Foxes and “foxes”

Red fox, by Rob Lee.

EVERY so often the houndbloggers like to cross over to the hounds’ hunt field rivals, the fox and the coyote, and today it is Charles James’s turn in the spotlight. To get you in the mood for fox tales, we recommend this link to you. It shows a series of three truly remarkable fox photographs that Virginia photographer Douglas Lees took on New Year’s Eve while out with the Orange County Hunt. Enjoy!

Foxes were not the first-choice quarry for mounted hunters with hounds. When the first hounds started hunting stags and the first beagles began with hares, foxes were considered such vermin that they were even beneath hunting with hounds, and no king really would want to be seen putting his hounds on such a lowly line as a fox’s. But farmers, understandably eager to protect their poultry and lambs, no doubt would do what they felt needed to be done. I’ve read that the earliest recorded attempt to hunt a fox with hounds was in 1534, when a Norfolk farmer set his dogs after one.

On the other hand, Chaucer (who lived circa 1343 to 1400) wrote an earlier verse depicting “dogges” of various types running after the fox that stole away with Chanticleer in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale. By the 1300s, mentions of “fox-dogs” have crept into royal records in England, suggesting that foxes were by now at least occasionally hunted, even if they were not yet preferred to deer. An 1833 edition of New Sporting Magazine has an interesting description of this, as follows:”From the accounts of the Comptroller of the Wardrobe of Edward the First, for 1299 and 1300, we may form some estimate of the small degree of repute in which fox-hunting, if indeed hunting it can be called, was held at that period. The fox-destroying establishment of that monarch consisted of twelve ‘fox-dogs’ (terriers not unlikely), with one man and two boys. The master of these fox-dogs’ and his two assistants were allowed sixpence a day, or two-pence each; and three-pence a day for a horse to carry ‘the nets’ was allowed from the 1st of September to the last day of April, which a half-penny a day was paid for the keep of each of the dogs. From these items it appears that the expense for men and dogs was the same all the year round, except that the huntsman and his two whippers-in received each a new suit at an expense for the three of thirty-four shillings and four-pence.”

“The whole concern,” the author writes, “savours so much of rat-catching.”

A not-very-dangerous and not-very-stinky Christmas fox.

In any event, hunting the fox–exclusively and on formal terms–eventually did catch on, and in a big way. England’s oldest foxhunt, the Bilsdale in Yorkshire, was organized in 1668 by George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. (A point of interest: that pack today now has a hunt country covering about 300 square miles. I know, I know–and I’m betting they’ve never heard of a McMansion before, either)

The general view of foxes as noxious vermin is made very clear indeed in a book we’ve quoted here before, Edward Topsell‘s The History of Four-Footed Beasts, published in 1607. Of Reynard, now considered our hounds’ beautiful and noble rival on the field, Topsell said: “If the urine of a Foxe fall upon the grasse or other Herbs it drieth and killeth them, and the earth remaineth barren ever afterward.” And also: “He stinketh from Nose and taile.” Well, all righty, then. Mr. Topsell liketh not the Foxe, we presume.

Topsell's version of a fox in his History of Four-Footed Beasts

Regarding the fox’s “stink,” we have found a little note in the slim 1951 volume The Way of a Fox by Douglas St. Leger-Gordon. He says: “A path used by dog, wolf or fox is punctuated by intelligence depots where each passerby picks up the news, learns something about the identity, sex and general history of the last comer, and leaves a memento of his or her own visit. … A fox’s intelligence depot  is always indicated by the strong musky scent which is as permanent as that of wood-smoke about an old-fashioned hearth. … Contrary to common belief, a fox does not diffuse its strong personal odour upon the air as it passes along in the same way that a glamorous lady exudes ‘Evening in Paris,’ nor is it correct to assume when catching a vulpine whiff that the creature has recently crossed the road or path. One seldom winds a fox where it has been seen, nor does experience bear out the convention that the smell–for it is quite distinct from scent–rises after a while and becomes perceptible to human senses.more important still, the strong taint that assails the nostrils when near some port of call (and nowhere else, I think, under normal circumstances) has nothing to do with the ordinary bodily odour of the beast. … Like cats and many weasels, a fox only gives forth its overpowering aroma at moments of intense agitation, as when attacked, or under the influence of strong emotion.”

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The houndbloggers would be interested to see what scientists have learned that might contradict–or vindicate–this view in the years since 1951.

But within six decades, between The History‘s publication and the Bilsdale Hunt’s formation, the fox had become appreciated for its guile and resourcefulness, and for the challenge it presented on the hunt field. This has led not only to countless interesting, and sometimes heartbreaking, and usually very chilly and often quite damp, hours on the hunt field for many, many generations since. It also had produced a rich history of Reynard’s exploits and how they foiled (or failed to foil) the hounds. We give you one from Cuthbert Bradley, a Hound Blog favorite.

“Wheeling sharp to the left, hounds ran hard leaving Quarrington on the right, across a flat strip of arable country. Here the pilot, evidently meaning to reach Rauceby, was headed by a sheep dog, and turned for Silk Willoughby village, where an open cottage door offered a welcome shelter after a quick hunt of 20 minutes. A baby lay on the hearthrug in front of the fire, while her mother busied herself about the house; the fox jumping over the infant went up the chimney. The alarmed mother had the presence of mind to slam the cottage door just as hounds dashed up, or possibly there would have been a tragedy. Gillard was quickly on the scene with hounds, all apologies for the rude intrusion of the hunted one; and the villagers came running up in eager curiosity, flattening their noses on the window pane. …

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Caine Croft, the whipper-in, climbed onto the roof peering down the chimney-pot, where he could see the fox sitting on a ledge. A clothes prop was borrowed, and Cox of Ropsley, a keen foot-hunter, out on every possible occasion with the Belvoir, went into the house with Gillard and Mr. James Hutchinson, to get hold of the fox. When Cox eventually appeared in the doorway, holding the sooty form at arm’s length–after his teeth had been through his coat sleeve–the village yokels fled out of the garden as though they had caught sight of the devil himself. Carrying the fox into the open he put him down in an adjoining field, and after dwelling a moment or two, he shot away, like an arrow from the bow.”

The Royal Artillery “Fox”

Today, of course, the English no longer hunt live foxes, but only the “stink,” slopped in liberal doses on a drag. To see what this new “fox” looks like, click on the video below from the 2011 Boxing Day meet of our local hunt when we are in England, the Royal Artillery Hunt on Salisbury Plain. The “fox,” mounted this time with the drag swaying from the thong of her hunt whip, appears at about the 24-second mark.

As for the smell, we didn’t get close enough to whiff it (the camera allows us to zoom). Customized recipes for drag scents seem to be pretty numerous, involving everything from aniseed to fox’s urine (the latter features in the Chiddingfold, Leconfield, and Cowdray Hunt‘s drag, which nearly causes huntsman Sage Thompson to vomit after he sniffs a bottle of the drag-line’s mixture in Michael Slowe’s documentary “Hounds and the Huntsman,” available here). We haven’t asked the Royal Artillery how they make theirs!

A couple of notes about the Royal Artillery. The hunt has a wonderful history and still remains very true to its deep roots in the British military. They drag-hunt over Salisbury Plain, which also is the main domestic training ground for British soldiers, and in this video you will see some of the features of that unusual hunt country. You’ll see the field gallop past a “village,” an unoccupied collection of buildings used for various military training exercises and one of the military features that dot the Plain. The RA Hunt does not have any jumps to leap, but that’s not to say that their hunt country isn’t challenging, because it certainly can be, in a most unconventional way. There are the foot-deep tank tracks that criss-cross the land and which must be negotiated diagonally if you’re to get over them safely, as well as slit trenches that can appear almost without warning and the occasional bits of ammunition (some potentially unexploded, as the sign in the video warns) and missile wire!

And if you’re wondering why their huntsman is wearing a green coat instead of the expected red one, that’s a hat tip to the hunt’s former life as a harrier pack. Huntsmen of beagle, basset, and harrier packs traditionally wear green.

The houndbloggers have hunted with the RA Hunt a few times and count those days as among our happiest and most interesting. Before we leave the subject of the Royal Artillery entirely, we should note that one of its staunch followers, Estelle Holloway, died not long before the Boxing Day meet featured in our video. We have quoted her excellent book Hounds, Hares, and Foxes of Larkhill several times here and value it as a great resource concerning the RA Hunt’s fascinating history.

The Year That Was

So how did the blog do in 2011? If you’re interested in our annual statistics, there’s a link to our stats report below. The upshot is that you all helped the hound blog reach new heights in 2011! The blog was viewed about 39,000 times in the course of the year, mostly by viewers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. The most-viewed post of 2011 was The Eider Has Landed, our report of Eider’s arrival at Beagle House on Jan. 16, 2011. (Eider, understandably, is pretty excited about this, but he’s not letting it go to his head.) The year’s top five posts of the year, in terms of views:

1. The Eider Has Landed (Jan. 16, 2011)

2. MFHA hunt staff seminar, part 4: Wiley Coyote (April 26, 2010)

3. Beagles, bassets, and dozens of running bunnies (with two videos!) (Feb. 28, 2010)

4. St. Hubert and the Blessing of the Hounds (Nov. 3, 2009)

5. Houndbloggers Abroad: Hunting’s historic clothiers (a tale of goss, coodle, and ventile lining) (Oct. 28, 2009)

To see the stats report, click on the link below this box:

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 39,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 14 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Bedtime Stories: J. Stanley Reeve

An occasional series in which we offer a pleasant “good night” to  our readers, courtesy of hunting literature. Sweet dreams!

The houndbloggers can’t say they knew very much about author J. Stanley Reeve when , in 2009, they picked up a slightly water stained copy of his 1921 book Radnor Reminiscences: A Foxhunting Journal. But he was, in fact, quite a figure of the day. Reeve, who lived from 1878 until 1960, was second cousin-in-law, if there is such a thing, to Theodore Roosevelt (himself a friend of Iroquois Hunt founder General Roger D. Williams) and of the famous poet Amy Lowell, too. Time magazine once described Reeve as the “seasoned and punctilious sportsman of Haverford, Pa.,” and Town and Country gave him the title of “the leading fox hunter of the leading fox hunting city in the country.” Better yet, we have since found a 2010 article by Terry Conway that gives a less formal but more delightful portrait of tonight’s Bedtime Stories author: ” a seasoned sportsman and snappy dresser celebrated for his colorful straw bowlers and, on occasion, a nearly orange suit.” Goodness.

A Radnor Hunt stalwart, Reeve also was on hand for one of the great runs in the history of Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds, the so-called Lenape Run of February 1932, described in delicious detail here. The history describes “a 9 3/4-mile point–39 miles as hounds ran–in five hours and 20 minutes” that ended with only three riders remaining when the gallant fox was accounted for by the hunt’s bitches: huntsman Charlie Smith, M. F. H. Plunket Stewart, and Reeve.

Without further ado, we turn the evening over to Mr. Reeve:

“It has always seemed to me that those hunting people who never begin hunting until the regular season commences, in November, miss half the delights of the game. Anything that one gets real enjoyment from is worth a little hardship; and it certainly pays in regard to hunting.

“It seems like getting up in the middle of the night the first time one does it; but that good early morning smell; the hack to covert in the dark; and the glorious music of about 30 couples of hounds as they go swishing through the wet grass; a field of only three or four out and all in rat-catcher kit, and all with the same trend of thought! Who is the ‘lay-a-bed’ chap who says it does not pay? he’s never tried it; that’s the reason he talks as he does.

‘But what a blessing it is,’ as my father used to say, ‘that we all don’t think alike.’ Other wise, there would be no nice small fields in August and September, and we would not have that feeling, after a morning’s cubbing, of having sort of ‘put one over’ on the other fellows.

“The present generation of sportsmen–and especially the younger ones–are a bit prone to want their sport made easy for them. Motors, too, have quite taken away one of the most delightful parts of a day’s hunting; that of hacking to the meet and the hack home with a congenial friend; a good pipe of tobacco and maybe a nip or two from a flask; and, as Sabretache, in his ‘Pictures in the Fire,’ says:

“‘How often in riding to the meet have you met and been greatly amused by overtaking a chap who evidently had gotten out of bed that morning with the wrong foot first. Nothing is right with him or his world; horse won’t walk; there’s a button giving him Hades inside his boot; the bad-worded groom has put on the very saddle that he doesn’t like; it’s a rotten part of the country we are going into; not a dog’s earthly of a gallop, and, even if we do, the whole place is wired like a mouse-trap; then, cuss these motors that make his nasty, flashy, washy chestnut shy and go up on the bank; dash the wind that won’t let him light a cigarette; and if he ever rides that horse again may he be boiled; he’d sell him for half-a-pound of tea (rather a high figure to on him in these days); and why the devil grooms put on odd leathers and can’t take the trouble to burnish one’s irons, blessed if he knows … and so forth and so on! Poor old thing! He’s bound to be in trouble, a man like this, who starts out looking for it. First thing that happens to him is that the chestnut, who will not wait his turn at a gate, bangs his knee against it, and then, raking at his bridle, nearly puts one of his thumbs out of joint against the breast-plate; next thing, at a small place that a donkey could jump, the chestnut drops his hind legs in, and flounders and sprawls in a manner that nearly causes the owner to leave the plate. Know him? Of course you know him, so do we all!’

“So different from the other kind of fellow, who, like the ‘lady’ who went to the ball-dance and said she’d had a splendid time–three falls, four Scotches, and a mazurka–is full of beans and benevolence, no matter what happens. When you meet him after the first scene of the first act–say after those men on the haystack have interfered with the plot as originally arranged by the high-class expert who is hunting the hounds–he has a nasty red mark bang across his nose, there’s a hole in his new ‘Hard-hitter,’ and the nice-looking bay five-year-old he is riding has a large consignment of Chester County distributed over his forehead-band and face. Mr. Fuller-Beans says, in reply to your inquiry about the bouleversement: ‘Not a bit, old cock! And he’s never put a foot wrong since! A real topper, and he’ll make up into one of the very best.’ And that nice, persevering young bay horse really does perform brilliantly in Act II, just because he realizes that Mr. Fuller-Beans’s heart is in the right place, and that a little matter like that fall over the bit of a stick that mended that gap is not the kind of thing that is going to choke him off or upset his temper. However, it takes all kinds of people to make up the world, and most of them are pretty nice, especially the ladies.”

A sneak peek at 2012’s auction art!

Sandra Oppegard was inspired by this month's Blessing of the Hounds ceremony and painted this, which she generously has donated to the 2012 Hound Welfare Fund auction on June 16!

ARTIST Sandra Oppegard is one of the hounds’ best friends. Not only is she a staunch supporter of the Hound Welfare Fund who regularly donates her wildly popular art to the fund’s annual auction. She’s also got a foxhound of her own, Whistle.

Sandra already has donated her painting–photographed here shortly after its completion–for next year’s auction. The watercolor has a timely subject: it depicts part of the Iroquois Hunt’s annual Blessing of the Hounds, which Sandra attended. Thank you so much, Sandra, for your generous support of the retired hounds!

Please go on and mark your calendars! The 2012 Hound Welfare Fund dinner and silent/live auction will take place on June 16 at Grimes Mill!

To see photographs of last year’s event and some of the people who supported it, click here. To see short videos highlighting some of last year’s auction items, click here. We hope to see you at this year’s event! If you can’t be there in person, you can still bid–watch this space for more details closer to the auction. And, of course, you can donate to the retired hounds anytime either by snail mail or via PayPal. Visit the donation page at www.houndwelfarefund.org to get the HWF mailing address and PayPal information.

All donations are tax-deductible, and 100 percent of your donation goes straight to the hounds’ care.

Blessings all around


The Iroquois Hunt's Blessing of the Hounds took place earlier this month, with some of the retired hounds participating. Photo by Dave Traxler.

AND so begins the formal season, with the blessing of hounds and riders gathered once again at the old Grimes Mill. Blessing Day harks back to St. Hubert, about whom we have written a great deal in the past. But it also, in a way, “harks forrard” to the hunting season proper, and God knows we need blessings aplenty for that, when somber weathermen and the Farmer’s Almanac both are making ominous noises about a winter of snow and ice. Phooey. The temperature is in the 40s today, and, though it is wet, the houndbloggers are determined that It Will Not Snow as much this year as it did last year.

Baffle got a blessing, too, along with Iroquois huntsman Lilla S. Mason, from the Venerable Bryant Kibler. Photo by Dave Traxler.

The Iroquois hounds and followers were blessed on Nov. 5 to have very fine weather for celebrating hunting’s high holy day, as you can see from the pictures and video accompanying. The hunt, founded in 1880 and reincorporated (after a 12-year hiatus) in 1926, has been honoring the Blessing Day tradition since 1931, when Almon H. P. Abbott, 2nd Bishop of Lexington presided. To read more about the history of the club and of the hunt’s Grimes Mill headquarters, click here. Norm Fine, our good friend over at the Foxhunting Life website, recently unearthed a tiny jewel of a film that provides a glimpse of the Iroquois Hunt’s Blessing Day from 1934. To see it, click here.  Interestingly, the 1934 blessing shown in this one-minute Universal newsreel isn’t at Grimes Mill, but, we believe, a stone church near Winchester. The following year, on Nov. 4, 1935, the Blessing of the Hounds took place at Grimes Mill (click here for a Universal newsreel of that Blessing Day), where it looked very like today’s ceremony: horses lined up along the drive, hounds brought down from the kennel behind the huntsman’s cottage, where our kennel manager Michael Edwards now resides. The priest today, as then, stands on the  same old millstone to deliver his remarks.

Photo by Dave Traxler.

From the Houndbloggers’ perspective, it’s especially interesting to look at the hounds, which then were of the rangy, longer-eared American type prevalent in the area at the time.

Today’s Blessing Day, as illustrated in the video below, shows that the hounds and the setting may have changed since 1934, but the basic ceremony (and its appeal to the general public) have not:

We’re also pleased to include a photo slideshow of pictures that our excellent friend (and excellent photographer!) Dave Traxler took on the day.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

Several years ago, a friend sent me the text of the 1984 Blessing of the Hounds made by the Right Reverend Robert W. Estill, 9th Bishop of North Carolina, who, incidentally, also came back to the Mill for its centennial in 2008. Estill also was an Iroquois member before he moved to North Carlina, and so he was an especially interesting candidate to bless the hunt’s hounds for the 1984-’85 formal season.

“When I got my buttons and began to hunt with you while I was rector  of Christ Church,” Estill said in 1984, “my Senior Warden and godfather, Cllinton Harbison, penned a poem to ‘Our Riding Rector.’ It read:

‘A parson should have a ‘good seat’

Amd ‘light hands’ and an ardor complete

For riding to hounds

Where clean sport abounds.

May no spill that parson delete!

Photo by Dave Traxler.

“So you and I and this crowd of friends and well wishers come together for the Blessing of the Hounds,” Estill continued. “Yet are we not the ones who are blessed? Look around you. Even the person farthest removed from horses, foxes, or hounds could not fail to catch the blessings of the day, the place, and the occasion. We urbanites often lose touch with the good earth and with its creatures. We Americans have shoved our sports so deeply into commercialism and professionalism and competition that we have lost the sense of pleasure in sport for sport’s sake.

We lose touch with our past, too. With those who have gone before us. You and I are blessed today (in this time of the church’s year called All Saints) by those whom George Eliot first called ‘the choir invisible … those immortal dead who live again in minds made better by their presence.’ When those of you who will hunt step into the stirrups today, you will join, if not a ‘choir invisible,’ at least a bunch of interesting women and men who have done just that in years gone by.

Photo by Dave Traxler.

“From the time of 1774 to about 1810, settlers from Virginia ‘came swarming over that high-swung gateway of the Cumberlands into Kentucky,’ bringing with them hounds, whose descendants are here before us now carrying their names as Walker foxhounds. They were first developed by John W. Walker and his cousin, Uncle ‘Wash’ (for George Washington) Maupin. Wash hunted as soon after his birth in 1807 as was practicable and continued to do so until close to his death in 1868.”

Today, the Iroquois hounds are English and crossbred, and the game is more often the coyote, who came into Kentucky from the opposite route that the Virginia settlers took, arriving instead from the West. We do still see the occasional fox, and the Houndbloggers take it as a lucky sign. We viewed a long red one on Blessing Day, racing across Master MIller’s driveway, and we hope he was an omen for good sport and safety for the season to come. But we are just Houndbloggers, and we will leave the actual, formal blessings to the professionals! And so we return to Estill, whose 1984 Blessing of the Hounds seems entirely apt today:

Lord, you bless us this day with all the abundance of your hand.

For horses which obey our commands,

and for mules with good manners,

for hounds in joyful voice,

for foxes given us to hunt,

and for covert in which you provide for their safety,

for friends and partners in the chase,

for food and drink and for those who prepared and served it,

for those whose vision and care made all this possible and for those who have gone before os and are now in your nearer presence,

for St. Hubert, our Patron, and his life in fact and fantasy, we give thanks to you, O Lord.

Photo by Dave Traxler.

The Houndbloggers would like to add a particular blessing for the retired hounds, several of whom attend the Blessing of the Hounds each year. We’re lucky to have them and however many months or years of their good company left, and they are blessed to receive the Hound Welfare Fund‘s support. We hope you’ll give them a blessing of your own, a way of thanking them for their years of service and sport, by donating to the Hound Welfare Fund. One hundred percent of your tax-deductible donation goes directly to the retired hounds’ care. 

Glowworm has left us

Glowworm enjoyed a happy day out with her fellow retirees and visiting children last month at the Iroquois puppy show.

GLOWWORM, one of the Hound Welfare Fund‘s oldest retirees, died last week at age 17 after costing the fund almost nothing, except what it took to feed her during her long retirement.

Glowworm is by Iroquois Captain, one of the “old Iroquois” hounds from the days when foxes were more prevalent in our hunt country than coyotes and the pack, hunted by the late Pat Murphy, had more fox-chasing Walker hound blood. Glowworm resembled her sire both in coloring and longevity (Captain died at 18), but Glowworm also was a bridge between two eras in the pack. When coyotes became the local farmers’ scourge, Iroquois needed to breed a different, more biddable type of hound to chase this larger, faster game. Joint-Master Jerry Miller looked to England’s foxhound packs, and one of the bitches he imported was Glowworm’s mother, Grafton Gloria ’92.

Glowworm's pedigree combined American and English bloodlines and bridged two eras at the Iroquois Hunt.

The story of how Gloria came to be mated with Captain is one of the houndbloggers’ favorites. We asked Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason, a whipper-in at the time the story took place, to tell it again.

“When Pat Murphy retired as Iroquois huntsman, he suggested which hounds we keep in the pack,” Lilla recalled. “At that time, the quarry hand changed to coyote, so we had to change, too. The old Iroquois hounds were more suited to trailing foxes than pressing coyotes. So we were infusing more English blood. But we wanted to keep some of the old Iroquois blood in the pack, simply because it was old Iroquois blood and good hound blood. One hound Pat wanted us to keep and use as a stallion hound was Captain, who also did well at hound shows. At the time, Pat and Bud followed the hounds together in a truck. Jerry (joint-Master and then huntsman Jerry Miller) told them that at the end of the season, he wanted them to tell him which of the English bitches they thought he should breed Captain to.

“What ensued was a serious argument that lasted the entire hunt season, and it was so bad that about halfway through the season they quit following the hunt together in the same truck and started following in separate trucks. By the end of the season, finally they did agree to breed Captain to a bitch called Gloria that we got from Tom Normington at the Grafton Hunt.”

A portrait of Glowworm by artist Lynn Judd, a former Iroquois Hunt member.

Glowworm went on to have her own fine hunting career, followed by an enjoyable retirement at the Iroquois Hunt kennels, where she was a beloved character. Most recently, she came to the Iroquois puppy and hound show in May, where she particularly enjoyed the attention of visiting children. You can see her in the day’s video (below), at the 3:22 mark.

“She was great in the kennel,” kennel manager Michael Edwards said. “You could put her with anybody and she’d get along with them. A lot of people in the hunt club remember Glowworm, and they’d always want to see her, and she was easy to pick out because her coloring was so different.”

Glowworm died in her sleep at the kennel on June 16 after a long, happy, healthy life.

“Practically the only thing she ever cost us was her food,” Lilla said.

Glowworm leaves behind many good memories, including Lilla’s favorite, from Glowworm’s early hunting days.

“I remember distinctly the day the light bulb went on for Glowworm,” Lilla said of Glowworm’s first season with the hunting pack. “That’s a phrase I use all the time for the day a puppy figures out where its nose is and what it’s really supposed to do with it. I remember it so well with Glowworm. We were at Brookfield Farm. That’s a great place for us to cubhunt, because it’s wide open fields with small coverts, so you can really see what every hound does. It’s easy to evaluate young hounds there because you can see who’s doing what.  I was whipping-in, and I was on the east side of a covert. A coyote came out of the east side and went straight across this five- or ten-acre grass field. I could see exactly where he went. He ran out into the field, and in the middle of it he took a hard, right-angle turn to the right. The hounds came out absolutely screaming on the line. Glowworm was in there with them, in the middle of the pack like a puppy would be, excited and screaming, too. This was probably December of her first season. The pack went screaming on the line, straight into the field, and slightly overran the line. When they did, they went silent. And the only one who never overran it and who turned exactly like the coyote did was little Glowworm.

Bud Murphy, shown here with Iroquois Hunt field secretary Betsy van Nagell at the 2011 Virginia Hound Show, was behind the mating of Gloworm's parents, Iroquois Captain and Grafton Gloria. Photo by Dave Traxler.

“I couldn’t believe it. She just followed her nose right along  that turn, and went screaming off in that direction, and the whole pack followed her. The rest of the pack kind of swirled around, but as soon as they went off in the direction she did, they all picked it up as well.It was the coolest thing, because she was a teeny, tiny thing compared to a big English hound. I’ll never forget that day. For a puppy to have the confidence and the nose and the drive to follow it in a frenzy like that, to cut right against what everybody else had done.”

Glowworm did have a last hunt not long after her official retirement, Michael reminded us.

“We took her and a bunch of the retired hounds on a little hunt around Jerry’s one day,” he said. “They struck off down in Archer’s Draw, and I was sitting up on the driveway waiting to see what they’d do. Here came Glowworm, Graphite, and Grizzle. They always hunted together, and they always had a tremendous desire to chase quarry. They’d been hunting around for a long time out of Archer’s Draw. And, sure enough, here came a coyote up the drive, kind of dragging his tail and panting and panting, and here came Glowworm, Graphite, and Grizzle behind him, panting and panting behind him. They were retired and weren’t moving all that fast, but he wasn’t that much faster than they were. We wondered if they’d found some old retired coyote! That’s one of my best memories of Glowworm.

“She was very, very boisterous and would talk to you,” Michael added. “When you’d get ready to feed, you could tell which one she was just by her bark. She had a higher-toned bark. And I loved her because she reminded me of Captain, who was one of my all-time favorites.”

They’re missing Glowworm’s bark these days at the kennel. Godspeed, Glowworm!

The 2011 Retiree of the Year: Stammer

Stammer '01 went from detention to stardom at Iroquois--and helped huntsman Lilla Mason learn how to trust hounds' judgment. Photo by Peggy Maness.

STAMMER is one of those hounds who could go on an inspirational tour, visiting hound high-schools and telling young dogs how important maturity is. The Hound Welfare Fund‘s 2011 Retiree of the Year came to Kentucky from England as a puppy and began his hunting career with Iroquois. He was so wayward when he first joined the working pack that Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller sent him straight back to the kennel for a long while. When he came out hunting again, Stammer developed into one of the pack’s most valuable members and taught huntsman Lilla Mason an important lesson about trusting one’s hounds.

“Stammer came to us from the Cottesmore,” said Lilla. “He wasn’t all Cottesmore breeding. Apparently, one day the Cottesmore had a joint meet with the Eskdale and Ennerdale, and one of the Cottesmore Masters particularly liked how an Eskdale-Ennerdale dog hound performed that day, so they asked [Cottesmore huntsman] Neil Coleman to breed a bitch to that stallion hound.”

Photo by Peggy Maness.

The resulting litter by Eskdale and Ennderdale Woodman ’96 out of Cottesmore Family ’98 was large and contained an element you don’t see often in the Iroquois pack: fell blood. The Eskdale and Ennderdale have worked over the fells in the vicinity of England’s western Lake District since 1857. For those unfamiliar with the term fell in its topographical sense, the word is defined as “a hill or other area of high land, especially in northwest England.” That makes fells sound a good bit more innocent and gentle than they really are if you’ve ever tried to follow hounds up and down them. Especially up. To see what we mean, click hereherehere, and here for several spectacular views of hunting on the fells, whose steep and rocky terrain is gorgeous but also very demanding, requiring huntsman and followers take to their own feet and leave the horses at home.

With hunt staff on foot, fell hounds must necessarily be more independent about their jobs than hounds that are  accompanied by mounted staff over open grasslands. And though Stammer isn’t all fell hound, that independent streak was still pretty strong in him when he was young, recalled Lilla.

Photo by Peggy Maness.

“He went well through the summer program and seemed fine,” she said. “But then when we started hunting, he was a keen hunter who was hell on coyotes, but he was also hell on everything else that moved. It was hard to rate him.”

At that time, Master Miller was hunting the hounds, and he made an unusual decision about Stammer. “He decided that Stammer just wasn’t mature enough to handle hunting with the pack,” Lilla said. “He said, ‘I just don’t think he’s ready, and we’re going to put him back in the kennel.’ That was one of the first times we ever tried that, and I respected that decision a lot. So Stammer went back into the kennel, and he didn’t go out hunting again until, I believe, the next February.”

About four months out of the working pack gave Stammer some extra time to grow up and think things over. When he was invited to join the pack again for a few hunts before the end of the season, he showed better potential.

“And the next year, and for his next five seasons, he was really a top hound,” said Lilla.

Stammer at the Blessing of the Hounds last November.

“He taught me how to trust a hound, because he was independent, so he was a little bit of a different duck from everybody else. I remember sometimes, leaving a meet on what I thought possibly would be a poor scenting day, he’d start going through coverts very quickly. The rest of the pack would honor him and go with him. It was really annoying to me, because I thought, ‘Gee whiz, the hounds aren’t settling, they don’t have their noses down, we’re going to blow through all the coverts in this fixture and then where are we going to be?’ But every single time he found a coyote.

“That hound had coyote-sense. He just knew where they were. It might be two or three miles from us, but he knew where it was. And I know he was winding it the whole time he went, and he was in a hurry to get to it. That’s why he would blow through coverts. I finally realized that was just his behavior. He didn’t do it every time–sometimes he didn’t scent something like that and would draw coverts well–but when he was on a mission like that, the rest of the pack always honored him and trusted him. And I learned to sit back and be patient, because he always found a coyote. I knew when Stammer was behaving that way, just go with him.

Stammer (far left) on summer walk with Iroquois joint-MFH Jerry Miller in 2009. Photo by Peggy Maness.

“I don’t think we ever had a blank day when he was out. We might not have found a coyote for two hours, but he knew where it was and we were going to catch up to it.

“Sometimes you just have to trust, and he taught me that.”

That Stammer could go from immature and indiscriminate hunter to such a key player convinced Lilla that sending a young hound back to the kennel for a little more time was an important tool in hound training. “It really did work with him,” she said, “and that’s when I really bought in to Master Miller’s ‘no hound left behind’ style of training, because it was clearly a maturity issue with this hound, not a behavioral issue. Otherwise, it would have come out again. But the rest of his life after that, deer could go by, he didn’t care. Raccoons could go by, he didn’t care. When he first came out with us, he’d chase deer, raccoons, rabbits, anything that moved, he was going after it. His mind couldn’t process what his nose was telling him. Master Miller understood that, and rather than waste him, and waste really good bloodlines and breeding, he gave Stammer that chance. After all, what’s a little time when it can save a hound’s life and make him productive?”

Stammer did develop another quirk. “After his second season, he wouldn’t tolerate puppies,” Lilla said. “You couldn’t take him out cubhunting, because he would just leave. Didn’t like being around puppies, didn’t like going on hound walks with them. So we never mixed him in with the puppies until they had maybe two months of cubhunting under their belts.”

Photo by Peggy Maness.

These days, Stammer is enjoying life as a senior gentleman with the other retirees at the hunt kennels.

“Hounds show you in different ways when it’s time for them to retire,” Lilla said. “In Stammer’s case, he became independent. “He would leave the pack and go hunting on his own. That sometimes happens, and once an older hounds gets independent, we have to retire him because it can ruin the other hounds.

“But he was one of the smartest hounds that ever was, and he had coyote-sense like no other. He had such a keen nose he’d immediately pick up even a very old scent and follow every place that coyote had been until we found it, and then he would open up. He  just knew.”

Stammer will be honored at this year’s Hound Welfare Fund Retiree of the Year Reception, which HWF supporter Uschi Graham will host at her home on Friday evening, November 4, the night before the Iroquois Hunt’s Blessing of the Hounds.

Tickets to the cocktail party will be up for auction on June 4 at the Hound Welfare Fund’s dinner and live/silent auction on June 4 at the Iroquois Hunt Club. For more information about the dinner and auction, please contact us before May 27 at beagle52[at]aol.com.

Anything but a blank day …

The Clear Creek Beagles, photographed by Jean MacLean.

WE ran across an interesting note from the past in a Horse and Hound magazine, detailing one of the Ampleforth Beagles’ more interesting–and unsettling–finds back in 2001. The pack hunts in Yorkshire. Said Horse and Hound:

“Ampleforth College students were returning to the meet after following the beagles when they discovered what appeared to be an unexploded shell. Police called in the Army bomb disposal unit to detonate the shell, thought to be a World War II relic.”

It’s not something American packs have to deal with very often!

The Ampleforth Beagles were a college pack at Ampleforth College  from 1915 to 1994. They’ve since been taken over by an alumni group but still attract students as followers and as staff, including one who is named, endearingly, a Captain of Beagling. Happily, the pack is still featured under “Activities” on the Ampleforth College website, which notes that “through the Beagles, the boys and girls of the College have the chance to enjoy close and friendly links with local people across the Moors, links often shown in the farmhouse teas provided after hunting. The Beagles also give boys and girls some experience of animal welfare through visits to the kennels and some local students help at hound shows during the Summer months.”

Puppy show next week!

Which makes a nice segue back to the Bluegrass, whereIroquois members, their guests, and the Iroquois Hounds are busy preparing for their first-ever puppy show, to be held May 14 in front of the Grimes Mill. The show starts at 4 p.m. and will feature children’s activities and chances for kids and adults to meet the puppies, retired hounds, and the Iroquois hounds that are being prepared for the prestigious Virginia Hound Show at the end of the month. Also on offer: Pimm’s! Watch this space for more information in the coming days.

Hounds and the Huntsman at Horse and Country TV

THE houndbloggers are fond of Great Britain’s Horse & Country TV network (you can find a link to it in our “Interesting Places” category on the right-hand side of this page). Recently, they featured a documentary there called “Hounds and the Huntsman,” by filmmaker Michael Slowe. It’s both beautiful and informative and provides an interesting glimpse behind the scenes at a traditional English hunt, the Chiddingfold, Leconfield, and Cowdray.

To see this excellent video, click here. A brief ad plays before the video, and there are several very short breaks between segments; the entire video runs for 48 minutes, and it’s well worth a view. The adventures of a fawn that joins the pack on a walk, the ingredients of a drag line’s distinctive odor, and a formal meet at Petworth Park are all worth the wait!

Those of you who are familiar with the Iroquois Hunt will note several differences in how huntsman Sage Thompson manages and trains his pack, including the use of couples and feeding flesh, but you’ll undoubtedly find some of the relationship-building between huntsman and hounds to be very similar. And it seems hounds speak “biscuit” fluently the world over (and, yes, there are a few woollies in the Chiddingfold, Leconfield, and Cowdray pack)!

The most striking difference, from our point of view, is about breeding and hound retirement. The Iroquois Hunt generally breeds only a single litter a year and retires all of its hounds–even those that never make it into the working pack–to live out their days in dignity under the auspices of the 501 (c)(3) charity, the Hound Welfare Fund. We don’t euthanize them until their time has come, and, when it does, they are put to sleep at our local veterinary clinic, surrounded by the people who have cared for them all their lives. During their retirements, they serve as both treasured friends and admired ambassadors for the hunt–and we have yet to see them sulking! The retired hounds we know that have gone on to live in houses–including the houndbloggers’ own former pack-hunting beagles, Mr. Box and Eider–also have adjusted very well.

And speaking of the retired hounds … we’re busy preparing for this year’s Hound Welfare Fund benefit auction, which will take place on June 4. In the meantime, won’t you consider making a tax-deductible donation to support the retirees?

Bedtime Stories: G. T. Roller

WE’D never heard of G. T. Roller, either, until a big box arrived from England earlier this month, filled with old hardbound copies of the old “Baily’s Magazine of Sports and Pastimes.” They were mostly from the nineteen-teens and -twenties, and, according to their bookplates, had once lined the smoking room shelves at London’s Junior Carlton Club.

Needless to say, these sumptuous volumes have been keeping the houndbloggers pleasantly occupied ever since. We first found G. T. Roller on page 167 of the April 1920 issue, as the author of “Hounds, please, Gentlemen!” His story was so wonderful (though sad for one hound and a most unfortunate porcupine), and such a peculiar testimony to the lengths to which hound lovers will go to find sport, that we had to bring it into the internet age, lest it be lost forever. Without further ado, we give you Mr. Roller:

” ‘Hounds, please, Gentlemen!’

“That’s the cry on all five continents where the Empire has, or is about to, paint the map red, also in an occupied country. For wherever two or three Britons are gathered together there will be a hunt, provided they can scrape together horses to ride, and dogs of any sort that can follow a line. The native gets clear of the cry at first, but later–well, he

‘Joins the glad throng,

That goes laughing along.’

and sees there is really something in chasing a small animal with a pack of ‘yap dogs.’

“Last year a certain Yeomanry regiment quartered near Damascus (they must be nameless, for I know their modesty), made up their minds to hunt the fox, the hare, the jackal or anything–what cared they which–as long as it was a hunt. A large litter of pups made the nucleus of the pack, and these were presented to them by the Transport lady dog (a mascot) many months before, and brought up by the Transport who love dogs–and mules, sometimes the porcupine (but more of that later). They–these ‘pariah pups’–were of the age to learn to hunt; but alas! no ‘old entry’ to help ’em along. So these sportsmen tried to teach them, so to speak, by hand. They laid an aniseed drag and loosed the horde of four couple (and the mamma) on the line. The horde assiduously hunted garbage–and on the outskirts of Damascus there is plenty of it–but refused the line entirely. The huntsman hunted the line on his own; it was thick enough, and ‘yoiked ’em’ on with hunting noises and the aid of about four whips. The attempt was laughed at, and the enthusiasts (for a time) were laughed at also.

“Patiently a few of the officers of the regiment set to work helped by a few troopers, real good types of sporting yeomen who knew the great game and didn’t give a hang for the laughs. They meant to get something out of nearly nothing, that would give the follower a hunt. It was uphill work and work done in the afternoon, generally pouring rain, after morning parade that they went out–ostensibly to exercise the Transport dogs, really they were teaching them. They never got quite what they wanted, but with the help of ‘Bellman,’ a cross between a spaniel and–well, goodness knows what, but a sportsman at any rate, drafted into the pack–they began to hunt. It was bad sort of hunting, but it was hunting. So often you can put up a fox or jackal and hounds will run at sight for a bit, and those mongrels did their best. Then in would come Bellman very late, but he’d hunt the line.

“Oh, you of the gallant shires, don’t smile, think what these keen ones were up against and the stuff they had to work with.

“One afternoon a certain Indian Cavalry Colonel came out with the much-scoffed-at pack ‘for exercise.‘ They put up a fox and hunted him in a sort of a way, till he checkmated hounds by descending a precipice. That same colonel was so pleased with the hound work, albeit erratic, that he helped enormously in persuading the enthusiasts to really get hunting going.

“They did, and the opening meet was held at the west end of ‘the street that is called Straight,’ mentioned in the Bible, but never as a hunting fixture in the Field or other sporting paper. It was warm that opening meet day. The hounds were brought up ‘Straight Street’ in the regimental hound cart (half a limber wagon, to speak the truth). When let out at the ‘rendezvous’ they hunted every garbage heap in the vicinity, keeping the whips busy, and finally got out into the country. Not a yard of scent, but about 1.15 they did have a bit of a gallop over an amusing bit of country, little banks and ditches, but enough to fire the hunting spirit in everybody; and they laughed no more. Several hunts came after this with varying success on the east side of Damascus, but giving pleasure to many.

“Then this yeomanry regiment got their commanding officer back from leave, who took over the pack and hunted them himself, showing good sport.

“The pack killed hares and jackals–but let us breathe it in a whisper–never a fox. About this time they obtained one wonderful hound, an Arab greyhound, wonderful and weird with a Newgate fringe round his ears. But he ate up the ground like an Avro eats the air. The pack and the field beat the plain and if they put up a hare that extraordinary Arab ‘welsher’ would spot him and streak. If the hare doubled in a fold of the ground and got out of sight he was done. Then the Master would get up the long left behind pack with the aid of his whips, and hunt; once put up again the dog of the desert was sure to get him. ‘Funny hunting,’ you will say, but it was the best to be had and they all enjoyed it. Forsooth they had a field of eighty-five out with them once, and all to a man went home happy.

“But they had their tragedies, not counting when they were laughed at; Bellman was killed one morning, killed by an overzealous follower of the hunt; that was the worst. Another was the loss of the horn, the only horn the hunt possessed. Wildly did the hunt committee advertise for another. ‘The Egyptian Gazette,’ ‘The Palestine News,’ ‘Brigade Orders,’ even H.Q. cried aloud to borrow, beg, or buy a hunting horn, but alas! no horn forthcame. A cable to England brought one but long after hunting had stopped.

“Also they had humour, lots of it, but the best was when the hunt agreed to bag a fox and take him to the best side of their country, what might be termed ‘the vale.’

“If all facts of the case were known, it was not so unsporting as it sounds, but we have not the space to quote them.

“Albeit a fox was run to earth in ‘the home covert’–a cactus plantation–stopped in and guarded until the shades of night were falling fast, when out came the baggers with spades and a large sack. The sack was spread over the hole and digging started. Suddenly a terrible scrambling and rattling was heard underground and something hurled itself into the sack. They had bagged a porcupine! Unfortunately in the digging operations his near hind leg had been broken, so he was quickly put out of his pain. Everyone had a quill and the Transport ate him, and very nice they said he tasted.

Photo by Dave Traxler.

“So through many vicissitudes the hunt got through a season, making the welkin ring round the Damascus olive groves and the native to clear the way to the cry of ‘Hounds, please, Gentlemen!'”

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!