Hard-working hounds

TOMORROW is Blessing Day, so today presents a good moment to look back on an excellent cubbing weekend. The last weekend in October was damp, misty, and chilly with highs in the 40s–a perfect weekend, really, for a spooky Halloween. Despite a stiff breeze, the hounds had no trouble finding coyote lines, and, in fact, the pack hardly ever stopped working during two days of hunting. The video above is from both days combined and gives you some indication of hounds’ general work ethic. You’ll spot quite a few familiar faces, too: red and white Samson, whose trip from England to Kentucky made him very conservational; bounding, powerful Banker; Sage, the mother of our current SA puppies, and their father Driver, too; as well as Paper, better known in his youth as “Playper”!

Tomorrow the formal season begins. Looks to me as if the hounds have absorbed their lessons well during the informal training season!

The drought is over

Huntsman Lilla Mason and the hounds at Boone Valley.

WE saw our first hedge apple of the season this morning on the way to the barn–surely they’re showing up prematurely this year? Possibly. It seems early for hedge apples (or horse apples or Osage oranges, if you prefer), but it’s certainly very late for a hound blog update. Central Kentucky was in the grip of drought for most of mid-summer, but, thankfully, now that drought and the hound blog post drought both have ended!

A hedge apple.

The houndbloggers’ summer has been eventful, and some of those events–like the ones shown below–have contributed to our absence from the blog;

Here’s some of what the houndbloggers did this summer while away from the blog …

.. and quite a lot of this!

As the hedge apples are telling us, now we’re on the brink of fall, and that means the hounds’ summer walks are gaining a sense of urgency as hunt season approaches.

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason has been walking on foot with the hounds, rather than on horseback, and her focus has been on keeping the hounds’ attention and reinforcing the all-important connection between huntsman and hounds. That reinforcement is always part of summer walk, but it’s developed a little more urgency this year as Lilla prepares the working pack–and some of its more potentially willful hounds, in particular–for the arrival of the young lions, the HA litter, who will join the working pack this fall for the first time.

Hounds and horses enjoy a shady respite during their walk.

“When I’m on foot, I can touch them to reinforce the connection with that individual,” Lilla said. “When I call them, they have to come back to me and look me in the eye and reestablish that connection. If I’m on horseback, it can be a little bit more difficult to do that because I can’t touch them. Sometimes those things, like massaging their backs or touching them, gets them more relaxed. On horseback, sometimes when you call them and they come back, a second later they’ll turn around and still be looking at the far-off place where they want to be. If I can touch them, they’re not as quick to just check in for a biscuit and spin around and go back to whatever they were doing. When I touch them, you can see them relax and it’s like they’re saying, ‘Yes, I’m with you.’ It’s fun to watch.”

As with students in a classroom, some hounds find it a little harder to pay attention, especially when delicious scents are tempting them. Hailstone (a veteran hunting hound, who, despite his name, isn’t one of the young HAs), Gaudy, Gaelic, Starbuck, Stride, Bailey, and Barwick have come in for special attention in recent weeks. So, too, has the winsome Bangle, though her issue is relatively minor. (You might recall Bangle for her love of moles, now happily outgrown and detailed just below the final video near the bottom of our Oct. 12, 2010, post)

Bangle.

“Bangle’s only problem is she’s not getting the ‘get behind’ order very well, but if I don’t fix that now, every time I come to a jump out hunting she’ll be busting ahead and hopping over the jump, and then she’s under my horse’s feet,” Lilla explained. “She should have known that from last year, but she sort of gets behind and then squirts out of the group.”

The HAs, meanwhile, have been a piece of cake. They spent much of the spring training for the Virginia Hound Show, which paid off handsomely. “They’ve gotten everything down,” Lilla said. “Here’s the problem we’re addressing now as we approach hunt season. Some of the third- and fourth-season hounds have been there, done that, know it, want to go hunting and are great hunting, but they’re not as disciplined as I need them to be. It’s harder for them, because they’ve hunted before and they know the country. Some of the older hounds, like Baffle and Bonsai, they know we’re still on summer walk, and come hunt season they’ll change. When we start hunting, they’ll be out there pushing. But the aggressive males in the list I gave you, they’re just jealous and I lose their attention because they’re reactive to each other.

“Last season, I tried to never put this group together,” she added. “I always split them up. But there might come a hunt day when I have to put them together because, for whatever reason, those are the hounds we have to  use that day. Maybe we’ve had a really hard Saturday and somebody’s in the heat pen, and maybe I’ll have to take these out together. And it’s a lot easier to address their jealousies now that it would be on a hunt day.”

Hound jealousy, a competitiveness or personality conflict between certain hounds, can cause a practical problem for a huntsman. As hounds compete with one another to find a line, they can pick up speed and momentum, blowing through coverts too fast instead of working cooperatively with each other and their huntsman. Hunting can be very fast indeed when a pack is on a run after the speedy coyote, but to find that coyote’s (or fox’s) line, it takes careful, methodical work. And that means being slow enough to have a real sniff.

“That’s the problem: they’ll pull me through coverts,” Lilla said. “They’ve been pulling me on hound walks, and that’s what they’ll do in coverts, just blow right through it and out the other end, and that makes them difficult to steady on their noses and go slow. Especially during cubhunting (the early, informal part of the season that starts the hunting year in early fall), I want to go slow because I want the puppies to learn to learn to be slow and methodical, to take their time and put their noses down. If I’ve got these jealous, type-A males running on ahead, the puppies naturally are going to go with them, and that’s what they’ll learn to do.”

Some of the pack’s type-A males, like Gaelic (center) have had some issues to iron out on summer walk.

For now, Lilla has been keeping the HAs and those “type-A” hounds apart until she feels the latter group will not be too racy an influence on the newbies. On their own hound walks, the HAs have so far shown a lot of promise. “They’ve been comporting themselves beautifully on hound walk,” Lilla said. “I feel like I have the control and attention I need, and they’re relaxed. they’re ready. They’re prepared. But as Jerry (Miller, joint-Master of the Iroquois Hunt) said, ‘You’re only as good as your least biddable hounds.’ Even if you have 15 couple out and 13 are biddable, the two couple that aren’t can make you lose them all.”

Boone Valley’s resident cattle have been curious onlookers on hound walk.

An interesting side note about one of the type-A males Lilla mentioned: Bailey, one of the highly successful BA litter (half-siblings to the HA litter who will be in their third season this year), was one of the first of his litter to “switch on” to hunting as a youngster in his first season back in 2010. He and Backfire were both on the muscle early, though Backfire has proven more attentive to the huntsman recently.

Boone Valley.

The hounds’ individual personalities are important, but as Lilla said: “Come hunt day, nobody can be an individual. They have to work together.”

Ironically, the best way to achieve that seamless pack is to work with hounds individually, which is why this summer Lilla has been taking out smaller, separate groups out on hound walks rather than lumping the whole pack together for a single walk. And she’s happy to work on smoothing out these personality conflicts in small groups now, because she finds the alternative–more aggressive whipping-in to a larger group–unappealing.

“We’d have to resort to the whips being hard on them, getting in front of them as they go in a covert and steadying them,” she said. “But I don’t like that, because you have to make a lot of noise to do that, and you have to get in front of the hounds to do that.”

That can scatter game, and it also has the effect of punishing or putting pressure on the whole pack for the infractions of a few overly aggressive hounds.

Betsy, Lucy, and Janie keep an eye on the hounds.

The type-A hounds have responded well to their summer work. Instead of pulling too far ahead of Lilla or fanning out too far, they’ve been packing up well around her. A big test came on Saturday. A squall line blew through the night before, leaving cooler, damp conditions on Saturday morning as the hounds poured out of their trailer at Boone Valley. In those improved scenting conditions, and even with coyote-rich Pauline’s Ridge as a backdrop, the type-As held together and showed a lot of discipline to resist whatever wafting scent might have tempted them away.

It’s not too long before we will ALL be tempted away from our daily cares to follow the hounds out hunting again! We hope you’ll stay tuned.

Guest blogger: Buck Wiseman on rapport between huntsman and hounds


Clear Creek Beagles huntsman and joint-Master Buck Wiseman. Photo by Brian Blostica.

Recently, while writing a short description of foot packs at the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, I made the mistake of wandering off task and shedding some thoughts about pack cohesion and pack response, both to a huntsman and to one another.  Mrs. Houndblogger picked up the line and reminded me that I had told her, well over a year ago, that I’d write something on the subject.  She’s now run me to ground, I suppose.

What follows may be a lot of nonsense, and, for the most part, it certainly isn’t science, but having hunted packs of hounds, foxhounds, beagles and bassets, mostly beagles, with a couple of short reprieves, since the mid-1960s, I do have views, and, right or wrong, I’ve never been overly restrained in expressing them, so here goes.

Rapport, hound sense, the “golden thread” is no one thing.  It is a complicated amalgam of hound breeding, hound management, practice and, I believe, a certain genetic component on the human side as well.  Of the terms, I prefer “rapport” which is defined as “relationship, especially one of mutual trust or emotional affinity”, which is about as close as one can come to my view of this subject, especially as to mutuality, and it is particularly appropriate that it derives from Old French “raporter” meaning “to bring back.”

"Biscuits, lots of biscuits!" one early mentor advised Buck when he formed his first pack. Houndblogger photo.

We have all seen huntsmen for whom hounds just “do.”  They seem to have the touch, the right body language, to hit the right note of voice or just have a feel for hounds and seem to have always had it.  They can hunt a large pack of hounds without resort to a whipper-in, walk out the entire kennel likewise and pick up the horn with a strange pack almost without missing a beat. In many cases, I believe that they may not know exactly how they do what they do, may be puzzled that others cannot duplicate their results and may take years to really analyze what it is that they do. At this point, we’ll put that subject largely aside because the purpose here is to look at intentional and conscious acts with the goal of approaching, if not equaling, the results that those huntsmen achieve.

The right personality in the pack helps.  A good huntsman can get response from a gaggle of thick-headed independent types, but we all know that some hounds are more responsive to a huntsman and to one another than others.  I believe that the two are clearly linked.  As an example, if hounds need to be moved from one spot to another across a field or within sight or sound of the huntsman, the entire pack need not see or hear the huntsman.  If the pack is responsive both to the huntsman and to one another, it’s only necessary to catch the attention of the hounds nearest you as you call and point to where you want them, the other hounds will respond to the first who have responded to you and stream over.

Buck and the beagles at Shaker Village in March. Houndblogger photo.

I often walk out hounds by myself. Puppies need to learn to walk with the pack, but you can’t discipline them until they understand what it is that they are to do and to not do.  When I got my first pack of beagles, many of the hounds came from the Nantucket Treweryn Beagles of Bun and Becky Sharp.  Becky knew that I would be largely handling my new little pack alone and gave me one of the best tips of all time: “Biscuits, lots of biscuits.”

I make a concentrated effort to address each young hound, every hound for that matter, frequently by name and to toss a biscuit to catch.  Each must not only learn his name, but also learn that response to your voice and to your hand brings good things. Only when a hound has learned those things should you touch them with the whip and chastise them.  Each has to understand that the discipline is the result of ignoring someone who otherwise dispenses blessings.  It’s also at this point that the pack sense is important.  If, say, two couple of puppies start up the road bank on their own little mission, if you can, with an encouraging voice, swing one couple to you, with the right sort, the other will turn right with them. Have the biscuits ready when they reach you.

Lilla Mason (and the biscuit bag) with some of the Iroquois hounds. Houndblogger photo.

If you have the luxury of assistance in walking out and of whippers-in in number when you hunt, teach yourself not to rely on them.  A whipper-in should be viewed by a huntsman as the last, not the first or even the intermediate resort.  If hounds are always or even frequently put to you by your whippers-in, then, in some measure, their return to you is a response to the threat of the whipper-in, not to their rapport with you.  It is better to have the sometimes slightly slower response deriving from rapport with the huntsman than the faster coerced response.  In fact, when walking out with whippers-in, discourage them from being more than a reminder of the possibility of reproach unless that whipper-in is pretty well endowed with hound sense or knows the hounds very well.  Whippers-in tend to want to be helpful and, if overly so, are not helpful at all.  This is especially true if you have puppies out.  Develop rapport and trust it.  Whippers-in should do likewise.

When hunting, I do not want my whippers-in even near me.  Ideally, they should be eyes and ears, your distant early warning and spotting system.  The title “whipper-in” should relate to their function only in difficult circumstances.  The goal is that rapport will fill the gap.

Studies in animal behavior and language have shown that certain types of sounds have similar effects across a wide range of mammals.  Without going into a great deal of detail, suffice it to say that higher-toned, excitable sounds encourage, soft tones soothe, growls caution or chastise.  It works for hounds and humans.  Your voice must change constantly to match your message.  Cheer them on, cheer them in, growl and crisply bark warnings.  Again eye contact and body language is also critical. Many times, when getting the attention of a particular hound to return into the pack while walking out, I will not only call the hound’s name, but once he looks at me, point directly and growl “Yes, you” or “You know your name.”  Recent scientific work has, in fact, shown that the dog is one of the few non-primate species which will follow the point of a human hand. They do.  If you can get eye-to-eye contact, you’ve got him, at least as long as you are the dominant personality in the pack, not the hound.  If you are not, go for a softer sort.

Modulate your voice at all times in tune with the circumstances.  When walking out, a conversational voice is probably just right. Talk to your hounds.  If you are drawing cover, suit your voice to the way the hounds are drawing.  If they are quite close, not much above conversation is necessary.  If hounds are drawing widely, as mine typically do, the volume must increase.  The goal is that all of your hounds can always hear you when drawing because you must be at the center of that process, if you are going to direct it.

Huntsman Lilla Mason with the Iroquois hounds on summer walk.

When calling hounds in from a distance, don’t yell for them.  Instead, go for a deep in the chest, rolling tone of encouragement.  They will respond.  It’s not unlike the signaling howl of a coyote or hounds singing in kennel.  Hounds being put on to a line, once they have reached the huntsman, should be put on quietly with low encouraging sounds and with the arm, hand and body motion directing them in the direction that they should go.  Rapport is bi-directional. Watch every hound for the body language and focus that tells you when they are “with” you.

Also watch hounds for the signals, sometimes very subtle signals, that hounds can give you–and trust them if they do.  Hounds may appear to be simply drifting from a check.  The temptation is to pull them back, but if watched closely, slight body signals may indicate that, while they are not speaking or even visibly feathering, they are focused on some slight scent, perhaps even air scent on a bad scenting day, to which they are drawn and which may result in a recovery. Even if those hounds fall in with the movement of the pack and return, if the line is not recovered, go back to where they went, if it is the only message that the hounds have sent you, and a more diligent cast in that direction may work.  It has before.

In the houndbloggers' experience, some hounds are beyond controlling, even if you have a rapport with them! Houndblogger photo.

Try never to give a command which you do not believe will be obeyed.  Your voice will convey your hesitancy.  When calling hounds, say out of covert, you must believe that they are coming to you even though you may curse their dawdling under your breath.  If hounds start to break as we are walking back to the trailer, if you can rate them just as they start when you see the first change of focus from you to the trailer, they’ll stop.  If you can’t because you were distracted and didn’t catch the first hints, let them go and make a mental note that next week they’ll come in packed up behind you until they get that foolishness out of their minds.  If they go away on deer and do not stop at the first rate, turn your attention at once to how you and the whippers-in are going to get to their heads.  Roaring at them futilely merely teaches them that your voice is “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

With that thought, I’m going to leave rapport because, in a real sense, I already have and drifted, like hounds losing the check, on to the role of dominance in working with hounds which is a subject better left to another day.

Many thanks to Buck for contributing this great piece! If you’d like to read more from Buck, please click here to read his earlier piece on hunting over game-rich restored native grasslands.

Casting back on a rainy day

Photo by Dave Traxler.

Thank heavens for rain. God knows we need it sometimes, and so do our landowners. But does it have to fall, and fall so heavily, on days when hounds are supposed to meet? At least there is a silver lining: poor weather provides a fine opportunity to think back to sunnier days. The summer hound walk and roading season ended several weeks ago, but we thought we’d cast back a bit and enjoy a last look at some video and photographs we and photographer Dave Traxler collected over the summer.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

Now, of course, our thoughts have turned back to fall and the new hunt season. Which means the return of the Hound of the Day series, as well as more photos from Dave, and video when the houndbloggers are out with the camera. Stay tuned for all of that when the weather allows us back out again, and, in the meantime, stay warm and dry!

A Peek in the Nursery

Three of the Driver-Sage puppies earlier this month. Photo by Dave Traxler.

IT’S been a while since the houndbloggers have checked in on the various puppies we know, so we thought we’d catch you up on how they’re doing: they’re doing great! With puppies, of course, the news is less important than what they look like, right? So we’ll cut to the chase, because we know what everyone really wants is the cute factor. And there is plenty of that to go around these days.

The newest Iroquois puppies are the SA litter born in August to young Driver–once a pupposauraus himself and now a pack member–and the great hunting lady Sage. Last time you saw them, they were mere beans compared to what they are now. Here they are then:

Some of the SA puppies back in August. Gene Baker photo.

Now they’re just full of beans, as you can see:

A pair of the SA puppies at play on September 15. Dave Traxler photo.

The six SA puppies are doing well, kennel manager Michael Edwards tells us, and we’re still impressed by all the color they have on them.

Hello, baby! Dave Traxler photo.

For more on foxhound puppies, we turn to one of the houndbloggers’ favorite authors, D. W. E. Brock, and his book, The A B C of Fox-Hunting, although we disagree with his assertion that foxhound puppies, when newborn “are ugly, blind little things, with huge heads and wise, wrinkled faces.”

Easy there, Brock! He continues in a kinder vein. “But, after that, they become vastly more interesting little fellows,” he writes. “They grow quickly, but their heads always seem about two sizes too big for their bodies, and, unlike most other puppies, they seldom lose their solemn looks. …

“A foxhound puppy is one of the most amusing and lovable companions it is possible to imagine, and the games which a couple will play together are almost human in their ingenuity. But at the same time it is one of the most mischievous and destructive companions, and unless you, your family and your servants, both indoor and out, are genuinely fond of animals, and are long-suffering, you should not walk a puppy.”

Ah, yes. The houndbloggers and their house hounds nod knowingly at that advice, remembering the arrival of some of the HA puppies earlier this year. Harry, in particular, found the episode Rather Trying, he recalls (see lower left of photo):

"They're still here," Harry said 24 hours later.

The houndbloggers (who have no servants, indoors or outdoors) well remember their first day with us (of a very brief stay). I had had to attend a horse sale, and so Mr. Houndblogger bravely agreed to stay home and babysit the three HA puppies we’d taken in. I’ll never forget the scene when I returned: Mr. Houndblogger was slumped wearily in a chair in the kitchen, where he’d barricaded himself and the HA puppies to prevent further damage to the furniture and carpets. He was wearing wellies, a concession to the inevitable when you have a marauding trio of unhousetrained puppies on the loose. He was stippled from knees to collar with muddy pawprints, and one sweater cuff was slightly unraveled. It had been, I gathered, a Long Day.

The puppies, of course, bounded over to me merrily, eager for more games.

So what of the HA puppies today, nearing their first birthday? Take a look at them now.

Three of the HAs at the kennel on September 15. Dave Traxler photo.

They’ve started their walks out with huntsman Lilla Mason, and, my, how they’ve grown!

Hanbury (left) and Hardboot on a Sept. 10 walk. Dave Traxler photo.

Whyte-Melville might have been looking at them when he wrote

On the straightest of legs and the roundest of feet,

With ribs like a frigate his timbers to meet,

With a fashion and fling and a form so complete,

that to see him dance over the flags is a treat.”

We haven’t yet seen these young hounds over the flags, but, more importantly, they float over the grass, Lilla reports.

Hawksbridge--light on his feet, like all the HAs! Photo by Dave Traxler.

Hamlet and Cice Bowers in July. Dave Traxler photo.

Halo and Leslie Penn on a Sept. 10 walk. Dave Traxler photo.

As grown-up as they look, though, the HAs are still puppies at heart!

Havoc (left) and Hardboot with a prize earlier this month. Dave Traxler photo.

Harboot on a roll. Dave Traxler photo.

A few days ago, re-reading Beckford’s Thoughts on Hunting, we came across a curious footnote.

“I have seen fox-hounds that were bred out of a Newfoundland bitch and a fox-hound dog,” Beckford wrote. “They are monstrously ugly, are said to give their tongues sparingly, and to tire soon. The experiment has not succeeded: the cross most likely to be of service to a fox-hound is the beagle. I am well convinced that a handsome, bony, tender-nosed, stout beagle would, occasionally, be no improper cross for a high-bred pack of fox-hounds.”

Hmmm! No, no, we wouldn’t suggest it seriously, but, for the purposes of the blog at any rate the houndbloggers are very well disposed to include some beagles. And, as it happens, the beagles have been having their own puppies lately. The Clear Creek Beagles, with whom we hunt as often as we can on foot, have some puppies that whipper-in Jean MacLean was kind enough to photograph:

A bouquet of threeagles, as photographed by CCB whipper-in Jean MacLean.

And two moregles, also photographed by Jean MacLean.

There are some older puppies, too, who show a French influence in their names. the C litter features Chauffeur:

Chauffeur. Photo by Jean MacLean.

… and our favorite names, Chien (dog) and Chaton (kitten)!

The aptly named Chien. Jean MacLean photo.

The Clear Creek Beagles started their informal hunt season this morning, and the Iroquois foxhounds will take to the hunt field in early October. And before long the puppies from both packs will be doing this …

The Clear Creek pack in action. Jean MacLean photo.

… and this …

The Iroquois hounds move off from the Foxtrot meet. Dave Traxler photo.

As always, the houndbloggers will do their best to keep up with the hounds and provide reports on their progress!

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: J. Otho Paget

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

From Paget’s Hunting (1900):

“There have been sufficient rains to lay the summer dust, and there is a slight yielding on the surface of the turf, as a horse canters along. A goodly shower the previous day has left the grass still moist, and there is a delicious coolness in the air. It is barely daylight when you ride up, and after posting your men at different corners, you throw hounds into covert. … The place you are about to draw is ten acres of blackthorn and gorse in the middle of your best country.

“Though you will probably have no use for a second horse, let them come out, and the men may be of use to you in assisting the whips. Another hint: before you leave home, make a good breakfast, however early the hour, or you will probably be tired before your fox.

“You are drawing downwind, so that there shoud be no danger of chopping an old fox, and, riding into the thickest part, you encourage the young hounds to try. Old one-eyed Solomon from the York and Ainsty is busily snuffling at a tuft of grass, probably where a fox stopped a minute on his way to his kennel. The little tan dog from Belvoir forces his way through the narrow smeuse, and then makes a dash at the clump of briers that are interwoven with long grasses. There is a flash of bright red fur, and a white tag disappears in the thicket beyond. A cheer from your lips and a blast on th ehorn brings all the old hounds to the spot.

“The melody soon increases in volume, and in a few minutes every hound seems to be throwing his tongue. Some of the young ones have already joined in, and the rest are following on with the excitement of the cry.  Keep quiet now, and don’t holloa if you see the fox, whilst they are running well. Listen! there are two or three scents, the tail hounds have crossed the lines of other foxes, but the majority of the old hounds still stick to their first-love, and are bustling him round the covert with an echoing crash of music. It must be a dog-fox, and he will very soon have to leave, but at present he thinks the pack are too near to make it safe. There is a sudden lull–now he is away, and you hear the hoof-beats of the whip’s horse as he gallops down ready to stop hounds should they come out. Your orders were to stop hounds and let all foxes go.

“Now blow your horn and take this lot of hounds to where the others are running at the further side of the covert, but if they can hear the cry, they will soon get there without your help. There is music from every quarter, and the litter are now all afoot.”

Bonus points if you know what a smeuse is without having to look it up! And, no, we still haven’t changed the wallpaper below that chair rail, have we?

The hounds, in high-definition (video included!)

WE admit it. We are behind on our hound posts. But it’s not for lack of working. The houndbloggers have been collecting video footage of the hounds at work and also recently attended the Lives of Dogs symposium at the National Sporting Library, which featured speakers (including noted hound man Ben Hardaway) on a variety of foxhound-related topics.

We’ve been asked not to share video footage of that event online, though as we understand it DVDs will be available from the NSL via inter-library loan. But we are writing up our coverage of several of the speakers whose topics most related to hounds, and we hope to have that posted in the next few days, probably over the weekend.

We’re also busy working away on a longer video of some highlights from the cubbing season, which ends when the formal season begins on the first Saturday of November with the Blessing of the Hounds. While you’re waiting for those, we’d like to introduce you to Flash, our new Canon high-definition camcorder, which is pretty wow. Or at least we think so.

Flash the HD camera made his debut this morning at the Boone Valley meet, where the scenery is spectacular and nature further obliged with a little romantic fog. You can see the results in the video above. Because this HD camera does not have as much zoom capability as our older Panasonic non-HD camcorder, we’ll continue to use the Panasonic (aptly nicknamed Zoom, for those of you who are keeping track of such things) for videoing any distant hound work we happen to be in position to see. But for the closer stuff, we’ll try to stick to HD as much as possible.

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!

Spinning the Golden Thread (with video!)

The van Nagells' Boone Valley Farm provided a splendid setting for an unusual training tactic by Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason. Photo by Dave Traxler.

DRIVER and some of the BA puppies took it amiss when their huntsman, Lilla Mason, stopped walking out with them on foot and came out on horseback this past week. It’s a change that signals a transition from gentle, summertime on-the-ground training to faster-paced fitness work, but the year-old males weren’t so sure they liked this new way of doing things. They pouted and avoided looking up at her, even as their sisters went about business as usual.

Eye contact is important, Lilla explained.”It’s absolutely paramount,” she said. “On a hunt day, when I leave a meet, the first thing I do is call the name of each hound that’s hunting and I look them in the eye. It’s a way of saying hello to them, and it means I’ve got their eye. It means, ‘Okay, we’re a team now. I’m in control, I see you and you see me, and we’re on our way. We’re on a mission, and we’re a pack.’

One regular follower found a good way to keep her flash cards with the hounds' pictures handy!

“On a hunt day, if you can’t ride to the first covert, call a hound’s name, and have it look up at you, it’s not such a good thing. I don’t want them to tune me out going hunting.”

Bonsai says hello to Lilla during hound exercise on Sept. 5. Photo by Dave Traxler.

To reconnect with the year-old males, to “get their eyes” again, Lilla employed an unusual tactic at Boone Valley last Saturday. Instead of riding immediately, she started off the exercise by leading her horse as she walked with the hounds. The idea was to get the young hounds to associate her with her horse–in this case Bonfire–and to know that she is still the same leader she was for all those summer walks. This also let the puppies, male and female, get used to working close around Lilla’s horse.

As she and the hounds made their way around Boone Valley, Lilla alternated riding with walking, giving the once-pouty males every opportunity to see her on horseback while also letting them know that she is still among them and paying close attention to them. The hounds seemed to be learning this lesson.

And was there anything new that Lilla learned about them?

“One thing I see is that Driver really needs attention,” she said. “One interesting thing is that, you know, sounds echo. When you’re on a horse, you have to be very careful about when you do and don’t call hounds. If your voice echoes off a wall of trees, or if you’re in a low place, the sound comes to the hounds from another direction. You have to be careful when you call them when it’s windy, too, like it was Saturday. I could see the puppies looking around. There were also a lot of people out yesterday, and sometimes when I would call them they’d run to someone and then realize that wasn’t who called them. Then they’d come back to me. They need to focus more on just me and not other sounds.”

Tall grass and windy conditions were additional challenges for the hounds.

Now that Lilla is generally on horseback with the hounds, the puppies also must learn to be comfortable farther away from her, while still tuning in to her and coming back when called. Developing the trust to allow the hounds to work farther away is not always easy, but it’s critical for a hunt chasing the fast-running, wide-ranging coyote.

“An overly controlling person would want them right around their horse all the time, but that doesn’t necessarily serve me well during hunt season,” she said. “I could do that, go out on hound walk and have the whips keep them in really tight and under my horse’s legs, but then when hunt season comes and I want to cast them into a covert, why would they go away from me? I need them to have the freedom to go away from me. So, on hound exercise, I need them to be close to me, then away from me to a degree–but not as far as they might want to go–then stop when I stop and come back to me.”

Summer is finally beginning to turn into fall. The cooler temperatures are providing better scenting, and as the scent improves and hounds get fitter, the pack is readying to hunt. They got a chance during their last walk at the hog lot, where, suddenly, the older hounds in the group struck off in full cry on a hot coyote line. The puppies, who have yet to go hunting, knew there was some great excitement afoot … but what, exactly?

“You never realize how much hounds hunt by scent until you see puppies try to figure out what the heck the older hounds are doing with their noses,” Lilla said. “The hounds came right upon that coyote, and the older hounds got right behind it in full cry. The puppies, who were with me, heard it and decided to go toward the cry.”

When the older hounds stopped speaking and Lilla called, the puppies immediately headed back toward her. But when the older hounds spoke again, the puppies halted in their tracks, then heeded the sound of their packmates.

“They know they want to be over there where the older hounds are speaking,” Lilla said. “Every time the older hounds would make a lose and go quiet, the puppies would come right back to me. But when the older hounds would speak again, they’d go running over to them.

“They actually passed the coyote on their way to catch up with the older hounds! They may or may not have seen it, but they still don’t know what their noses are. They don’t know what they’re doing. It was funny to see that. The most exciting thing about hunting hounds is to see a puppy realize what it’s doing with its nose. That’s what they don’t know yet.”