Boxing Day with the Royal Artillery hounds

The Royal Artillery pack, like Iroquois, has some woolly members

BOXING Day came 24 hours late in England this year, because the actual Boxing Day–the day after Christmas–fell on a Sunday, a day when English hunts traditionally do not hunt.

So it was a pleasure deferred, but still very much a pleasure, to attend the Royal Artillery Hunt’s Dec. 27 Boxing Day meet. And, as always, it was a particular pleasure to see woollies in the pack!

It feels as if the entire hunting world has been snowed under in recent weeks, and the RA Hunt has had the same problems that the Iroquois has had on the other side of the Atlantic: snow and freezing weather have kept horses and hounds in on days when everyone would rather have been hunting.

The RA joint-Masters, huntsman Robert Moffatt (above), and the hunt staff were able to get out a little bit today–but on foot rather than on horseback, something that would be impossible for a coyote-hunting pack like Iroquois. But, since the hunting ban in England, the RA Hunt has been a drag pack.

Alas, we were not able to stay for the drag hunt on foot across Salisbury Plain, though it was extremely tempting when we saw the hound trailer turn up K Crossing in the military training area, followed by a line of the hardy and faithful hunt supporters, equipped with walking sticks and warm clothes for an afternoon of what they jokingly termed “beagling.”

A former Master and huntsman made the traditional Boxing Day collection of funds for the hunt servants with a hunt boot serving as the “box.”

But, in fact, the RA pack really does harken back to the footpacks. Many years ago, the hunt’s hounds were not foxhounds but harriers, which is why the RA Hunt staff today wear the green hare-hunting coats rather than the scarlet people generally expect to see at a foxhunting meet.

I think they've figured out where he keeps those biscuits ...

The RA pack eventually became a foxhunting pack until the aforementioned ban caused them to change again, this time to hunting a drag line.

Hunting hare might be somewhat easier because the quarry is less claw-y and fang-y than the coyotes many American packs now chase. But rest assured these long-eared athletes are plenty capable of providing a good puzzle for hounds to figure out. Some of their tactics, as described in Jill Mason’s book The Hare, even will sound familiar to coyote-chasers. Like this one: “One account records how a second hare ran alongside the pack, then veered in between them and the hunted one, so that the hounds tooko up the fresh line, allowing the tired one to escape.”

Mason also writes that “hares do not like running directly into a strong wind, and a hunted hare normally prefers to run down-wind because not only does it rely on its eyes to locate its predator, but it also has acute hearing and listens to any noises coming from behind it .

“… Hares also find it advantageous to run uphill whenever possible because of their long back legs. When there is a covering of light snow or in icy conditions the hare has an advantage over a chasing dogs because its feet are covered in fur and it can get a better grip on the lsippery ground than a dog with its bare pads.”

Hounds weren't the only canids in attendance at the Boxing Day meet!

Of course, the RA Hunt’s more recent pre-drag quarry was probably even more famous for cunning. The red fox’s reputation for cleverness is certainly deserved. Even if the following example–written in 1767 and quoted in Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald’s Town Fox, Country Fox–is apocryphal, it’s the kind of thing no huntsman would put past a fox:

“The fox is remarkable for his craft and subtlety. When he is troubled with fleas he is said to take a piece of wool in his mouth and, going by small steps into a river, the fleas, leaping by degrees to avoid the water, assemble in the wool; after staying for a moment with only his nose above stream, he lets it go and is immediately quit of his troublesome companions.”

The weather we found in England ...

... and the weather we've been coping with at home in Kentucky. Will anyone's hounds ever go out again? Anywhere?

Reading what Vesey-Fitzgerald’s book had to say about the fox and his fleas, I guess we’ve found at least one thing to be happy about in the current icy conditions: at least it isn’t flea season!

The houndbloggers hope you’re all having a happy holiday season!

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