little rabbits, who kept them running all day. We expect both packs had a lot to talk about over their biscuits as they made their way back to Louisville (beagles) and New York (bassets).
Without further ado, we’ll cut to the chase. Bassets are up first from Saturday’s hunting, and beagles are up second from their Sunday morning meet. The basset video has two tally-hos of rabbits at The Bunny Patch, and both videos show the respective packs in full cry. In the beagle video, you might recognize a couple of names from previous posts we’ve had. Eider, the first-season puppy, makes an appearance early in the video, and Sancerre (she who can catch biscuits while swimming) also gets called down for, not surprisingly, being a little wayward for a split second!