Strolls with the HASABOs


SA puppies Brookfield Traxler 01-15-12

Sault, Sawmill, and Sayit (foreground) explore some snowy branches. That looks like Sample in the background. Photo by Dave Traxler.

WHEN winter weather freezes or drowns out hunting, we’re lucky that we still get to spend time with the hounds. It’s been a week since any of the houndbloggers have hunted in the saddle, but we’ve made it out three times recently with the Iroquois Hunt’s boisterous batch–make that batches–of puppies.

Two of these litters you’ve already met: the HAs (by Hawkeye out of the great BA litter’s mother Baffle) and the SAs (by our former pupposaurus, now houndasaurus, Driver out of Sage). There’s a third litter that also has illustrious parents, and which the houndbloggers have been remiss not to introduce you to before now. They are the BOs. Their parents are two of the great Iroquois characters, easily recognizable by their color and by their prowess on the hunt field: their mother is Bonsai and their father is Samson, known to the houndbloggers as The Voice,  who famously made a scene at Heathrow airport.

We’ll start with the HAs, who have matured into elegant, leggy individuals, something you could see coming even in their early days, and they certainly have been stamped by their sire, Hawkeye.

Hawkeye. Photo by Dave Traxler.

Their training is progressing well, and you can see during this walk that they’re figuring out exactly what those powerful noses can do! There are a few wistful looks toward the rich hunting grounds of Pauline’s Ridge. No doubt the alluring scent of coyote was wafting down from the ridge and into eager HA nostrils, and although they can’t know all that that scent means yet, it already seems to pique the HAs’ interest (and instinct)!

If the HAs are the high-school set, the SAs are still in elementary school. You probably already have noticed something wonderfully unusual about them: they’re not white! A number of the HAs have a bit of subtle buff, lemon, and oatmeal here and there, but the SAs have made a dramatic departure from the paler shades that dominate the Iroquois pack. This gives the houndbloggers some hope that, at some point in the future, they will be able, finally, to reliably identify hounds galloping full throttle half a field or more away.

SA puppy walk Brookfield 01-15-12

The SA puppies and friends at Brookfield. Photo by Dave Traxler.

And here’s another tremendous thing that has the houndbloggers all atwitter about the SAs: they’re wire-haired. We had hoped, not very secretly, that matching the dark Driver and the luxuriously woolly Sage would result in some dark or tri-colored woollies, and while none of the SAs are as flamboyantly woolly as their mother, they are distinctly broken-coated and completely adorable to look at. Their names are Saigon, Sample, Sault, Savvy, Sayit, and Sawmill, the females being Saigon, Sample, Savvy, and Sayit, and the males Sault and Sawmill.

The BOs also have enjoyed romping in the great outdoors. Most recently, they’ve been out and about with their bigger packmates, the SAs, who seem to relish their roles as worldly “big dogs.” The BOs are smooth-coated and colorful, as you’d expect from the pairing of the dark, bronze-eyed Bonsai and the red-and-white Samson.

Saigon, Sawmill, Sample, Savvy, Sault, and Sayit. Photo by Dave Traxler.

Saigon, Sawmill, Sample, Savvy, Sault, and Sayit having a big time! Photo by Dave Traxler.

The houndbloggers were out for two recent walks with the SAs and BOs, first at Miller Trust and then at Dulin’s. You can see the results–including Savvy’s courageous pursuit of a waterbound dog biscuit!–in the video below. The BOs, the kindergarteners, are named Bobbsey, Bombay, Bombshell, Boone, Bootjack, Bouncer, Bounder, and Bourbon.

With three litters of puppies, it’s going to take some time for everyone, from hunt staff to houndbloggers, to learn which name goes with which hound. And, as huntsman Lilla Mason pointed out, it doesn’t really work to ID a hound by some small mark you only see when you’re up close. Come the day these puppies take to the hunt field, the staff most often will be identifying them by watching them run across a field or by looking straight down on their backs from the saddle. So everyone now is trying to familiarize themselves with the three litters’ back and side markings and tail markings, for example.

Saigon Sayit Brookfield 01-15-12 Traxler photo

Saigon and Sayit. Photo by Dave Traxler.

So far, the houndbloggers only reliably know a handful, if that. But as we follow the puppies through these initial walks, and on to spring training and summer hound walk, we’ll learn more about them as they learn more about working in a pack. Stay tuned!

Pups on the March

The new HA puppies test the waters at Brookfield on their first hound walk Saturday. Gene and Christine Baker photo.

THERE was a break in the weather last weekend, and that meant the houndbloggers finally were able to get out and see some hounds again! Is it just us, or were people kind of giddy about being back outside in some sunshine again? It felt strange and liberating to unfold ourselves out of the traditional mid-winter hunch and go out walking instead of, say, snow-shoveling.

The last day of January is an unusual time for a hound walk; those usually take place in the summer, as you can see from our posts and videos in June, July, and August. But on Saturday we got a chance to tag along with four of Baffle’s second litter of Iroquois puppies, known as “the HAs” because their names, to recognize their sire Hawkeye, will all start with the letters HA. The HA litter were born at the end of October, so they’re about four months old now.

They were joined on the walk by Magic, an eight- or nine-month-old who came to us from the Live Oak hounds; in the video below, she’s the larger hound with a light honey coloring. Also along for the walk were three of the HA puppies’ older half-siblings, Bandstand, Bashful, and Bangle, and retiree Saddle.

The hounds weren’t the only “new entry” out enjoying the wide world. Wells Pfister also was making her debut. Wells is the daughter or Iroquois members Knox and Matt Pfister and granddaughter of Iroquois Hunt joint-Master Jack van Nagell and his wife, field secretary Betsy van Nagell.

Iroquois joint-Master Jack van Nagell (center, green coat) hosted the puppy walkers at Brookfield farm--and provided some warming port before we set off! Gene Baker photo.

The van Nagells hosted the hound walk and provided a warming stirrup cup–or, I guess, walking cup–before we stuffed our pockets with dog biscuits and set off across the pastures, the puppies bouncing along with us.

To the amateur eye, two things were remarkable. First, the puppies’ confidence. They were a happy lot and just as exuberant as you’d expect puppies to be, but, in addition, they were not afraid to roam away from their human chaperones and follow the older hounds off to examine the pasture’s many curiosities.

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason with the HA puppies and some of the hunting hounds at Brookfield. Gene and Christine Baker photo.

Second, they were already highly responsive both to the older hounds’ lead and to people, cheerfully returning to the group after their more distant explorations. Naturally, it didn’t take long for them to realize that the people walking with them were Good Things who readily rewarded the puppies with biscuits and pats when they came to them.

As you can see in the video, the puppies enjoyed learning more about their world, and they didn’t appear spooked by anything they found: creeks, ditches, a livestock feeder.

The HA puppies got a chance to tag along--and learn from--some of their older counterparts on Saturday's walk.

The walk also provided a good chance to see hound-to-hound teaching in action, as the puppies followed the older hounds, clearly picking up on what they did–the first budding of what you can see later when young hounds join the hunt field and rely on their older packmates to show them the ropes.

Baby Wells Pfister, here with mom Knox (sporting a Hound Welfare fund cap!), was on her first hound-walk, too, and came away with some puppy kisses.

I think it’s fair to say that a good day was had by all. Certainly, the puppies had a good time–and slept well afterwards, as this photo, taken by Lilla on her phone, shows:

Sweet dreams for some contented puppies! Photo by Lilla Mason.

And speaking of the hunt field, on Sunday the houndbloggers got out with hounds again, this time for actual sport, before wintry weather returned. Next up, we’ll have some updates from that day, including the story of our young friend Paper’s complete transformation from Playper the Class Clown to serious working hound!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first draw

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Lesson–and a View–at Little Kansas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grundy’s Bloodlines Win the Day

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

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

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

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

Lilla Mason