Hound of the Day: Driver

Driver blossomed into a leader at the March 26 hunt. Dave Traxler photo.

WE’VE always loved Driver, and following his progress from monster pupposaurus to goofy young long-distance swimmer to hunting hound has been an adventure, to say the least. Life around Driver generally is an adventure! As one of the Iroquois working pack’s few dark-colored (and most massive) hounds, he’s easy to spot on the hunt field, an added bonus for his fans following him across country.

And, lately, Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason says he’s been showing real leadership qualities. Over the last few weeks, he’s progressed steadily, showing more seriousness about his work–all of which culminated March 26 in his being selected as Hound of the Day.

In his first season with the pack, Driver has matured physically and mentally.

Here’s what Lilla had to say about his performance that day:

“I would make Driver the Hound of the Day, not because he contributed the most or did something particularly unique, but this was the day he really switched on. You know, it’s March Madness, and watching Driver I thought about the Butler team and some players who get so competitive, you can see in their faces that they are unaware of anything except the task at hand. That was Driver. He switched on with all the concentration, focus, and enthusiasm of any hound any day I’ve seen him hunt.”

Lilla said Driver has been regularly participating in the pack’s work, but that Driver’s skills and focus stepped up a notch to professional level Saturday, especially on the second run of the day.

“It was a very, very fast run, and we went very far in open country,” she explained. “So they really had to move, and there were no checks. It was just flat-out, solid running. And Driver was just on fire. He was always the first, second, or third hound–not that that’s what you necessarily look for–but he was a front-running, pushing hound, driving that coyote on. He was behind it, and, by gosh, if that coyote ever looked back, he’d be sorry. I’ve always thought that about Driver: boy, I wouldn’t want to turn around and see him running behind me!”

Before: Driver with Gene Baker on his first day of leash training in early 2010.

This is the kind of move everyone thought Driver had in him. Everything about Driver is, after all, big: his stride, his personality, his physique. Now, after a season with the working pack, he knows his job, and it shows.

“All the puppyness and softness was just gone,” Lilla said. “He was just a hunting machine. That was his big day. He turned into a real foxhound.

After: No more puppy fat now! This was taken after the March 13 Foxtrot meet.

“He’s right where you want a first-season hound, really,” she continued. “He knows his nose, he knows the right quarry, he contributes, he speaks. Every step of the way on that run he was speaking, and that’s hard when you’re running out in the open like that. But there he was, mouth wide open, just screaming.”

That kind of drive is important in a working foxhound, but so are other traits, and Driver is showing those, to0, key signs of Driver’s maturity.

Driver and the pack. Dave Traxler photo.

“He comes to the horn, and he stops when he’s supposed to stop,” Lilla said. “When they  finally lost the line, he calmed right down. And that’s nice. He’s very easy to handle.”

Lilla mentioned March Madness, and, well, we wondered whether any of you who have been following the University of Kentucky’s rising fortunes in the basketball tournament have noticed what we did: is it just us, or does UK player Josh “Jorts” Harrellson look like Driver’s big brother? When he gallops up and down the court, he looks much more massive than his counterparts, and that black hair is kind of Driveresque. Let’s face it, it’s the same hairstyle our Driver sported back when he was a pup. Take a closer look:

Driver in July 2009.

And both young men have that power running style and plenty of agility:

Okay, so maybe it’s just us. But we do see a resemblance. One thing we KNOW is true: Driver’s got at least as many fans as Harrellson does!

Photo by Dave Traxler.

There’s only one more meet on the fixture card, and that will close out the 2010-’11 hunt season. But we still have a folder full of photos and video snippets to share from hunt season, including photos by Iroquois board member Eloise Penn and our intrepid neighbor/photographer Dave Traxler, plus video of hound work and some beautiful scenes from the hunt field. Watch this space!

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Hound of the Day: Battle

Battle at work.

BATTLE is one of the Iroquois pack’s younger hounds. A member of the BA litter we’ve been following since their birth, he joined the working pack in 2010. But he’s already distinguishing himself.

The March 5 hunt was a great one, Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason reported. A gray fox led the hounds and the field of horses and riders on a rapid tour of the local coverts. “He came out of Bud’s covert and went to Tommy’s Dove Field, then through the Deer Covert, over to the Silo Pond Covert and on through the Cabin Covert, and then over to Murphy’s Covert, through Barker’s, and into the cliff behind the Schwartzes’ place,” Lilla said. “They finally lost the scent near there.”

Lilla collected the hounds, trotted them down a nearby road, and put them into a covert behind Pauline’s. “They immediately found a coyote, and we ran through Pauline’s Ridge, through Garden’s Bottom, through Gentry Cliff, over to the covert behind Robertson’s, through Athens Woods,” she said. “We went 14 miles in an hour and 15 minutes.”

On this outstanding day, young Battle came to the fore. “He’s always been in there doing the right thing, but all of a sudden that day he really came to life. He has the confidence to try to help on his own. When they would get at a check, he immediately would cast himself around like the older hounds do. Sometimes when a puppy does that they’ll keep looking up, like they’re wondering, ‘Am I going to get left behind? Do I really know what I’m doing? What’s the hound doing over there?’ They’re a little more jealous of each other. But Battle was doing what I call turning into a machine. That’s when they’re so efficient, and they know exactly how to frantically try to find the line again. They do it without even thinking; it’s instinct. He was just like an older, seasoned hound.

Battle on the trot.

“He’s gotten to be so big and rangy and strong,” she added. “He was always a confident hound, but now it’s the kind of confidence that if there’s a problem on a hunt, he can help with it.”

Battle’s BA littermates also performed well. “All day, you could have thrown a blanket over them,” Lilla said. “Everyone stayed up, and everyone was a help. And it went so fast. They were awesome.”

Hound of the Day: Dragonfly

WEDNESDAY dawned chilly, with the season’s first light frost and thin fog here and there. A perfect morning to start the houndbloggers’ hunting season! We missed the first hunt of the informal cubhunting season on Oct. 2 in order to attend the World Equestrian Games, and we were glad to be back out again in the hound truck with Michael Edwards, the Iroquois kennel manager and a road whip for the hunt.

Huntsman Lilla Mason, on the bay horse, and joint-Master Jerry Miller discuss the morning's strategy with the whippers-in at Wednesday's meet. Iroquois joint-Master Dr. Jack van Nagell is visible to the left and behind Lilla, mounted on a gray horse.

The fog gave way to golden sunlight as hounds met at Foxtrot. Wednesday’s pack marked the debut of several of the year-old puppies, including Driver (whose mother, Dragonfly also hunted Wednesday and is our hound of the day!). Lilla opted to introduce the 10 puppies in small groups rather than all at once, and Driver had been angry not to be chosen in the first group of three that went out on Oct. 2. According to Lilla and Michael, he threw a bit of a tantrum over being left behind, flinging himself against his kennel gate and howling his disappointment.

Dragonfly's son Driver, second from right, was glad to make his debut.

So Wednesday was a day of great excitement for Driver and Bangle, also hunting for her first time, as well as for the houndbloggers. We feel as if we’ve been too long away from the hounds, and it was good to see them again.

It was also a day of lessons for Driver and the BA litter puppies who are brand-new to the chase.

If anticipation has a sound, this is it. These are the hounds waiting to get off their hound trailer at the meet. As Michael prepared to unload them, they followed his every move. This video also includes some distant footage of a coyote we spotted mousing in the afternoon after scent had all but burned away.

Speaking of the heat, it’s worth noting the scent conditions. After a very wet spring, we have had drought conditions for the last half of the summer. If you’ve been watching the World Equestrian Games, you can see the frizzled, brown grass around and get some idea of the Sahara conditions after a rainless nine weeks in the Bluegrass country!

The wet early spring produced thick, scrubby coverts, but the drought and temperatures heading back into the 80s (is it really October?) mean there’s almost no scent to speak of.

Last year, curiously, we had much the same weather pattern, and when cubhunting season rolled around, it seemed as if there were no game at all. In retrospect, here’s what we think happened: in the hot, dry autumn weather, coyotes figured out that, under such poor scenting conditions, they could lie low in the thick coverts. Instead of running out in the open across the fields, they could simply creep from covert to covert with less fear than usual of raising a strong scent for hounds to pick up.

“Early in the season, what you really want is for the hounds to stay in the covert that you’re drawing until you move on to the next covert,” Lilla explained. “Otherwise, puppies will get left behind or hounds will get into another covert and possibly get on a run before puppies even have time to honor the cry.”

To help keeps hounds in covert, Lilla asks the whippers-in to surround the covert. That way, when a hound–particularly a puppy–pops out of the covert and sees a whipper-in, it’s more likely to return to or stay near the covert rather than independently move off to the next one. The whippers-in stationed around the covert also serve as extra sets of eyes on the huntsman’s behalf.

A stirrup cup always adds a little cheer!

“I had two and a half couple of puppies out,” Lilla said. “That’s not that many, but when you try to put them in corn for the first time, it’s not very inviting to them. You have to rely on the older hounds to convince the puppies. So I stood there for a while. I had two first-time puppies, Driver and Bangle, with me. They stuck their noses in the corn, but there were thorns and things, and at first they decided, ‘No, I don’t think so,’ and they stayed with me. But then the older hounds started speaking, and suddenly they wanted to go in the corn. That was great. The older hounds’ voices draw the puppies into the corn, and then they want to stay in there, because they get excited about the fun going on there.

“Corn is a good way to teach puppies to draw a covert, but in some corn fields there can be weeds and thorns and things in there, too. But they get in there, and they follow the other hounds and hear the other hounds. It can make for good training.”

Backfire: keen as mustard

Hounds spoke in the corn, and the coyote ran around and around, and then joint-Master Jerry Miller spotted six couple of hounds running the line into the Cabin Covert.

“So I moved the rest of them into the Cabin Covert,” Lilla said. “They spoke there, and then a coyote was viewed away from the east end of the Cabin Covert.”

In the rising heat and dry conditions, the scent did not stick around for long, and the hounds cast themselves back into the corn in some beautiful hound work. They screamed off again in the corn, but lost once again. They cast themselves north and east toward the Silo Pond Covert, but with no success this time.

At this time of year and in these dry conditions, and given what the coyotes are doing–lying low in the thickest scrub–it’s more advantages out to cast those areas, because that’s where game is. So Lilla headed south with the pack toward one of the thickest, biggest, most inviting coverts in the area: Murphy’s Covert. Her plan: cast the hounds there in hopes of recovering the line.

All muscle: Dragonfly training at home before placing second in her class at the Virginia Hound Show this summer.

The grass on the way to Murphy’s Covert was tall, obscuring her view, and as she rode on, Jerry radioed again with a crucial piece of information: Dragonfly, with a few older hounds not far away from her, was behind Lilla and feathering madly–a sign that she had picked up scent. Dragonfly and these hounds, it appeared, had made a U-turn in the high grass and were working back north toward the Cabin Covert again, while Lilla, with the young hounds, was heading south.

No sooner had Jerry told this than Lilla heard a wonderful sound: Dragonfly’s voice, behind her.

“She opened up,” Lilla said. “Everybody immediately honored her, and I thought, ‘Well, I can count on that,’ and I encouraged the hounds with me to join her.”

Banker, recently arrived from the North Cotswold in England, got his first experience of the Kentucky countryside at the Foxtrot meet.

Lilla’s decision to count on Dragonfly proved wise. Dragonfly, an import last year from the North Cotswold in England, knew what she was doing. Lilla put her faith with this hound who had hunted only fox in England and smelled her first coyote just last year.

“Dragonfly was just screaming, and off they went again,” Lilla said. “You know, coyotes will do that. They’ll get behind you a lot. And Dragonfly was smart. I think she’ll really beginning to figure out coyotes. She turned around and went back, toward the direction we’d already come from, and a lot of the older hounds were with her. Most of the hounds that were with me that I was taking to Murphy’s Covert were younger, and that made me think I should go back to see. And, yes, she was right.

“That’s why you count on old hounds like that. They call it fox sense. Well, Dragonfly’s got coyote sense now. She might not have last year, but she sure does this year, and she showed it to me Wednesday.”

Goodbye, moles: Bangle on the move.

So how about Driver? How did he do on his first hunt?

“Driver and Bangle, it was their first day out, and so they didn’t want to go in the corn, and they were happy just to stay with me,” Lilla said. “When hounds spoke in the corn, they went in. But every time the hounds would quit speaking Driver would come out and start lollygagging about. Betsy, our field secretary, was standing out by herself, and she told me that Driver came galloping by her, as if he thought he’d just go off and explore on his own, maybe put his nose down and start investigating things.”

We’ve seen him do that early in his houndwalking days this summer, too.

“But suddenly Driver noticed her there on her horse, and she said he stopped as if he was startled to find her there. She got on the radio and told one of the whips he was over there. A whip came to get him back to the pack, and she said he glared at her, like he was saying, ‘You told on me, I know you did.’

Driver (center) back in April.

“His immaturity showed that day. We’ll bring him out every hunt day. Paper was the same way, if you remember. He would sort of play and pick up garbage, but then once the hounds started speaking he was always there.”

And Bangle?

“She got a little intimidated by all the horses, and at one point she got behind all the horses and couldn’t catch up to me. So I asked both fields to stop and I rode back there and got her eye and brought her forward. After that, she figured it out and knew not to get in back with the horses but to stay in front of them.”

Here’s another interesting side note about Bangle’s development. She might finally be outgrowing her mole hobby. Some people have a passion for fly-fishing, antique-collecting, or vintage cars. For Bangle, it was all about moles. It’s easy to see the appeal: they’re sniffable, they’re small and soft, and they probably make a pretty good snack if you dig down far enough to catch one before a whipper-in shows up to break up the party.

Yuck.

On hound walks, Bangle would slip away from the group and pull up to her favorite pasture for some digging–something the whippers-in and houndwalk volunteers quickly learned to anticipate and head off whenever possible. Because once Bangle was in her mole field, she was planning to be there as long as it took to find every single mole. (To see video of Bangle on summer walk–but no moles!–click the play button below)

But, on Wednesday, Lilla said, “I think Bangle is finally saying goodbye to the moles.”

I think we can all agree this is good news for both the hunt and the moles.

“On Wednesday, I saw her digging in a mole hole, and then the hounds went on past her,” Lilla continued. “She looked up at the hounds, looked at the mole hole, then looked up at the hounds again. She took a last look at the mole hole, and then said, ‘I think … I think I’m going to go with … the hounds.'”

Good call, Bangle!

The star pupil at the moment: Backfire. We’d all been eager to see this handsome guy out on the hunt field, because he seemed so sharp even on hound walk in his early days integrating with the pack. He seemed precocious, and now it looks like that initial impression is bearing out.

“Backfire is really turning on,” Lilla said of Backfire after his second hunt. “He’s learned to honor cry, he’s very quick to cry, he’s just alert. Hyper-alert. The minute he hears something, he’s over there to find out about it. It’s not like he just stands and cocks his head trying to decide what to do. He automatically does it. He still doesn’t know what his nose is, but he is really enjoying this. It’s like he’s thinking, ‘This glove fits. I can do this!’ He’s just crisp and sharp.”

Conclusion: “It was just a great day.”

Next up … More oddities and some great marathon driving from the World Equestrian Games!

Hound of the Day, Nov. 4: Strawberry

Strawberry 11-05-09

English import Strawberry made her debut at Iroquois on Nov. 4.

CALL it culture shock. Strawberry only arrived from England on Oct. 21, and the Nov. 4 meet from Boone Valley was her first day out with her new pack, the Iroquois hounds.

Strawberry and the three other Cottesmore hounds who came with her from England last month are now adjusting to a new kennel and staff, a new pack, new countryside to navigate, and new game to chase (coyote). Most importantly, they must learn to build a relationship with a new huntsman.

It’s hard to overstate how close hounds feel to their huntsman. Working pack hounds are trained to focus entirely on the person who carries the horn, and, as we’ve seen during hound walk and training this summer, the huntsman’s attention and approval is something hounds strive (and even compete) for. So to move from one pack to another isn’t just a change of environment; it’s like changing your whole family. Fortunately, hounds are highly adaptable animals. After a period of adjustment, they do figure their new lives out.

For Strawberry, that process got serious on Wednesday. Ever since she was born, she has known one huntsman: Cottesmore’s Neil Coleman. And when she stepped out of the hound trailer at Boone Valley on Wednesday, it was only natural, as she scanned the unfamiliar countryside and sniffed the new smells, that Strawberry would be looking for one person: Neil.

Neil Coleman with hounds

Strawberry's former huntsman, the Cottesmore's Neil Coleman

“Until now, he’s all she’s known,” said Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason. “When she left the trailer, she looked around with a quizzical look on her face. She ran back to the trailer to Alan (Foy, kennel staff member). The rest of the hounds were going on.”

But Samson, another Cottesmore import who was on his second trip out with the Iroquois pack this time, stayed back with her, too, as if trying to tell Strawberry, ‘Hey, it’s okay, it’s still hunting, we have a new huntsman!’

Strawberry still looked skeptical, so Lilla turned and tossed her a biscuit. That helped, but Strawberry still wasn’t fully convinced. Where, after all, was Neil?

Samson 11-05-09

Samson, imported from Cottesmore at the same time as Strawberry, provided encouragement

Iroquois has imported hounds before, and so everyone knows well how to make their transition as smooth as possible. As she rode with the hounds to the first covert, Lilla was keeping Strawberry and the other new English hounds out that day–Samson, Hawkeye, and Structure–very much in mind.

“I picked some pretty open places to go, because I had a feeling that they would be nervous, and I didn’t want to go into a real dense covert to start with,” she explained. “I didn’t want them to get in there and not know where they were, not know the sound of my voice, not know the sound of my horn. So we went north where there’s low grass.”

Pack of hounds, sounds of horn, trotting to a covert–yes, it looks like hunting, Strawberry must have been thinking, but where is my huntsman? Where is his horse?

“She got back with the field, walked all through the horses, looking up at everyone,” Lilla said. “And then she just sat down and started howling. She just didn’t know what to do.”

Lilla and Alice

Hounds and huntsman develop a close bond. A change in huntsman can confuse a hound, but they also can adjust quickly to having a new leader.

“You can tell by looking at her that Strawberry is a wise old girl,” Lilla added. “She just has that face. When you go visit her in the kennel, she’ll come to you wagging her tail to say hello, and then she’ll go gently sit down and watch everything. She’s kind of above it all. She’s very regal.

“But that day she had the most confused look on her face!”

Strawberry hung back from the pack at first, still, it seems, trying to figure out where her leader was.

“I tried to use my voice, but that didn’t work as well as the horn,” Lilla said. “I would blow the horn, and she’d come a little way. She’d get up with the horses in the field, then start looking around, then sit down and howl again. It was like she was thinking, ‘I know I’m supposed to go to the horn, but it’s not the right horn, and I don’t see Neil, and something’s not right about this.’ But after the first hour or so, she started to get it. She wasn’t going to be with Neil, there was a horn, and the horn meant the same thing as it did before. But it was gut-wrenching at the start. I could see she was so upset not to be with Neil, and she didn’t understand my voice.”

Hawkeye 11-05-09

Hawkeye got into the swing of things quickly on his first day out with Iroquois on Wednesday

The other new Cottesmore hound debuting Wednesday, Hawkeye, had a similar moment of confusion but rapidly got on with the job. Structure and Samson debuted last week and also did well, but, again, they had to figure things out at first.

Structure 11-05-09

Structure also hunted Wednesday, her second time out with the Iroquois pack

“Structure wasn’t as expressive about it as Strawberry was,” Lilla said. “But she was confused and a little bit concerned. She was going to come, but she wasn’t sure she was supposed to, that kind of thing.”

Structure did get “thrown out” on her first day–not thrown out the way a baseball manager gets thrown out for yelling at the ump, but thrown out as in accidentally getting separated from the pack. “Then she spent the rest of the day looking for me,” Lilla said. “It’s just that she doesn’t know yet where she is. The other hounds know the score, they know where the holes under fences are.”

You might be interested to know that Samson, he of the mighty airport bark, has been quiet and professional so far! He, too, had an early moment of doubt. But as we saw Wednesday, he felt confident enough about the American style of hunting to encourage Strawberry to join up.

One thing everyone’s noticed about these English hounds: boy, can they ever jump.

“A wire fence is no boundary to them,” said Lilla. “They just sail right over it.”

Those are between three and four feet tall, ladies and gentlemen.

Strawberry performed one of these stag-leaps on Wednesday. Having found herself well away from the pack, separated from them by a fence, and having decided that the horn was indeed a cousin of the one she knew in England, she took a bold decision.

“She knew she wasn’t supposed to be off by herself,” Lilla said, “and she knew she had to catch up with that horn somehow. So she just leaped right over the fence.

“When we got back to the trailers at the end of the day, I hopped off my horse before the hounds were all in the trailer, because I wanted to give Strawberry a big pat. She looked at me like, ‘Okay, I get it now.'”

Which reminded Lilla of Neil again. On the trips she used to make herself to pick up hounds from the Cottesmore in England, the most difficult and wonderful part was the last moment at Cottesmore, when Neil would say his goodbyes to the hounds before helping Lilla load them up for the drive to the airport and flight to America.

Neil is a big, burly man, not necessarily the kind of guy you expect to crouch down and speak lovingly to a hound, stroke it under the chin and tell it goodbye, personally, one-on-one. But this is exactly what he did.

“That’s why they love him,” Lilla said. “Watching that, it makes you feel the great reponsibility to make these hounds happy, to do well by these gifts.”

Strawberry dances with kennelman Michael Edwards. She really can jump!

Strawberry and kennelman Michael Edwards share a dance: she really can jump!

Hound of the Day, Oct. 18: Grindstone

Michael Edwards with Grindstone

Iroquois kennelman Michael Edwards with Hound of the Day Grindstone. Edwards put a lot of work into building Grindstone's confidence.

IT’S hard to believe how far Grindstone has come in her long career with Iroquois. That came to mind at the meet on October 18 at Boone Valley.

The weather was warm, and there was a large field of riders out that morning, and the hounds arrived looking forward to their day. Grindstone was as eager as ever, lining up first as she always does so that she can be the first out of the hound truck and down the ramp into the grass. You can see her unloading in her customary manner in the video below; she’s the small white hound, the first to leap out, from the lower level of the hound truck.

“She’s one of those hounds that, on hound walk, has her tail kind of drooping down and makes the least amount of effort possible,” said Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason. “But this was a hunt day, and she was doing that thing your house dogs will do when they want you to take them out for a walk. You know how they run to the door,  look at you, run back to you, then dash to the door again? Grindstone was running ahead, then come back and looking up at me, then running ahead again. It was like she was saying, ‘Come on, Lilla! Trot, trot!’ It just reminded me of how different she used to be when we first got her.”

Grindstone is a little crossbred hound, and, if we are very honest, she’s not going to win America’s Top Model anytime soon. She arrived at Iroquois under unusual circumstances. Iroquois had loaned her mother, Iroquois Grizzle, to another hunt for a year, on the understanding that the hunt would keep her for a season, breed her to get a litter of puppies from her, and then send her home again to Iroquois.

“Grizzle was a really good hound,” Lilla said. “They got a litter of puppies out of her, but they didn’t send her back for a couple of seasons. When they finally did send her back, in the crate with her was this little ugly duckling of a puppy. That was Grindstone. She was terribly, terribly shy, and, to be honest, there was nothing about her we wanted. She was so shy you couldn’t touch her, she was ugly, she was really little, it wasn’t the kind of breeding that suits our pack, she wasn’t built to cover the kind of ground we cover. She didn’t look much like a coyote-chasing hound at all, but what could you do? You had to keep her. So we kept her.”

And she turned out to be Cinderella?

“No, it just got worse and worse.”

The biggest problem was the shyness. When Grindstone first arrived, kennelman Michael Edwards said, “I’ll really work with her.” Michael, it should be noted here, is a hound magnet, the kindest guy you’ll ever meet, and an expert at turning wallflower puppies into confident, outgoing stars.

“But Grindstone was so shy, he couldn’t even touch her,” recalled Lilla. “She would just go back in a corner. You could put her in with a group, and she’d go in and out of the kennel in a group, but to catch her you pretty much had to corner her, and she’d cower on the ground. This went on for her first year with us. So how could you hunt her? She was so wild.

“Finally, after a year, Michael was able to touch her, but only he could touch her. She was pretty much useless to us as a working hound.”

Finally, when Grindstone was in her second year at the Iroquois kennel, joint-Master Jerry Miller decided they had to do something. And that something was take her out on hound walk. In a group of hounds. No leash. Just like all Grindstone’s well-adjusted peers in the pack. The hunt staff didn’t like this idea at all.

“He said, ‘We can’t just keep her in the kennel. She’s got to go hunting. She’s got to do something.’ Michael was afraid of that, and we all thought she would just go feral. We thought, ‘The minute she gets out of the hound truck and doesn’t know where she is, she’ll just go off. And we can’t touch her, so when she does go off, she’ll just become a stray dog.’ But Jerry said, ‘We have to do this. We can’t keep treating her differently.'”

It was with great trepidation that the staff pulled into Boone Valley for hound walk that summer day back in 2003.

Boone Valley

Boone Valley: scene of Grindstone's triumph

“We parked by the barn, and Michael was a nervous wreck, because he’d finally won her confidence, and he was kind of upset about having to do this,” Lilla said. “We opened the trailer doors, and everybody came out except Grindstone. She stayed in for a minute, and then she kind of came slinking out.”

There she was, out in the wide, wide world. She stood looking around while the hunt staff went on about their business, trying hard not to let their nerves about Grindstone show.

“The only thing we could do was treat everybody normally,” Lilla remembered. “So we started off on hound walk just like it was any old day, like there was nothing different at all. And it was the strangest thing. Grindstone came along. She started off shyly, with her head kind of low and her tail kind of low, and she walked on a little way, looking from side to side at the hounds around her. She was in the middle of the hounds, and they were all doing the same thing, just walking happily along, and it was like all of a sudden she got a sense of belonging. It was as if she started thinking, ‘I may be an ugly duckling, and I don’t look like them or act like them, but I’m a group.’ We just kept walking along, and Grindstone’s head got a little higher and her stride got a little bouncier, and her tail came up. She had realized that she was part of a pack.”

Hounds

Working pack hounds have both an individual identity and a pack identity. "It's a wonderful thing to see them have that epiphany that they are part of a group," says Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason.

It was a moment that changed Grindstone’s life. The hunt staff breathed a sigh of relief.

“That’s what’s so neat about a pack of hounds,” Lilla said. “It is a pack. They are individuals, but they love their pack. It’s wonderful to see, like with Grindstone, that sense of belonging. Now she has hunted for years, and she’s been great. Those kinds of epiphanies that hounds have–whether it’s accepting being part of the pack or figuring out what their nose is–that’s what really makes hunting hounds special.”

Today you would never guess at Grindstone’s past shyness. The fact that she isn’t now is a tribute to a lot of things, mainly careful, patient handling in the kennel and the bold decision to let her try hunting. In the end, Grindstone vindicated Iroquois’s unusual training policy of “no hound left behind”–to work to find the key to every hound so that it can try hunting, even if that means letting it make a late debut on the hunt field.

“She’s so valuable to us now,” explained Lilla. “We use her when we have difficult fixtures where we can only take very steady hounds. She can go with the young hounds, she can do it all.”

This is Grindstone’s sixth season of hunting. When she retires from the hunt field, she will join a new pack with a lot of familiar faces: the Iroquois hounds’ retired hounds, which also are kenneled at the Iroquois kennels on Miller Trust Farm. Once retired, Grindstone will be cared for under the auspices of the Hound Welfare Fund. Please donate!

Hound of the Day, Oct. 7: Bonsai

Caption Here

"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
away.

— Lilla Mason

Hound of the Day, Oct. 3: The Great Grundy

Grundy, shown here in October 2006 with joint-Master Jerry Miller

Thank you, Grundy! The great hound himself, shown here in October 2006 with Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller

FOR most field members, the first hunt day is a beginning. But to the Masters and hunt staff it is, in many ways, a grand finale. If you take a sort of “journey to the center of the earth” look at what has occurred behind the scenes to make this day possible, you’ll see what I mean.  Case in point: our grand hound Iroquois Grundy ’98 died several years ago, but he had a tremendous impact on the Oct. 3 opening hunt. 

A great hunt can only become great if it has a great hound breeder behind it. Grundy is an excellent example of this. So much thought, care, and consultation go into mating hounds in order to produce the kind of hunters that can give outstanding sport. Iroquois makes its mating choices with special care, because we breeed relatively few hounds and have committed to keep them all from cradle to grave. For any hunt, Iroquois definitely included, the idea is to breed hounds that are great hunters themselves but who will also keep providing great sport through future generations. That is what Grundy, who was bred by North Cotswold huntsman Nigel Peel out of the Peterborough champion Grapefruit, has done for Iroquois: give great sport himself, then through his sons and daughters.

When breeding hounds, you pick what you want to add to the pack by looking at its breeding and considering what it will contribute once it is an experienced hound. For instance, we don’t expect anything from Paper this year, but his breeding suggests that, down the road, he should be a great cold-nosed hound that could be invaluable on bad scenting days.  

We had a lot of trouble with splits until Grundy, whom we imported from the North Cotswold in England, showed in his second season to be a non-switcher.  In other words, he always stayed on the line of the original hunted coyote.  So we, along with many other hunts, used him as a stallion hound. Thankfully, he passed that trait along to his offspring.  Ten of the hounds that hunted on opening day Oct. 3 are Grundy’s blood, and they reflected his immense contribution to our pack.  Rarely nowadays do we have splits.

With much anticipation, 40 field members and staff met at Brookfield Farm for the first cub-hunting morning.  The hounds we had out Oct. 3 were Finite, Finesse, Sassoon, Savvy, Salute, Saracen, Saba, Allie, Grindstone, Sayso, Latch, Flash, Sage, Stanway, Griffin, Stam, and Glog. Like the first day of school, there was nervous excitement in the air. It was a bright sunny morning with a temperature of about 45 degrees.  There had been a full moon and clear skies the night before.  I had woken up several times in the night supposing that all nocturnal animals would be busy hunting, and by morning would be tucked away to rest somewhere. 

We have not seen much game on houndwalks, not like in previous years. Common sense tells me they must still be out there, we just can’t see them, although only two landowners said they had seen a coyote this summer.  I opened my bedroom window to see if by chance I could hear that familiar coyote laughter, but the night was quiet.

Each season, the hunt country poses new and different challenges and limitations.  Some land gets closed off by development, some coverts get leveled for farming, and some years there is drought.  This year, there is thick vegetation from the unusually wet summer.  It’s going to be hard to see the hounds in the coverts as they draw–and even harder to see game.  At the landowners’ request, the first draw of the morning on Oct. 3 would be a large corn field in a corner bordered by two busy roads.  Consequently, we carefully chose hounds for the day who were experienced in the dangers of traffic. They also were ones  the hunt staff could stop if they ran something that would cross those roads, leading them into danger.  As always, the hunt staff and Masters’ primary concerns are respect for the landowners and the safety of the hounds and field members.

The first draw

The first draw was about a mile from where the hounds were unboxed, which was ideal for loosening them up and settling them down.  It is so funny to see how different they are on a hunt day than on houndwalk!  For instance, Finite and Finesse have been so ho-hum on houndwalk, expending the least amount of energy necessary and spending time at cow pies and trails of muck left by manure spreaders, smelling and smelling until they were forced by hunt staff  to catch up. They are sisters and do everything together to such an extent that we’ve long called them “two bodies, one brain.”

Sometimes on houndwalk, hounds will drift ahead of me, and, just to school them, I’ll call them back.  But Finite and Finesse will not volunteer to come back. Instead, they’ll stand still as though they don’t want to cross the same ground twice.  They know I’m going to walk forward to where they are, so why come back? Geeeeeeeeez.  But not on opening hunt day!  Once I blew the horn and left meet, there were the girls out front, tails wagging, purposefully moving forward, on a mission and focused.  I had to use my voice to steady them, and they responded without looking back at me – obedient but lost in concentration. The girls were switched on!

"Two bodies, one brain": Finesse and Finite are two sisters by Grundy. They did him proud at the Oct. 3 opening meet!

"Two bodies, one brain": Finesse and Finite are two sisters by Grundy. They did him proud at the Oct. 3 opening meet!

We held the hounds up as the field of 30-plus riders moved around the sides of the corn bordered by roads.  The hounds respected the hunt staff and impatiently waited as all the riders got in place.  I can’t tell you how proud we all were of them–all the summer training pays off.  It is little things like this, being able to hold the hounds up until all is ready for them to go in a covert, that are such great rewards.  Then being able to take them towards it, but requiring them to go in exactly where the huntsman wants instead of just rushing forward.  Those subtleties that put such polish on a pack also reflect great whips.  It makes you very proud, but you also smile as you remember all the mistakes hounds have made along the way and how much guidance and training they needed to reach this pinnacle.

Hounds spilled into the corn, drawing well considering there was no way to ride through the corn, and so I had to just stay outside.  They spoke some, a good start.  We left there and drew more coverts to the south: Davenport’s, Wee Young’s, Raymond’s Scrub.  It was pleasing to see such beautiful houndwork; they were very thorough in underbrush so thick you could only hear them moving through and only occasionally see the tips of their wagging tails. But I was getting anxious to find game.

A Lesson–and a View–at Little Kansas

Next we hacked to two smaller corn fields in Little Kansas.  The first was very long, but only about 15 rows wide.  I wanted to draw west to east. Hounds went in, and halfway down the field, most spilled out, moving towards the bigger corn to the north.  Early in the season, you really want hounds to stay in the covert they are drawing unless they find game or are called out by the huntsman.  If half the hounds are in one covert and half have drifted to the next, and then suddenly one group fires off after a coyote, the rest will be left behind.  That’s  especially detrimental to the puppies.  So I called to the hounds that had left the covert, turned my horse towards the little corn, and lieued them back in.  It was risky to try to do without a whip there to reinforce my command, but the intensive summer training stood hounds in good stead again. 

It occurred to me they might have been winding something in the bigger corn, but cub-hunting is as much about hound training as hunting, and I want the hounds to be disciplined in coverts. As soon as they got into the bigger corn, they erupted in full cry.  Fieldmembers were spread out on the west end as a way to discourage game from going across that fenceline out of the hunt country.  Round and round the hounds went.  A whip tally-hoed a coyote out of the corn south.  But hounds did not follow, indicating to me there were multiple coyotes in there, and the one the whip saw just got flushed out.

One of the hardest things about hunting coyotes is the fact that they often travel in groups, so if you find one you actually might have found four or five together.  Most of the time, they will each run a different direction, seemingly to deliberately split the pack of hounds.  It is a real muddle if three couple of hounds are running east another five couple running south, and the rest running north all after coyotes. This happened a lot in the early 1990s when coyotes first established themselves in our hunt country.  The correct way to handle that scenario is that the huntsman must choose which hounds to follow, blow the horn and hark hounds out of the covert. Any hounds following another coyote are a split: the whips must stop them and send them on to the huntsman with the main pack.  This is very difficult to do, as a whip only has a few seconds to stop hounds and divert their attention back to the horn.   Once hounds have gotten half a field away on a coyote, it’s almost impossible to turn them back, and by then the huntsman and sound of the horn is long gone.

Grundy died several years ago but is memorialized by this life-sized bronze at Miller Trust. It shows him doing what he was made to do: chase coyote without switching!

Grundy died several years ago but is memorialized by this life-sized bronze at Miller Trust. It shows him doing what he was made to do: chase coyote without switching!

Hounds were still full cry in the corn, and another coyote was viewed going south out of the covert. A few minutes later, a third very small coyote came barreling out the east end, followed closely by “two bodies one brain”–Finite and Finesse–with the rest of the pack in hot pursuit. 

I said under my breath, “Thank you, Grundy!”  The coyote slipped through a wire fence too tightly woven for the hounds to penetrate.  I galloped forward and opened two gates to let hounds through, they cast themselves east to no avail, then returned  to the fenceline where they last smelled the quarry, as they often do when they make a lose. 

Grundy’s Bloodlines Win the Day

I cast them into the bean field that was on the other side of the fence.  Finite erupted again, running hard north. Hounds honored her, and the little coyote was viewed again.  It ran through another tight fenceline and turned west, only to be turned back into the beans by fieldmembers going in early.    Hounds were delayed getting through the fence and made a lose.  The Masters had seen the coyote get turned and go back into the beans.  But it’s amazing how coyotes seem to just vanish when they lie down and hide!  The beans were not that tall, but he had disappeared into thin air.

I took the hounds and began making a half moon cast in the field.  Long minutes went by, hounds were tying but could only find a very angry skunk! I noticed Finite, Finesse, and Grindstone trotting off to the north end of the field, though most of the hounds were in the center.  The hounds spoke, and tally ho! The coyote was viewed going east out of the north end of the beans.  He  ran several fields through cattle, and the hounds eventually lost the scent.  It was getting hot so we called it a day.  And what a day to begin with!

Grundy would have been proud of his pups, and his spirit shone in them through their honesty as a pack.

One other note of honor: the award for Last Field Member Out. This one goes to Cheri Clark, who graciously led Master Jerry Miller’s horse back to the meet, as he prefers to dismount wherever hounds are loaded–and it was a long hack back to the meet!

Lilla Mason