Blessings all around


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

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

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

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

Photo by Dave Traxler.

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

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

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

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

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

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

‘A parson should have a ‘good seat’

Amd ‘light hands’ and an ardor complete

For riding to hounds

Where clean sport abounds.

May no spill that parson delete!

Photo by Dave Traxler.

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

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

Photo by Dave Traxler.

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

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

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

For horses which obey our commands,

and for mules with good manners,

for hounds in joyful voice,

for foxes given us to hunt,

and for covert in which you provide for their safety,

for friends and partners in the chase,

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

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

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

Photo by Dave Traxler.

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

Glowworm has left us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2011 Retiree of the Year: Stammer

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

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

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

Photo by Peggy Maness.

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

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

Photo by Peggy Maness.

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

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

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

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

Stammer at the Blessing of the Hounds last November.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Peggy Maness.

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

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

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

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

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

Hound of the Day: Driver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Driver and the pack. Dave Traxler photo.

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

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

Driver in July 2009.

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

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

Photo by Dave Traxler.

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

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.”

Puppies of Two Species

Driver meets four-year-old Trevor on Saturday's hound walk

WHAT a beautiful day Saturday was! It started with a crashing thunderstorm that prevented me from riding over to catch our trailer ride to the day’s hound walk, so the houndbloggers went out with the hounds on foot for what turned out to be a Very Special Morning.

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason brought the hounds, including one-year-old Driver and many of the BA litter, to Boone Valley Farm instead of to the usual meeting point on the farm across from The Corners. The change of location was exciting to the hounds. The older hounds, Paper among them now, associate Boone Valley with nearby Pauline’s Ridge, one of the richest coyote coverts in the hunt country and understandably a place that holds great interest for experienced hunting hounds.

To the puppies, the field trip was especially exciting. New sights, sounds, and, most importantly, scents! New country to explore!

Even before kennel manager Michael Edwards unloaded the hounds from their trailer, there was some excitement when a herd of cattle came barreling past not far from the hound truck. But the hounds, safe inside, didn’t turn a hair, and when Michael turned them out, they ignored the cattle’s trail and put their noses right in the grass to find the biscuits Michael and Lilla had scattered there for them.

Nearby, another “puppy” was making his debut at Boone Valley, too. That was young Trevor, the four-year-old son of an Iroquois member, who was out on his new pony Polly for his very first hound walk. Driver and Paper were hugely curious about this pair, the smallest person they’d ever seen, riding either the largest hound or the smallest horse they’d ever seen. Like kids everywhere, Paper, Driver, and Trevor were drawn to each other.

Paper, who joined the hunting pack last season, says hello

Paper's pretty sure he's figured out where she keeps those biscuits ...

The day had the potential to be a little too exciting: inexperienced young hounds in exciting new territory where running cattle had piqued their curiosity, old hounds returning to a place they know well for coyote runs, and a strong breeze to carry the scent of coyote to them from Pauline’s Ridge. It was a good test for both groups of hounds, and they did very well. When temptation drew them too far away from her, their noses in the air to catch the odors wafting by, they returned when she called. Occasionally, one or two of the puppies–most notably Backfire, a BA puppy who has showed himself to be forward many times on earlier hound walks–would range away from the main group of hounds and stand gazing off into the distance, nose twitching.

Those are critical moments in a puppy’s development, Lilla pointed out, because they mark a decision. The puppy can either decide to follow his nose and head for the hills, leaving the pack and Lilla, or he can decide to back away from that temptation and stay with his peers and his huntsman.

Backfire, one of the year-old BA litter

“We want them to process information and then make the right decision,” Lilla explained.

Backfire was an especially good example of all of the puppies’ progress. At Boone Valley, we could see Backfire developing the idea that he’s part of a pack. He’s learning that, when the group stops, he can wander a little and taste the air, but when he’s out on his own too far away from the pack and Lilla, it’s a little uncomfortable. Looking off to the far hills, he’s still in touch with Lilla, and when she calls, he hears her and turns.

A huntsman’s ability to stay in a hound’s mind like that, to maintain that golden thread of connection between himself and a hound even when something else is calling to the hound’s deep instinct, is vital to success. It’s not always possible to hold a hound’s attention, but a huntsman that consistently can regain a hound’s attention simply by saying its name–a twitch upon that golden thread–has perhaps the greatest gift a huntsman can have. But it isn’t easy to achieve, and it isn’t foolproof.

“Backfire,” Lilla said, “is a thinker. And we want these hounds to think.”

As with young horses, hounds that can process information and respond to it thoughtfully, rather than simply react with instinct, are better to handle.

Trevor, mom Debbie, and Polly the pony watch the hounds. Well, okay, Polly was watching the grass.

As for Trevor, he had a good day, too! He learned about hounds and also about Polly. The main thing we think he learned about Polly is that she is a PONY, meaning, yes, she will try to roll even while (maybe even especially while) you are riding her, in which case it’s best to get off. He learned that Driver is very big. Most importantly, he found out that this business of following the hounds on horseback is about as much fun as there is in the world.

We think so, too.

Summer strolls

The BA puppies are taking their first summer walks with older members of the pack this summer.

AND SO we come back to where we started–on summer hound walk! Driver has yet to make his debut, but the year-old BA puppies are gradually being introduced to the working pack. At this early stage, Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason is bringing them out in small groups with some of the older hounds, who can lead by example as the youngsters meet up with new sights, smells, and adventures off leash and away from the kennel. Cattle are one of the important new sights and smells combined, and it’s crucial that the puppies get a good introduction to them, because once they join the pack on hunts, the hounds must be able to ignore cattle (and their scent) when tracking coyotes. The quarry often will run through cattle in an attempt to foil the scent, and hounds must maintain professionalism under those circumstances, parsing out the coyote’s scent without disturbing the cattle.

The Iroquois pack’s early summer walks take place in a large cow pasture. That gives the hounds the opportunity to work around cattle every day, to learn that they are simply part of the landscape, and to grow comfortable with them.

In the video, you’ll recognize quite a few of the puppies: Bangle, Banknote, and Bailey feature prominently!

Other goals on hound walk: to teach the puppies to come, even when something interesting has their attention, and to introduce the concept of working as a pack. It’s early days yet, and the walks at the moment are very gentle affairs as the puppies explore the wonders of the cow pasture, particularly the pond, where they take a dip twice in the course of the walk. But everything serves training.

The hounds clearly enjoy wading and chasing the biscuits Lilla tosses for them in the pond.

Stay tuned for more of their adventures, including Driver’s debut on summer walk!

MFHA hunt staff seminar, part 4: Wiley Coyote

In the last 50 years, coyotes have spread widely across the United States and are now frequently found in city limits and in the suburbs, as well as in the countryside

IN the months leading up to the Master of Fox Hounds Association’s biennial hunt staff seminar, we’d already heard a lot about Dr. Stanley Gehrt and his urban coyote presentation. He’d done this presentation at an MFHA meeting in January that had everyone talking, so we were especially curious to hear it ourselves. And, boy, was it worth the price of admission.

Gehrt is an assistant professor and extension wildlife specialist at Ohio State University. His urban coyote study in Chicago started in 2000 and is the longest-running coyote research project in North America. Using radio tracking collars, the study has followed 440 coyotes in 10 packs and revealed fascinating details about their lives, including how they form packs, which ones don’t pack up, how they develop their territories, what they hunt, and how they adapt to living in an urban environment. The results, as presented in his lecture “Uncovering Truths and Debunking Myths about City Coyotes,” were eye-opening.

The first startling fact: coyotes, once found almost exclusively in the southwest as a prairie animal, has spread throughout North America, Central America, and up through Canada and Alaska in the last 60 years or so. That rapid, widespread expansion tells you something important about the coyote: it is a highly adaptable animal that can adjust to rapidly changing environments. And they don’t just adapt by, say, changing their hunting habits or other behaviors. They adapt in more surprising and fundamental ways, like by producing larger litters in time and places where food is readily available and smaller litters when coyote populations are peaking and food is in danger of running low.

Keep in mind that the American coyote’s expansion in population and territory since about 1945 has taken place even as urban areas, highways, and development have also been expanding.

“Coyotes could handle everything thrown at them, and all they did was increase their population and increase their range.” Gehrt said.

As a result, Gehrt said, the coyote is the nation’s “most unprotected game animal,” and many states allow year-round hunting of them because their populations tend to increase so quickly. “They don’t need much protection,” Ghert explained. “They are built to withstand that kind of pressure. And because of that, they view us as their predator. And we are their pretty much only predator.”

We should note here that even though coyotes can be hunted in many areas year-round, the foxhunting season still attains. Foxhunters only chase game, whether fox or coyote, from early fall to spring, and do not hunt year-round.

Ghert’s study area in the Chicago metro area covered 300 square miles and included such seemingly un-coyote-friendly areas as the O’Hare airport, the Navy Pier, and the Sears Tower. The area encompasses about 18 cities in the Chacago metro area and contains about 1.5 million people. And yet Gehrt and his team found coyotes almost everywhere. One, a near-legendary female that is one of the study’s oldest at age 10 and was the first Gehrt put a radio collar on, has her main hiding place immediately behind a local post office. Another managed to get through three sets of fences and into a county jail, where “it scared the crap out of the prisoners,” Gehrt said.

Coyotes mate only once a year, in February, and they are monogamous for life. When one mate dies, the survivor generally will take on a new mate, but only then. The resulting litters typically range from four to seven pups that usually are born in April (which is one reason foxhunters who chase coyote generally have wrapped up their season by then), but litters can range up to 15 pups; in ghert’s study area, the urban Chicago coyote litters averaged eight.

Most coyotes, he found, are killed before their third year, and in urban and suburban ares, not surprisingly, the chief cause of death is the automobile. In rural areas, hunting and trapping are the leading cause of mortality.

But coyotes can live much longer if they are crafty or in safer environments, and Gehrt still has one of his original radio-collared coyotes in the study at age 12. Another significant cause of death: sarcoptic mange. Ghert noted that mangy coyotes are seen more often near houses, usually because they are attempting to stay warm.

Packs typically number anywhere from two to eight coyotes, but–and here’s a surprise–coyotes, or at least urban ones, rarely hunt in packs unless the environmental conditions demand it.

There are three main types of coyote:

  • The resident, who remains in its particular territory, usually covering about seven to eight square miles in rural settings (and less than five square kilometers in urban settings);
  • The solitary, often seeking its own territory, that is just passing through and is not yet settled in a location, and
  • The disperser, a coyote that has left its natal territory and is roaming over long distances.

A solitary’s regular roaming area runs between 30 and 100 square kilometers, while dispersers, the great long-distance travelers among the coyotes, have been known to travel within a space as large as 352 square kilometers. And as hunters well know, coyotes will jump fences if they need to, but they prefer to cross man-made boundaries–fences, in other words–by going under them.

And how about that howling? It’s a chilling sound when you hear a pack of coyotes singing together with yips, barks, and long sustained notes. Gehrt says coyotes howl primarily to determine how many other coyotes are in an area but also as a way to call a pack together, usually to defend a territory.  Unlike wolves, he says, they aren’t known for carrying a tune or holding notes for very long.

“They’re the rappers of the canid world,” he said.

Here’s an especially interesting thing Gehrt and his colleagues found. When only two coyotes are howling, it tends to draw alpha pairs from other ares in, as if for an “alpha meeting.” But if five or more howl together, coyotes in the area tend to run the opposite direction, away from the howlers. That suggests that large groups in concert are advertising their readiness to fight any invaders in their country.

According to the Chicago study, packs do tend to respect each other’s territories, as marked by scat or by the howling described above.

Coyotes are mostly nocturnal, and their diet, even in urban ares, reveals that they scavenge from human garbage less than you might imagine. Studies of coyote scat show that their preferred food items are rodents, especially meadow voles, which make up about 42% of their diet,. “They really are rodent-catching machines,” Gehrt said, recounting that he once found nine rodents, including several large rats, in the belly of a coyote that had been killed by a car. Coyotes also seem fond of goose eggs.

Coyotes increasingly are appearing in urban and suburban settings, and even rural coyotes are adapting to traffic and other products of human civilization as development encroaches on the countryside.

“The eggs are basically McDonald’s meals,” Gehrt said. “It’s something you can pick up and take with you, and they are loaded with fat, which is good for these animals.”

Fruit (23%), deer (22%), and rabbits (18%) are also common components of the coyote menu card, but human garbage accounts for just 2% of the diet, which might say more about us and our eating habits than we’d like to know. Interestingly, Gehrt said rural coyotes do not rely heavily on deer in their diet, again preferring small rodents and rabbits, but they will eat fawns in spring.

Easy prey is appealing to any predator, but that doesn’t mean coyotes aren’t afraid to tackle larger potential food items when they need to, and they can be surprisingly clever at this. Gehrt recounted how one pack in his study repeatedly would herd healthy bucks onto an iced over pond, harass each buck until it fell and could not get up on the slick ice, and then killed it.

People living in rural communities have long known that coyotes will kill cats and dogs. Gehrt confirmed this but noted that, except in unusual circumstances, coyotes rarely eat the cats and dogs they kill. But keep those pets locked up, all the same, as coyotes present a real danger to them.

In Gehrt's study, red foxes survived predation by coyotes better than gray ones did. But fox populations of both kinds drop precipitously when coyotes move in, Gehrt confirmed.

Foxhunters who have seen coyote populations take over in former fox territories have long suspected that the coyote has a negative impact on local foxes. Gehrt confirmed that popular assumption.

Citing a study in Illinois from 1980 to 2000, Ghert said, “They saw coyotes increase dramatically during that time. Red foxes, as you might imagine, decreased but then rebounded a little bit in recent years, but not to their previous levels. Gray foxes crashed. Gray foxes seem to have crashed in a number of states, and we think that’s due to coyotes.”

To find out, Gehrt’s team also put some radio tracking collars on some of the few remaining Chicago-area gray foxes.

“It took us quite a while just to find them, and, when we did, we found that coyotes did kill over half the animals that we monitored, and the other half died from distemper,” he said. “Basically, in two years, all the animals we had radio-collared were gone and we couldn’t find any more.”

The study area’s last group of fox holdouts retreated to a cemetery and made dens there. “It was a Jewish cemetery in a pretty rough area on the south side,” Gehrt said. “The headstones are really close together, and the foxes could run in between the headstones but we couldn’t. They burrowed in those places, but eventually coyotes found their way to that and ended up wiping out that family. So coyotes do have an impact on foxes.”

Gehrt said red foxes, strangely enough, seem to survive coyote predation better than grays–and that’s another surprise, because, unlike reds, grays are known for their ability to climb trees. But Gehrt said red foxes tend to live “in the cracks between coyotes territories,” or, in rural areas, by getting as close as possible to human habitations, where healthy coyotes are less likely to appear.

In fact, at least one of the “old guns” on the older huntsman’s panel at the MFHA seminar, Marty Wood of Live Oak, confirmed this finding in his own experience in the Live Oak country in Florida. Once a fox-chasing pack, Live Oak has been pursuing coyotes increasingly since the mid-1980s and now only finds some red foxes in its country, particularly in areas close to houses, Wood said.

Part of the coyote’s ability to survive and even thrive in conditions that have decimated less resilient animal populations comes down to one character trait: paranoia. That extends to an unwillingness–except when chased or when giving birth and nursing young pups–to go into their own underground dens.

“We have video of mothers coming to their own den with their own pups inside,and it takes them forever to go in, to work up the courage to go inside their own den,” said Gehrt. “When you think about it, coyotes have incredible senses of hearing, sight, and smell, even touch. Those senses are of no use when they are underground.”

A single mating pair might have four or five dens. “The mother likes to have those different dens as an option, because if she thinks you know where that litter is, she’ll move them. And she moves them all the time. We often go through a game of multiple dens trying to find that litter.”

“One thing I hope you take away from this is that there’s still a whole lot of stuff that we don’t know about this animal, and I mean a whole lot,” Gehrt concluded. “They remind us of this every day. Every day they do something that we didn’t think they could do or didn’t think they would want to do.”

For more information on Gehrt’s research, check out the book Urban Carnivores (which also includes information on foxes). It’s published by Johns Hopkins Press and is available on Amazon.com (click to book title above to go directly there). You can also find out more online at http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/urbcoyot.htm.

MFHA hunt staff seminar, part 2: Masters of their craft

Some of the Iroquois members at Sunday's MFHA hunt staff seminar. Left to right: Nancy Clinkinbeard, Mary Moraja, huntsman Lilla Mason, and Gene Baker.

IF Saturday at the MFHA biennial hunt staff seminar was field trip day (for a tour of the Iroquois Hunt Club’s kennel and a visit with our retired hounds), Sunday was more of a lecture series. But not some musty, fusty maundering on by dull speakers, no way. There were panel discussions featuring some of the hardboot Masters and huntsmen from hunts around the country and from the “young guns” of a new generation of hunting stars. There was a meaty and highly entertaining presentation by a scientist who studies the urban coyote. And there was a panel on the eternal question: how do I get and keep my horse hunting fit?

The houndbloggers attended three of the four discussions, missing the equine fitness one, and so we can offer a summary of the presentations that related to hounds and coyotes.

It's all about the hounds!

The Young Guns

We should say right off the bat that Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason was among the presenters as a member of the “young guns” panel. She was the only amateur huntsman, and the only woman, alongside fellow huntsmen Peter Wilson of the Grand Canyon Hounds (Arizona), Ciaran Murphy of Golden’s Bridge Hounds (New York), Reg Spreadborough of the Orange County Hunt (Virginia), Adam Townsend of the De La Brooke Hunt (Maryland), and Ken George of the Moingona Hunt (Iowa).

Lilla Mason (Iroquois) focused on the process by which field members become hound lovers, just as she did. Like many of us, Lilla was drawn to hunting primarily due to her passion for riding, but the more she learned, and the closer she got to the hounds, the more she came to love hound work–a process that eventually led to her carrying the horn as the first female huntsman at Iroquois.

Lilla emphasized the success Iroquois has had through inviting hunt members to help with summer walk, leash training for the puppies, and other similar activities that give members a window onto the hounds’ everyday lives and the hunt’s breeding and training programs. She noted that giving the field printed out hound lists at each meet has also given riders an opportunity to learn the hounds’ names and follow them through each hunt day. And other initiatives, such as Lilla’s “Hound of the Day” reports, also help give the field (as well as Iroquois social members) a connection to the hounds and a different perspective on the hunt day.

IHC member Cooper Lilly and Payton: kennel visits are mutually beneficial!

“It brings the members closer to the hounds,” Lilla said. “It’s important to open up those doors for them. … The more you bring the members into the hound program, it helps enhance their enjoyment of the day, their enjoyment of the sport.”

“On the first day of cubhunting, the measure of success I hold myself to is, did I come with a pack or did I come with a bunch of individuals? The training program is about bringing each individual to become part of the pack. It’s like a symphony: each violin has had to practice and practice until they’re really good and can be part of the symphony that is the finished product.”

Lilla, the hounds, and hunt members at the 2009 Blessing of the Hounds

Lilla recalled vividly the first time Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller handed her the horn and gave her the opportunity to hunt the hounds herself.

“I wasn’t going to back down from a dare,” she quipped. “So I left the meet, tooted on my horn, and all of a sudden my whole world changed.”

The most startling change: suddenly, no one else seemed to know what they were doing, from Lilla’s new perspective as huntsman. All the whippers-in Lilla knew and had worked with on the hunt field as a whipper-in herself suddenly seemed to have become inept fools.

“They weren’t in the right place, I wanted them here and they were over there,” Lilla said, laughing along with the audience as she recalled her bemusement. “And nobody was back there, where I wanted somebody. And they were all walking, why weren’t they trotting? Why weren’t they doing anything?

“All of a sudden, this ball started rolling that I couldn’t stop,” she continued. “I was having to decide this, and that, and this,  and there was this fieldmaster with all these people breathing down my neck, and it was just overwhelming.”

Summer hound walks provide a good opportunity for Iroquois members and guests to learn about the hounds and their training.

“If you hold your thumb out in front of you and stare at your thumbnail, everything else is a blur,” she said. “When you’re hunting the hounds, all of a sudden you’re using your eyes to collect information from the whole world. You’re looking for every opportunity to get information: what the body language of the hounds is telling you, what the temperature is, where the wind’s coming from, what you see in the coverts. Collecting information to try to take advantage of any opportunity that might help you help the hounds produce good sport. And when something interrupts that canvas, it’s really irritating.

“I made a promise to myself after that day that I would never belittle or think worse of an ill-tempered huntsman, because you have no idea until you do it what that feels like!”

Iroquois Driver with one of his friends at the kennel. When members visit the puppies, they learn about the young hounds, and the hounds gain confidence around with new people.

All of the huntsmen on the panel except Lilla were professionals, and a majority advocated a quiet attitude in dealing with hounds, something the houndbloggers were gratified to hear.

“I think handling hounds on a loose rein is an art form,” Peter Wilson of the Grand Canyon Hounds said. “A pack that is sensitive to what the person who is hunting them wants is a wonderful thing. Hounds that go along without any chasing, whip-cracking, and turning by staff is great to watch even on a poor hunting day. In my opinion, the hounds’ legitimate ideas have to be followed and honored by quiet huntsmen. Getting wound up at the wrong moment because of anger or excitement can mess up a day’s hunting very quickly. It’s easy for a huntsman to get frustrated without realizing how much it affects his hounds. So much of what the hounds cue on is the tone of voice and posture and body language, so it is easy for them to mistake your general frustration for being angry at them. Their keenness and confidence will go way down if a huntsman is too preoccupied with his own mood rather than doing what is best to help his hounds.”

Many of the "young guns" on the panel recommended a quiet style with hounds.

One common concern the huntsmen voiced: loss of country, a complaint that almost every hunt has as rural land is eaten up by development.

Ciaran Murphy, who hunts Penn Marydel hounds at Golden’s Bridge outside of New York City, noted that his hunt has a “small, tight country.” That means, he said, “Radios are absolutely essential.”

Like Iroquois, Murphy uses radios as well as road whips to help protect hounds in an area where roads and development are encroaching. One of the more interesting things Murphy said, at least to us, was that he is still chasing both fox and coyote at a ratio he estimates at about 50-50. It’s been a long time since we’ve heard of a fox percentage that high, as most countries seem to have all but made the switch from foxes to coyotes as coyote territory has expanded (more on that in our next post, when we report on the outstanding presentation Dr. Stanley Gehrt made on the urban coyote!). Murphy said his tactic, when he’s chasing coyote in a small country, is to try to turn the coyote to persuade it to stay in the country.

Several huntsmen on both the "young guns" and the "old guns" panels advocated handling hounds loosely and letting them range rather than keeping them in a tight group, especially when hunting coyote

“We’ve had days where we’ve run a fox for 45 minutes and put it to ground, and then on the way to the next covert a coyote pops up and hounds are gone,” Murphy said. “It’s almost like following a different pack of hounds, in a way. Everything changes. Some hounds start to shine. I have some hounds that are good fox hounds and some that are good coyote hounds, and, on average, they run both equally well, but it’s really a humbling thing, when you have a fox and then you have a coyote, to see the difference in how they run and how it affects the hounds.”

Murphy also made one of the day’s nicer observations–and one that got a knowing laugh from the huntsmen in the audience–when he observed that his job “is one of the few things you can do where every morning there are 60 to 80 faces that are happy to see you!”

Diminishing hunt country remains a concern for nearly every huntsman and Master.

Reg Spreadborough of the Orange County Hounds–home of the unique red ring-neck hounds we’ve written about before–hunts two packs, divided by age. “The younger pack goes to the grasslands with open fields,” he said. “They stay together a lot better, they honor each other when the first strike hounds open up. When they cast themselves and they’re trying to find their quarry, they get together a lot quicker, honor each other, and go.”

Spreadborough said, in his experience, a mixed-age pack is more liable to get strung out on a run as older hounds pull ahead of younger ones; stringing out, he said, is “my pet hate, if I have one.” But he acknowledged that he still hunts foxes, and that allows for different tactics.

“With foxes, we don’t tend to get the hour-and-a-half, two-hour hunts that the other packs would hunting coyotes,” he said.

Spreadborough made an interesting point when he said that, just as there’s ideally a “golden thread” of communication between huntsman and hounds, there also should be a similar thread linking huntsman and hunt staff.

“If you find a whipper-in that you can key off, you almost don’t even have to say anything,” he said.

It's ideal if the huntsman and whippers-in also have a "golden thread."

Also on that point, Lilla recalled a story in which an English huntsman she knows once stood ringside with her at the Peterborough foxhound show and relayed what one of the judges was saying as the class progressed some yards away. “He was able to do that because he had served as whipper-in to the judge for many years and had learned to read his lips!” she said.

Adam Townsend of the De La Brooke Foxhounds spent a good bit of time discussing the importance of whippers-in to a huntsman’s work.

“I translate a measure of our success out hunting to our staff,” Townsend said, adding that the De La Brooke’s whips are all volunteers. “Each of the individuals that whipped in had a different background, and each made the commitment that the job requires. The De La Brooke pack hunts three days a week from September until March. In looking for the right individual to help with the pack and effectively whip in out hunting, several factors had to be taken into consideration. I try to look at their first attempt at correcting a hound. Many people take an aggressive approach, believing if you yell at it, it will obey. To me, this would not be the proper first response in dealing with a hound on exercise or even, in some cases, out hunting. Less is more.”

Many huntsmen prefer a quiet, relaxed whipper-in, believing they help keep the hounds relaxed in their work as a pack.

Townsend explained that. on hound walk, he walks the hounds “loosely, not in a restrictive form.”

“I’ve found that new whips tend to be ‘whip happy’ and want the pack to be tighter,” he said. Townsend added that he does not encourage his staff to crack their whips unless it is truly necessary, as in a safety situation out hunting, when, for example, hounds might need to be kept off a road.

“I don’t like tense whips, because that makes for tense hounds,” he observed.

Ken George of Moingona proved an able storyteller and kept the audience’s attention with his vivid description of hunt days on the Iowa plains and, more recently, to newly opened country in Kansas.

Do whatever it takes to get out with the hounds!

George explained that he Moingona pack is a bitch pack of mostly Crossbred hounds, and their quarry is almost entirely the coyote. He has drafts from a variety of hunts, including Midland and Fox River Valley, “so there are straight July dogs from Midland that can flat fly. We’ve got some nice English dogs that can flat fly. We’ve got big dogs, little dogs, pretty dogs, ugly dogs–but they are a pack. They hunt as a pack. They sound like a pack. They look like a pack. From a hundred feet, you can tell the difference between them. But from a hundred and fifty yards, we have the best pack class in America. They’re demons, that’s what I call them.”

Unlike Spreadborough, who hunts fox exclusively, George said he didn’t mind if hounds get strung out on a run and viewed it as a natural effect of chasing the coyote.

George’s main theme, though, was one every serious huntsman and hunt follower knows well: the true fox-chaser (or coyote-chaser) will do whatever it takes to watch those hounds work together to puzzle out a line. George pointed out that he shoes horses and works cattle for landowners, all free of charge, in order to ensure his country stays open and he can keep hunting. When the opportunity to open hunt country in Kansas some six hours south, George said he jumped at it.

“I drive six hours because I’m ate up with foxhunting,” he explained. “You have to do what it takes.”

Next time: The “Old Guns” panel!

MFHA hunt staff seminar, day 1: Iroquois kennel visit

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason shows the BA litter to Live Oak MFH Marty Wood (left) and Iroquois joint-MFH Jerry Miller. Photos by Gene Baker--thanks, Gene!

THE Master of Fox Hounds Association’s hunt staff seminar only comes around once every two years, so imagine our delight when the governing body of North American foxhunting selected Lexington as the venue for 2010. The seminar weekend drew foxhunters from around the nation to the Iroquois kennel, and the gathering of so many hound people in our town provided a priceless opportunities to listen and learn.

On Saturday, April 10, the Iroquois Hunt hosted a kennel tour for attendees, and about 70 Masters, huntsmen, hunt staff, and members of many hunts showed up despite chilly temperatures. Two highlights really stand out for the houndbloggers: the warm reaction so many hunt members had to seeing the Hound Welfare Fund‘s retirees happily snoozing in their warm room, and watching Live Oak Master Marty Wood reunite with Paper, Hailstone, Gaudy, and Gaelic, young hounds that he bred that began their hunting careers this year with the Iroquois pack. Wood looked just like a proud papa when he saw how these puppies have developed, and he even joked that letting them go might just have been a mistake! And here’s another interesting note: asked to choose their favorites from our current crop of puppies, the BA litter and Driver, all scheduled to begin their training with the pack this summer for the first time, Wood and several other huntsmen present picked out Driver the pupposaurus for special praise, citing, among other things, his powerful, muscular hind end.

Driver (center): Not quite a year old, and already a muscle man.

It’s true: Driver has lost a lot of his baby fat and is showing distinct signs of turning into a hunk. But he’s lost none of his charm–or his energy. It was especially rewarding, by the way, to see how confident all the puppies were –not that Driver’s confidence has ever been much of a question!–around  a crowd of 70 strangers. Their lack of shyness under these unusual circumstances drew favorable comments from many and is a testimony not just to the puppies’ personalities, but also to their early handling and training.

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason tosses biscuits for some of the new entry as MFHA hunts staff seminar attendees look on.

In addition to seeing the new entry and viewing many of the other hounds in the Iroquois active hunting pack, seminar attendees also toured the inside of the kennel. Many were especially interested in the tracking collars demonstrated by Iroquois kennelman Michael Edwards.

Iroquois kennelman Michael Edwards demonstrates the tracking collar and antenna that we use to help protect hounds when they are out in the country.

Iroquois joint-Masters Jerry Miller (left) and Dr. Jack van Nagell at Saturday's kennel tour.

Iroquois board member and former president Dr. Herman Playforth also explained how the hunt club itself is structured to allow both hunting and social, non-hunting memberships. Seminar attendees asked good, detailed questions that covered every imaginable topic: kennel management, hound feeding, the use of radios and tracking collars on the hunt field, and much more.

Thanks are due to everyone from Iroquois who volunteered to help with the morning. These included Cice Bowers, Christine and Gene Baker, Nancy Clinkinbeard, and Eloise Penn, and I sure hope we haven’t forgotten to mention anyone else! Thanks also to Michael Edwards and Alan Foy for their work with the hounds, and to guest Robin Cerridwen for her help, too.

One of the first-season hounds, Gaelic, gets some lovin'.

We’ll leave you with some images from the day that particularly caught our eyes, and tomorrow we’ll summarize the meat of the weekend: the seminar programs from Sunday, including  a presentation by coyote researcher Dr. Stanley Gehrt and a panel discussion that included Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason.

The visitors expressed interest in many of the kennel's features, including the retired hounds' warm room and the hounds' 15-acre grass-and-woodland turnout paddock

The kennel tour also drew new entry of the human kind!

Paper and his breeder, Live Oak MFH Marty Wood, do the cha-cha.

The hounds and their visitors enjoyed perfect weather once the spring chill wore off by mid-morning.