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.

Guest blogger Buck Wiseman: On Foot at Shaker Village

Photo by the Houndbloggers.

Regular readers of the hound blog will recognize Buck Wiseman as the joint-Master and huntsman of the Clear Creek Beagles (from which, incidentally, the Beagle House Hounds Mr. Box and Eider hail). He’s also a hunting historian and a thoughtful writer on a variety of hunting topics. Every year, the Clear Creek Beagles and several other footpacks convene at Shaker Village in Mercer County, Kentucky, for a long weekend of sport chasing cottontails. The houndbloggers have followed the beagles and bassets at this fine venue annually; to see video from previous years, click here and here and here.

We’ve followed the Clear Creek pack several times this season and have compiled a video (below) of some of their best moments from the hunts at Shaker Village in February and March. Meets in both months were hampered by conditions that should have been fatal to good sport: in February, the wind howled through the tall native grasses with gusts so strong that I found it very difficult to hold the camera steady, and in March we had a blistering heat wave that took the temperatures up into the mid-80s. And yet, on both occasions, the Clear Creek pack found scent and ran rabbits, and not just in short, lucky bursts, but for stretches that we found truly surprising, given the conditions. 

Without further ado, we give the floor to Buck:

The Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill has been the venue for  beagle and basset packs for almost 30 years since the Rocky Fork Beagles of Columbus and the Fincastle Beagles and Rollington Foot Beagles of Louisville fixed on it as a 3,000-acre location for a weekend joint meet.  It had the soul-soothing grace of the Shaker architecture together with rolling open fields divided by the dry stone walls which grace the Bluegrass.  It had comfortable rooms in the village and good food in the inn at the Trustee’s House.  It lacked only one thing: rabbits. [Note to our Trans-Atlantic friends: these are not your rabbits, but American cottontails: solitary, territorial, ground dwelling and non-burrowing].

The Shakertown property was then heavily grazed by cattle and quite clean. Despite the extent of acreage, finding game was very difficult. However, the few rabbits around were very hard- and wide-running and gave tremendous hunts. For many years, although packs hunted the property, most of the hunting had to take place off the property at venues as far away from Shakertown as Woodford and even Clark Counties.

Buck Wiseman and the Clear Creek pack in some of Shaker Village's tall grass. Photo by Brian Blostica.

Over time, however, some of the rougher areas were allowed to become brushy, and rabbits moved in. The sport improved. The hunting weekend evolved over time with the number of packs rising and falling depending mostly on the energy level of the Clear Creek Beagles, the amalgamation of the Fincastle and the Rollington Foot, to deal with the organization of the weekend.  Over time, the Rocky Fork disbanded, and the Farmington Beagles and the Sandanona Harehounds  became consistent participants.

The gift to Shakertown of what is known as the Chinn-Poe Wildlife Area began a major change. The Area was planted in native grasses, and the hard-running rabbits of Mercer County were suddenly present in greater numbers.

Photo by Brian Blostica.

What then followed was a decision by Shakertown to phase out cattle and to manage the property for wildlife and bird watching.  Over a few years, the native grass areas expended to almost 1,000 acres while the rabbits ran as well as ever. In fact, the new problem of hunting a large pack, in the range of eight to 12 couples, was to keep hounds on the hunted rabbit or to hunting only one at a time as, in the native grasses, a switch is not always easily determinable, although a consistent pattern over an extended time is a pretty good indication that hounds haven’t switched. It’s the reverse which may not be true; an inconsistent pattern may simply mean a change in tactics under pressure.

Photo by Brian Blostica.

The most apparent answer to keeping hounds from splitting under these conditions would be a slow and close hunting pack, and that is, in fact, a factor, but it seems to me that another trait is more essential. That is the element of pack sense, or, as it’s been termed, cohesion. A pack, whether close or wide hunting, with a distinct tendency to independence among its members, will split and break up where game is plentiful.  A pack which is pack-oriented and harks, almost without question, to the first hounds to speak or to the larger group, will hold together or quickly re-converge where the more independent hounds will not. Biddability is also a factor as the pack which harks in to a huntsman’s cheers toward hounds opening will also more quickly converge and drive on, but that’s icing on the cake, and probably a trait closely linked to pack sense generally.  The real hope, and beauty when it happens, is to see hounds far out, beyond the reach or control of staff, who hunt on as a pack, spreading into their checks, picking them, harking in to the hounds who first open, and driving on. In fact, as I, with increasing age, am with hounds at fewer checks each year, it’s not only beautiful, it’s necessary.

The Last of the Beagles and Bassets (with videos!)

The Sandanona Harehounds took to the hunt field in the late afternoon. Photo by Dave Traxler.

HUNT season is nearing its conclusion, so we take leave of the Clear Creek Beagles and Sandanona Harehounds with our final videos and pictures from last weekend’s “festival of rabbit-chasing” here in central Kentucky. For part one of this little annual series, including video from the Clear Creek Beagles on their Friday afternoon hunt, click here. Heck, while you’re at it, you might be interested to see last year’s videos and posts from the beagling and basseting weekend, too.

Today’s videos of the beagles and bassets include the packs in full cry and a view of a rabbit. First up, the Clear Creek Beagles:

And now the Sandanona Harehounds:

And, for more viewing pleasure, here’s a Smilebox with some photos of the weekend’s hunting.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow
Create your own slideshow - Powered by Smilebox

On Saturday, sadly, we once again missed the Farmington Beagles, which means that we owe Sherry Buttrick and Forbes Reback another apology as well as a promise to catch them next season. We made it to the meet in time to see the Clear Creek Beagles head off at noon, then went out again with the Sandanona basset pack at 3 p.m. Both packs provided great sport. The bassets hunted quite a bit in thick, tall grass known as Little Texas, where they contended with passels of rabbits that made for a very challenging day for huntsman Betsy Park.

One of the Sandanona bassets. Photo by Dave Traxler.

The Clear Creek Beagles, on the other hand, hunted out in the open quite a bit and benefitted from less-rabbity country as the sporting cottontails generously ran one at a time, allowing for some nice runs–several pieces of which we caught on the HD camera. There are a few things to note in the CCB video. First, we’ve included a four-minute section, entirely unedited, that illustrates just how much these hounds, like the foxhounds, rely on scent–and when scenting is difficult or downright uncooperative, it can scuttle a run, to the rabbit’s advantage. That clip of the video also features a stylish “Tally-ho!” from Mr. Houndblogger as the rabbit shot past our feet on her way to the safety of relatively scent-repellent ground.

When we take first-timers out beagling, they’re often struck by how much advantage the quarry actually has, running as he or she does over home territory and often with the scenting to the game’s, rather than the hounds’ benefit. That four-minute video clip shows the real challenge of scent-hunting, as well as the beauty of diligent hound work.

One couple–and a lurking half!–of Clear Creek Beagles. Photo by Dave Traxler.

A second thing to note: CCB Mister. This tough little badger-pie hound and his packmate, Minder, kept “appearing in dispatches,” so to speak. Every time we were out with the Clear Creek Beagles, we repeatedly heard huntsman Buck Wiseman say, “Hark to Mister!” or “Hark to Minder!” as one of these hounds often picked up the line first and led the pack on. We have a nice little clip or two of Mister in action on this video. He’s easy to pick out due to his notably muted coloring.

The houndbloggers asked Buck to tell us a little about Mister and Minder, and this is what he said:

“Mister is the oldest working hound in the pack at 7.  He is by Mason ’00, who is still with us, but in retirement.  Mason with his littermates, Moonshine and Magic, were mainstays for years.  They were a litter by Draper ’90 out of Macon ’97.  Draper was an outstanding hunting hound.  Oddly, Macon was not, although I always liked her, and that litter of three were all tops. Mister is out of Mango ’97, who was Champion Bitch at Mid-America as well as being a very good hunting hound. All of them except Draper trace back to Woodfield Major ’94 to some degree or other.  Draper was almost entirely my old Rollington Foot bloodlines.
“Mister has always been a hound with a very good nose, but who will also drive along at the front.  He is a bit stocky in build to appeal to most judges, but he is a very balanced strong hound. Mister is also the sire of Scholar and Swagger, the two puppies who also were in the pack over the weekend.  Scholar was seen to pick a check across a roadway on Saturday.  It was his third time out.
“Minder is an ’07 entry by Scabbard ’05 out of Magic ’00, litter sister to Mason, Mister’s sire. Scabbard was by Moonshine.  Yes, I know, the breeding is too close.  The truth is, it was an accident in the kennel, but from it I have gotten Minder, his sister Mayhap, whose name you may also have heard over the weekend.  Their sister Matchbox is with my niece, Randall, in Virginia and also hunts very well.  Minder just really started coming into his own as a signicant force at checks and in searching at the end of last season.  He has continued to improve by giant steps this season.  Minder is, in addition, a very nice-looking balanced hound.”
One other thing to note about the beagles’ video is the red and white female you’ll occasionally see. Does she look familiar? Regular readers of the hound blog might recognize some similarities to a certain orange and white beagle the houndbloggers recently acquired from the CCB pack. In fact, she’s one of Eider’s sisters, although I can never remember which one: she’s either Eager or Enid! If Jean MacLean is out there reading, perhaps she will offer a positive identification for us.

The Clear Creek pack with huntsman and joint-Master of Beagles Buck Wiseman. Photo by Dave Traxler.

In our next post, we’ll return to the hunt field with the Iroquois foxhounds, whose huntsman Lilla Mason has chosen a young Hound of the Day, as well as an update on Driver.

Houndamonium!

The joy of biscuits! The Clear Creek Beagles at the meet on Feb. 25. Photo by Dave Traxler.

THE Houndbloggers spent the weekend on foot following beagles and bassets at the annual footpack weekend here in central Kentucky. The weekend gathering usually brings together three packs: the Clear Creek Beagles from Kentucky, Farmington Beagles from Virginia, and Sandanona Harehounds, a basset and beagle pack from New York.

I’m afraid we missed the Farmington’s hunt on both Saturday and Sunday, but we were able follow the Clear Creek Beagles both days and went out with the Sandanona basset pack on Saturday afternoon. The weather was mostly overcast and there often was a stiff breeze, but the bunnies were abundant and sporting, resulting in some very fine hunting and melodious hound song, as you can see (and hear) in the video from the Clear Creek pack’s Friday hunt, below.

On Saturday, we followed huntsman Buck Wiseman and the Clear Creek Beagles again for the midday hunt and then went out with the Sandanona Harehounds, the basset pack, hunted by Betsy Park. We’ll post some video from Saturday later in the week. As last year, the basset pack hunted in the famed Bunny Patch, also known as Little Texas, which, again as last year, was stuffed to the seams with running bunnies. Such an abundance (or abunnydance, har har) of game isn’t necessarily the blessing you might think,and the bassets were challenged to stay together on a single line at a time when there were so many tiny, long-eared missiles shooting this way and that and crossing paths.

Clear Creek huntsman Buck Wiseman and the pack on Friday. Photo by Dave Traxler.

The weather didn’t always cooperate, either, as the area got inches of rain and hound were buffeted by occasional gusty winds. But the hound work and the cry were tremendous–we only hope that you can hear it over the wind in our upcoming video from Saturday, when the basset pack chased a rabbit down at the bottom of Little Texas and ran in full cry along a creek–the perfect scenario for booming, haunting cry that echoed around the hills as we stood listening.

Huntsman Betsy Park brought the Sandanona Bassets from New York for the weekend. Photo by Dave Traxler.

Friend of the hounds and intrepid photographer Dave Traxler accompanied us on his first outing with the foot packs, and he got some great photos, including this one of Clear Creek’s beagle Sancerre in full flight. Remember Sancerre? If not, you might recognize her in this post from the summer of 2009; in the second video, she’s the beagle who likes to catch biscuits while swimming!

Sancerre makes a giant leap--this time on dry land. Photo by Dave Traxler.

Central Kentucky has had two to five inches of rain since Thursday, so there was plenty of slippery mud around. Predictably, one of the houndbloggers found some:

Never trust a creek bank after it rains! Hey, at least it wasn't the hound truck this time. Photo by Jean MacLean.

The thorny brush caused a few nicks and scrapes on the hounds, but there were no injuries, and the hounds ended a weekend of 18 hours total hunting all on, Jean reported this afternoon. And pretty happy they were, too, after such a full weekend of chasing game hither and yon.

The Farmington Beagles take a well-deserved nap after their hunt on Saturday morning. Photo by Dave Traxler.

Next up, we’ll have a Smilebox photo slideshow from the weekend, as well as that Saturday video–including some of the bassets at work. And we’re about ready for a Driver update from Iroquois, aren’t we? Plus: Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason’s newest Hound of the Day from Sunday, Feb. 27! That’s all coming this week.

The Eider has landed!

Clear Creek Beagles Eider says a fond farewell to his best friend, Jean MacLean.

TONIGHT the houndbloggers are welcoming the newest resident of Beagle House, Clear Creek Beagles Eider. We think he’s probably some sort of cousin to Mr. Box, and in any case we know that both descend from the CCB’s great Major. Eider, now about two-and-a-half years old, started his hunting career last year with the Clear Creek beagle pack. We ran into him again this year at the end of November, when we went out beagling with Clear Creek Master of Beagles Buck Wiseman and whipper-in Jean MacLean. There, I’m afraid, Eider did not acquit himself very well. There were deer involved. And a lot of not leaving off their trail. And quite a bit of not coming when called. And called. And called.

Eider and Clear Creek Beagles Master and huntsman Buck Wiseman say au revoir.

And so it was, with great regret, that Buck determined that Eider–although he was a great character in the kennel and Jean’s favorite hound (she had raised and loved him from a pup)–needed a new home. Enter the houndbloggers.

Eider arrived this afternoon, on the very same day, it happened, that we also brought home our most ridiculous purchase to date: an early-1920s Victor Victrola wind-up phonograph. Yes, it was a folly, but who, I ask you, can really resist the delight of winding up a record player and then, as a reward, hearing it scratch out the tuneful strains of “With You” by Waring’s Pennsylvanians or the stirring fox trot “That Night in Araby” by Edwin J. McEnelly’s Orchestra?

Eider's eyes lit up when he heard the victrola!

(In case you’re wondering, we bought ours from Brian Gorrell at the Athens School antique show. He very kindly and enthusiastically explained all the technical stuff to us, about loud needles and soft needles, how to change them, and other interesting and useful things.)

Eider settles in for a good chew in his new home.

So far, Eider is settling in quickly and comfortably. Harry is disappointed that Eider, like the hound puppies who visited,  is not a minion (“I am sure I ordered minions,” says Harry). But otherwise things are fine. Eider likes Nylabones, biscuits, the dog beds by the fireplace, and, oops, my woolly clogs (or, okay, how about these paddock boots?), and my home office (an Emporium of Potential Toys!). He is not yet sure about leashes or walks in the ‘burbs, but he’s happy to be with the rest of the Beagle House pack. It will take him a little time to get used to the new routine now that he’s retired from hunting in the Clear Creek pack, but, if Mr. Box is any indication, it won’t take very long.

We’ll keep you posted!

A bit about those beagles

The Clear Creek Beagles, unboxed

SOME of you might have noticed a little inconsistency in our photo of Clear Creek Beagles Master and huntsman Buck Wiseman’s coat. We posted the photo yesterday to show off Buck’s CCB hunt buttons, and it wasn’t until I downloaded the picture to post it on the blog that I noticed it, too: not all of those hunt buttons are for the CCB. The top one, also featuring a rabbit like the CCB buttons, has the initials R. F. B., a little difference that made me smile. Who knew Buck might have a slightly sentimental streak? Well, okay, Buck–we’ll call it “an appreciation of history,” if you prefer!

The RFB button at the top and the Clear Creek Beagles pack share a nice history.

The R. F. B. button is from the Rollington Foot Beagles, which pre-dated but contributed to the present-day Clear Creek Pack. I guess you could say it was an ancestor to the Clear Creek Beagles. Here’s how Buck described it in an e-mail to me this morning about the Clear Creek pack’s history:

The Rollington Foot Beagles were a revival of E.B. Merry’s Merry Beagles from Gates Mills, Ohio.  Mrs. Merry had a nice pack, but in the mid 1970’s, she was getting older.  She sold the pack en masse to a purchaser who promised to keep them going.  He didn’t, and by 1979, the pack had dwindled to about 5 couples who were disbursed around with various breeders not connected to the National Beagle Club.  Mrs. Merry called the purchaser one day and essentially told him that she might have sold him the pack, but, damn it, it was still her pack, and she wanted it to be a pack.  The purchaser agreed to collect the remnants and sell them on, and I, who had just expressed a wish to have my own hounds again, got the call from Jack Oelsner, the then NBC President to see if I wanted them.  I did, threw kennels together in about three days and picked them up.
Mrs. Merry did not want them to be called the Merry going forward as she felt that I had to give them their own identity.  I did, with her permission, adopt her blue and green colors. At that time, we lived on Rollington Road near the Rollington community in Oldham County.  I remembered that John Cowperthwaite in New Jersey had had a pack called the Readington Foot Beagles, which I thought was a name which scanned well, so the pack became the Rollington Foot Beagles.
They were hunted as a purely private pack, mostly hunting the south end of Oldham County while the Fincastle Beagles hunted the north, until 1984 when I began to take a few subscriptions.  In 1987, Patrick Rodes, son of Jack and Ruby Rodes, the then Fincastle Masters along with Kennedy Clark, was moving to Texas.  Patrick had been hunting the FIncastle, and there was no obvious choice of a new huntsman.  I suggested that the two packs amalgamate as there was a great overlap in the followers anyway, and we had frequent joint meets.  The Fincastle had been founded in 1902 as Clear Creek Beagles.  Rather than have a double barreled name, we elected to revive the Clear Creek name and pick up the old Merry blue collar, a nice compromise, and away we went.

For the record, I love the name Merry Beagles. It suits pretty much every beagle I know.

The beagles on a less formal outing--and still very merry!

No Belmont for Mr. Box

Mr Box turned up lame the day before the Belmont, but he still likes Ice Box's chances

MR. BOX’S careful training plan for the Belmont Stakes was going right on schedule: vigorous playtimes punctuated by regular biscuit breaks, a custom-designed regimen of mid-afternoon snoozes, relaxing strolls with the brothers, and barroooo-ing at the postman. But all of that came to a halt Friday morning, when Mr. Box, having gone downstairs for that all-important first meal of the day, declined to come back up the stairs again to his bed, even when offered payment in a fat biscuit to do so. That’s not like our Mr. Box! So we packed him off to Dr. Snyder, whose genius and kindness are evident here (he’s the one NOT sitting in the tub):

The wonderful Dr. Snyder, veterinarian to the Beagle House hounds and to the Iroquois Hunt hounds, and a longtime friend of the Hound Welfare Fund.

The verdict: a muscle strain in Mr. Box’s back. O, cruel fate! To strike on Belmont Eve! Mr. Box has taken this injury in stride, but shorter, slower strides than usual.

Mr. Box has limited himself to desk work today but plans to watch his namesake run this afternoon.

We’re hoping that our Icebox’s equine counterpart, Belmont morning-line favorite (and Kentucky Derby runner-up) Ice Box will hit the wire first in the final leg of the Triple Crown series today. We’ll be cheering him on from our living room this afternoon when the race goes off at New York’s Belmont Park.

What does our Mr. Box think of his namesake’s chances?

“I like him,” the little white beagle opined. “You gotta love a horse with that name. But I worry about whether there’s enough speed on the front end to give him an honest pace to run at. On the other hand, you know, he checked three times during the Derby, had the agility to get out of that trouble, and still had enough gas left to make that signature long run in the homestretch. So we know he’s got some fancy footwork available to him, he’s no ordinary plodder, from where I stand. Can he change his tactics to sit closer to a slower pace up front and then roll home like a freight train? I hope so, but I’d like to see a rabbit in front of him somewhere. Oh, rabbits! Speaking of rabbits …”

Wow–Mr. Box sure has been studying his Daily Racing Form during his recovery! What does he think of Ice Box’s ability, pedigree-wise, to get the Belmont’s 1 1/2-mile distance?

Stamina to spare: Clear Creek Beagles Icebox '04, now known as Tobermory Icebox of Beagle House.

“Shoot, he’s bred to go long!” exclaimed Mr. Box. “Are you kidding me? He’s got stamina, all right.”

Our Mr. Box knows a thing or two about stamina, so we have no doubt he could get the Belmont distance. He’s already done more than that (but not in a little over two minutes; it took him more like two weeks). Here’s the story.

Mr. Box’s Epic Journey

It was a dark and snowy night … that’s how the tale begins.

About two days after Christmas in 2004, the Clear Creek Beagles hunted farmland on Harrods Creek near Goshen, Ky. When the hunt was over and huntsman Buck Wiseman put the hounds in their trailer, Mr. Box was not among them. Buck stayed at the meet and blew and blew his horn, but Mr. Box, then known as Icebox ’04, still did not come in. Icebox was in his first season with the pack that winter, and he already had proven to be a very marginal sort of hunting beagle, even though he was by the Clear Creek pack’s legendary Moby. Icebox, it seemed, preferred going off on his own and never really got the whole gist of hunting. But this was the first time he hadn’t come in at all. Finally, Buck had to return to the kennel with the rest of the hounds. He came back to the meet by himself as night was falling and blew his horn for a long time again. Still no sign of Mr. Box.

“Then a terrific snowstorm came in that night,” Buck said. “Seven or eight inches of snow. It was very, very cold–it was below freezing for days.”

The next day, while Buck was “off being a lawyer,” as Clear Creek whipper-in Jean MacLean puts it, he deputized Jean, who was recovering from surgery but was the only other person who knew Icebox personally, to go back on the hunt for Mr. Box on the farm where the hunt had been.

“It was very cold,” recalled Jean. “I remember a farm guy had seen him, and so I went out and traveled around out there. But I never saw him.”

“I checked back for him a few more times, but there was no sign of him,” Buck continued. “The farm crew didn’t see him. No one had seen him. And then about two weeks later, I drove into the kennel, and he was sitting on the front step.

“It’s probably a good four or five miles from where he got left back to the kennel. It’s not a huge trek back, but he had to cross Harrods Creek, which is a pretty good-sized creek. Maybe he crossed the bridge, I don’t know.”

The Clear Creek Beagles pack earlier this year. Mr. Box, now retired from hunting and wandering, lives happily at Beagle House, where he enjoys his fenced yard, his companions Harry and Bingo, and sleeping next to the fire in winter.

Even stranger, Icebox looked just fine.

“The peculiar thing about hounds when they get left out is they usually look just great when they come home,” Buck said. “I don’t know what they eat or where they  hang out, but they look fine when they come home. I’ve had them picked up six weeks later, and they’ve looked fine.”

Mr. Box moved in with us four months later. He never was much of a rabbit-hunting hound, but he’s an ace at hunting biscuits.

“I like biscuits,” Mr. Box concurs.

And if Ice Box has any of our Mr. Box’s stamina, he’ll have no trouble handling the Belmont distance. Here’s hoping that he, like Mr. Box, comes home safely, too! Happy Belmont Day, everyone!

Next time: More from the recent Virginia Hound Show trip!

The one that got away (with video!)

The houndbloggers met up with the Clear Creek Beagles on March 7 for one of the last hunts of the season--but missed the day's best photo opportunity. Photo by Jean MacLean.

THE Clear Creek Beagles had barely gotten their noses into the first covert Sunday when huntsman and Master Buck Wiseman shouted “Tally ho!” And out popped the day’s first rabbit.

It’s rare to start a rabbit that fast, just minutes after leaving the hound trailer, and it was hard to know who was more surprised: the field of beaglers, the rabbit, or the hounds.

I had just pulled my video camera out and was standing with a perfect head-on view of the rabbit as it ran our way, ears flat and with a distinct expression of annoyance. I even had the lens cap off. But, in my surprise at seeing a rabbit so soon and so close, I forgot the crucial next step: Raise Camera To Eye and Press Record Button. Instead, I stood–we all stood–mouth agape and watched the small, furry missile bound at top speed in our direction.

Which is a real shame, because what happened next was one of those amazing things you sometimes see out with hounds.

One of the Sunday bunnies. Photo by Jean MacLean.

It was so early in the proceedings that the beagles hadn’t even had a chance to give the thicket a good sniff before the rabbit popped out, and there were still several hounds away from the main pack, exploring the far end of the covert. As the rabbit was dashing down the grassy headland bordering the covert, one of those beagles–either Soundbox or Honor, it was all such a blur–came around the corner to join up with the pack–and almost collided with the escaping rabbit. The beagle, startled, paused for a second, but the rabbit didn’t. Without missing a step, the rabbit made a great leap right over the beagle’s nose, performed a sharp zig to the right on landing, and shot straight off again as if she had a jet pack. We in the field watched in amazement.

Where's that hound? At day's end, somebeagle was hoping to stay out for the tailgate.

Nabbed! Thanks to huntsman and Master Buck Wiseman and whipper-in Jean MacLean, the last beagle joins the rest of the pack in the hound trailer after a long but rewarding day of rabbit-chasing. The beagles have their own tailgate, in the form of the dog biscuits you see on top of the hound trailer.

So. No pictures or video of that encounter, I am embarrassed to admit. My photojournalism skills still need honing. But I do have some video of the immediate aftermath: it only took seconds for the beagles to realize that the ball of fluff racing away at the speed of light was, in fact, The Rabbit, and the whole pack screamed off after it in full cry.

It was, Buck noted as he ran past us after his hounds, a remarkably fast start to the day. And it was like that from there out, as rabbits bounded here and there, leading beagles and beaglers on big loops around a creek.

Here, at least, is what I did manage to catch of the afternoon’s beagling. The video starts mere seconds after the astonishing rabbit-beagle incident, with the screaming run in hot pursuit of Rabbit One, who appears for a split second as the white dot rounding the edge of the brush pile in the center of the video frame. In case you’re curious, no rabbits–not even the clever Rabbit One–were harmed in the making of this video. But the videographer is still kicking herself over the great shot that got away!

Beagles, bassets, and dozens of running bunnies (with two videos!)

Clear Creek Beagles huntsman and joint-Master of Beagles Buck Wiseman with the hounds

IT WAS a sight for sore eyes and a song for sore ears (to make up a new metaphor). We’ve spent so much of this winter indoors due to the unusually bad weather, only getting out occasionally with the foxhounds. So when the end of February rolled around with the annual beagling weekend on the calendar, the houndbloggers hared over to Mercer County to watch beagles and bassets at work.

The Farmington Beagles usually attend this weekend-long festival of rabbit-chasing, but they didn’t cross the mountains this year. That left the hosting Clear Creek Beagles and the visiting Sandanona Harehounds from upstate New York, who cleared out of the Empire State just before another blizzard dumped a foot of snow along the east coast. The Sandanona Harehounds actually refers to two working packs that Betsy Park hunts, one a beagle pack and the other a basset pack.

You might not be familiar with working basset packs. Like beagles, they hunt cottontail and/or hare, and the field members follow on foot. But they’re longer and lower hounds, of course, and their voices differ, too: they have deeper, booming cry, which you will hear on the video below and can compare to the beagles’ cry in their video below. They are hugely, longly, floppy-earedly entertaining–and they are fine hunters, too.

The area where we met is winding down its cattle operation and has spent much of the last year restoring natural grasses. And what a difference that has made to the cottontail population! We hunt this vast acreage at least once a year, and in recent years the number of good runs had dwindled–except, notably, in the initial natural grass patch that started the reseeding project, where we always seemed guaranteed to meet up with a sporting rabbit. Last year’s lush summer probably also didn’t hurt our chances at finding more rabbits this season, but I think I’m a big, big fan of natural grasses as a positive reinforcement for game.

In one field alone, which we refer to here as The Bunny Patch, the houndbloggers saw 10 rabbits on Saturday afternoon with the bassets; other members of the field saw considerably more than that throughout the day.

Two of the Sandanona bassets with huntsman and Master Betsy Park at The Bunny Patch

One of the Sandanona bassets harks to the horn

If you’re expecting the really low-slung bassets of the Hush Puppies and Westminster type, the Sandanona bassets and other hunting bassets will probably surprise you. These guys are leggier, and their speed and agility surprise people hunting behind them for the first time. They excel at being cute, as all bassets do, and in their extraordinary deep and melodious cry–which we heard to great effect as the pack raced along in full cry around a pond, where their voices echoed off the ridge and water as if it were coming to you from centuries ago.

The multitude of rabbits provided a real challenge to the huntsmen this weekend. As Betsy Park put it, “There are too many rabbits. It encourages independence, which is not good.” And, in fact, there were so many rabbits whizzing around The Bunny Patch that on several occasions hounds could hunt by sight rather than scent, and from time to time the temptation would prove too much when random bunnies, simply getting out of the way of the pack as it hunted one rabbit’s line, crossed paths close by.

Both the beagles and the bassets had a phenomenal weekend with these game little rabbits, who kept them running all day. We expect both packs had a lot to talk about over their biscuits as they made their way back to Louisville (beagles) and New York (bassets).

Nate Lord, the best man to follow when out with foot packs. It's him you'll hear on the basset video, asking the field to keep out of hounds' way.

Without further ado, we’ll cut to the chase. Bassets are up first from Saturday’s hunting, and beagles are up second from their Sunday morning meet. The basset video has two tally-hos of rabbits at The Bunny Patch, and both videos show the respective packs in full cry. In the beagle video, you might recognize a couple of names from previous posts we’ve had. Eider, the first-season puppy, makes an appearance early in the video, and Sancerre (she who can catch biscuits while swimming) also gets called down for, not surprisingly, being a little wayward for a split second!

Hooray for twisty, turny rabbits! (now with pictures you can actually see)

AS we settle in for yet more snow (okay, yeah, I concede that you Midatlantic residents got a lot more than we did, so I’ll be quiet, but still. I hate to sound like a whinebag, but it’s really messed up our season) … As I was saying, there’s more “frozen precipitation” forecast, so It doesn’t look great for foxhunting. As we’ve seen in recent posts, it ain’t easy getting a horse across frozen mud.

The Clear Creek Beagles and huntsman Buck Wiseman in the snow

Not so with beagles! The little hounds can go out with their foot followers in much worse weather than we can. It makes sense for foot-following, because rabbits tend to run tighter, twisty-turny lines in a smaller area than coyotes do. They’re slower, too.

As we contemplate the snowy forecast and the possibility of another foxhunting freeze-out, we’ll take some comfort from this report from our friends over at the Clear Creek Beagles. Clear Creek whipper-in Jean MacLean takes it from here:

I DREADED the thought of going beagling yesterday!  I thought it would be horrible because of the snow cover and the cold air temperature. But Buck (huntsman Buck Wiseman) was convinced that it would be a good day, possibly close to his all-time best hunting day of a zillion years ago when he ran a hare for five hours, covering 25 some odd miles, with similar snow, ground and air temps! I was the ultimate skeptic.

Eleven couple of hounds and 4 people met in Shelby County yesterday.  We only stayed out for about an hour and forty five minutes, but hounds ran for almost the entire duration!!  We made a false start down the farm lane to the brushy banks of the creek.  At that point we returned to put a lame Sunlight in the trailer and picked up Nate Lord and Preston Thomas.

We returned to the creek and started working down the near bank.  A tricky rabbit slid out of the covert behind the pack, but I viewed it out.  Hounds were on it.  They all made a few loops around, quickly crossing the very cold creek and seemed to go back to ground in or near the original brush pile.  All humans crossed the creek, without much damage.  The hounds worked up the banks on the other side of the creek and got a new rabbit up.  I had to return to the creek and assist Enid in her crossing.  She thought it was too cold the first time and did not want to do it again.  All hounds worked hard on the snow.  Fortunately for them the ground was soft and muddy underneath.   Those with jet packs had to slow themselves down some to work the lines on the snow.   Socket and Snuffbox were dynamite working out the twisty turny lines of this rabbit, but again it went to ground.  At this point I believe the first rabbit moved and was picked up again.  This time great circles were made back across the creek in a winter wheat field, through a junk pile and then back tiptoeing through the creek.  Hounds worked hard to stay close and ran this rabbit at least twice around his intricate “lose them quick” path!!  The front end of the pack pushed him hard enough that he went to ground – to stay!!

One more rabbit was run around through a field of flattened sorghum, an old barn, down a tight wire fence row and then across a field back to the creek.  At this point it was really cold and time to call it a day.  It did not measure up to the best hunting day ever BUT it was a great day to be out to see all of the hounds working so well and together!!!

Nature points – 3 coyotes seen on the way to the meet, countless Canada geese, a covey of quail, 3 or perhaps 4 rabbits.

THANKS, Jean, for that cheerful report, and I’m only sorry the houndbloggers weren’t there to enjoy it (but that creek did look c-c-c-cold).

Mr. Box, late of the Clear Creek Beagles, on the lookout for rabbits--and, incidentally, breaking the rule about No Standing On The Breakfast Table. It tells you something that we even need this rule, but ... apparently we do.

Here’s hoping your weather, wherever you are, isn’t too terrible!