Hard-working hounds

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

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

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.”

MFHA hunt staff seminar, part 3: The Old Guns

THE “old guns” that took to the stage at the recent Master of Fox Hounds Association’s biennial hunt staff seminar have seen a lot of hunting. The “young guns,” some of fox hunting’s rising stars among huntsmen, touched on everything from choosing whippers-in to engaging field members in the hound work. But the older huntsmen had a tighter thematic focus. Most talked about two of the most important developments North American hunting has seen since these men first picked up a hunting horn: the change in quarry from fox-only to predominantly coyote, and the loss of hunt country due to urban and suburban development.

The old guns’ panel was moderated by Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller, and panelists were Dr. Marvin Beeman (Arapahoe Hunt, Colorado), Marty Wood (Live Oak Hounds, Florida), Jody Murtagh (Moore County Hounds, North Carolina), and Mason Lampton (Midland Fox Hounds, Georgia).

One man on the panel, Marvin Beeman, was the odd man out, in that he hasn’t had to face a change in quarry or the kinds of development that have threatened other hunt countries.

In Arapahoe country, it’s always been about coyote chasing over the wide Western acreage. So Beeman was in a good position to talk about the coyote and its behavior on open plains, and his talk provided an interesting glimpse at hunting conditions we (relative) Easterners never have to contend with. Like hunting at 6,000 to 6,500 feet. In the high winds that whistle across the plains, Beeman estimates, about 90 percent of the time you’re hunting. Where “covert” is more likely to mean a slight dip in the land rather than 10 acres of woodland or scrub. Then there are the plains themselves: mostly flat, open land that provides little opportunity for sneaking up on any game, least of all the acutely sensitive coyote.

Photo of the Arapahoe Hunt by Kathy Tourney. To see more, click here!

Beeman pointed out that the Arapahoe often see their first coyote a half-mile away. That’s quite a challenge, especially considering that scent only lasts, on a good day, from three to six minutes, far less in the 40 to 50 m.p.h winds that can blow across Arapahoe territory.

“Seldom will you jump them,” Beeman said of Colorado’s  plains coyotes. “But sometimes, if the wind is just right, you might find one sitting under a yucca and you can get upwind and come up closer to them.”

In these conditions, Beeman picks his hounds up (they’re English, by the way) and takes them to the coyote line. “A lot of people say that’s not fair, they should work the line,” Beeman said. “Well, if you want to have sport, you can work the line all damn day if you want to, and it won’t be there when you get there if you don’t get them started.”

Whatever difficulties Colorado’s geography and climate throw at coyote hunters and their hounds, they do get one advantage in return: few roads and miles of open space. In a country Beeman estimates to be about 35 square miles, there are only two roads, and they’re seven miles apart. Some of the individual pastures in the Arapahoe country are 5,000 acres, so it’s hardly surprising that Beeman uses both radios and tracking collars for his hounds.

Beeman also expressed admiration for the coyote’s iron constitution. “It’s amazing how tough they are, and how far they can run,” he said. “It’s hard for us to stay hooked on one coyote, because of the conditions I’ve mentioned.”

It might surprise you to know Arapahoe hunts with English hounds, whom many American hound proponents believe are too slow for coyote-chasing. That’s a debate that once raged about fox-chasing, too, as you might recall from the English v. American debate that resulted in the Great Hound Match of 1905.

“A lot of you have asked me, ‘How do you hunt English hounds? They’re too slow!'” Beeman said. “Let me tell you, if they ever got any faster, we couldn’t find them!”

Marty Wood of the Live Oak hounds

Marty Wood of Live Oak remembers the changeover from red fox to coyote very clearly, and chasing the wiley coyote has left a mark on him.

“I have a love-hate relationship with coyotes,” Wood began. “I think they’re the greatest quarry a good pack of hounds could ever chase. They’re fast, they’re smart. At times they give off really good scent, and at times you think they’ve pulled an Indian rope trick on you. I love them for that reason. I hate them for the reason that I’m standing here and no longer riding a horse anymore because I’ve busted myself up pretty badly in the past 20 years chasing coyotes.”

The Live Oak hounds ran their first coyote back in 1984 or 1985.

“I’ll never forget it,” Wood said. “It was the day after a really hard thunderstorm, early in the morning. We got to the meet and unboxed the hounds. My kennel huntsman was on his horse looking down at the sand road, and he said, ‘You’ve got to come look at this. It’s the biggest damn red fox track I’ve ever seen.’ I didn’t have to go look at it, I trusted his judgment. We put the hounds on it. Let me tell you something: we crossed five plantations, taking gates off their hinges. We didn’t cut any wire, but we damn sure unstapled some. Daphne and another whipper-in finally caught up with the hounds. We were way, way, way far behind them. ”

One of the tip-offs that this was not a red fox, Wood said, was that this quarry, this coyote, ran roads through the woods and avoided the swampy brushland that dominates Live Oak country. “Obviously no fox was going to run like that, and no bobcat was going to run that way, and for damn sure no deer would,” he said. “He just took off and went and went and went. Finally, we picked the hounds up and hacked waaaaay back to the meet. And a few days later I had a call from a man. He and his wife had been sitting out back on their terrace having a drink in the evening, and this thing walked up into the yard, and he got a rifle and shot it. He took it into a taxidermist, and it was a coyote.”

Wood pointed out one of the classic maneuvers that coyotes will pull in an attempt to evade pursuing hounds: “For you future huntsmen, when you’re on a coyote and you’re putting pressure with a capital P on him, you’re going to see him going from covert to covert to covert. He’s looking for another coyote to throw you off. The biggest problem you’re going to have as a huntsman hunting your hounds is controlling the bombshell when he goes into one of those coverts and four others come out. The only way I know to do that is to trust your experienced hounds. They’re not going to want to change. If you can possibly figure out which one of those bombshells has the experienced hounds on it, pick it right away. But a huntsman must make an almost instantaneous decision as to which pack he’s going with, so that the whippers-in can stop the others.”

Between panel sessions, MFHA seminar attendees could shop for stock ties, MFHA merchandise, and hunt-themed accessories.

Wood also noted that he likes to hunt large packs of 25 to 30 couple. “I think that helps you find the quarry better,” he explained, “because they spread out. When one opens up, they hark to that like filings to a magnet.”

Moore County huntsman Jody Murtagh knows what it’s like to hunt free-running coyotes in a small territory. Moore County’s country, he said, is about 5,000 acres in total, with the largest portion being 3,000 acres. Murtagh hunts a pack of Penn Marydels, another breed often reckoned to be slow, though Murtagh says, “They’re not, especially on coyote.”

“A few people think they’re slow and run heel or dwell,” Murtagh said. “But, believe me, folks, the people in Moore County wish they did all those things. When we started running coyote, at the end of the run there were about five or six people left out of 60 or 80. It just blew them away.”

Not a coyote.

Luckily for Murtagh, not all of the coyotes in his country leave it. The resident coyotes tend to stay in his country. By contrast, coyotes that come into the country from nearby Fort Bragg, which covers about 60,000 acres, are the ones that tend to run back across the road to their home territory.

Murtagh said that he does occasionally have a good run on a gray fox, something he tries to take advantage of, because the gray foxes provide great sport for his field on a limited territory.

“The coyotes will basically stay in the territory, and we’re running for about a hour to an hour and a half, which is about the most anyone can stand, and then we basically stop the hounds. The problem we have is that the territory is so small, and the boundaries are so significant, and the coyotes love to run across the road into Fort Bragg. So the whips have to be right on the number. When they see them going for the road, the whips have to be at the road first. That happens in seconds. You have to make that decision in seconds. It makes things very, very difficult.”

In closing, Murtagh related a story about hound breeding. Some years ago, he talked to Ben Hardaway, the Master of Midland so famous for his hound breeding program. “He said, ‘You oughta pick up those Penn Marydels and give ’em some pizzazz,'” Murtagh recalled. “Well, Mr. Pizzazz, I wish I hadn’t of listened, because we gave ’em pizzazz and we can’t stay with them most of the time! What I think I should do now with my breeding program is breed for bad feet, long ears, out at the hock, and a straight hind leg. Maybe I’ll be able to stay with them!”

Hardaway’s son-in-law, Mason Lampton, is carrying on the tradition at Midland. He started hunting and field-trialing hounds in Kentucky with his grandfather, Mason Houghland, well before moving to Georgia. His hunt career, too, has spanned the arrival of the coyote–a development Lampton called  “a very exciting change.”

“It’s been a whole different kettle of fish,” he said.

Lampton, like Wood, agreed that a coyote “is the only thing that will run a road.”

“The Fitzpatrick part of our country is about 15 miles by six miles, on average,” he explained. “You’d think that’s a nice size country. But in February we hit this coyote, and he pushed out two does and a buck. We had a few hounds speaking pretty hard on it, but the majority of the pack weren’t speaking. Finally the does and buck peel off, and, boom, we were away. One fellow had GPS on, and we went 10 miles in about 45 minutes. It was just a screaming run. It was amazing. But then the son of a gun went out of the country. Well, we stopped the hounds, and the horses were all spraddle-legged, so we came back. Everything was pretty well cooked.”

Lampton said he drew the same spot the next two hunts, trying to get up the same coyote, and, when he did, the hunt went exactly the same, with his staff having to stop hounds at the same edge of their country.

“These coyotes, when they find a spot where you’ll stop your hounds, they’re gonna go every time to that spot,” he said.

Lampton called a coyote run a “mail train,” a description anyone who has ridden on one of these blistering chases will agree with. To chase coyotes, Lampton said he likes to cast his hounds wide “at a big distnace, almost a quarter-mile,” he said. “I like them spread out, not all balled up.”

trial-9.jpg (21288 bytes)

The Midland Fox Hounds

In fact, the days of hunting a close-bunched pack might well be over anywhere coyotes have become the main quarry.

“I think the coyote is very tough on the English ‘throw a blanket over them’ style,” he added. “When you’re on an hour-and-a-half run on a coyote, it’s a whole different kettle of fish. You’re hunting something different.”

“Your horse has got to be fit, you’ve got to get that Advil out,” he added. “The hounds are bounding around, you go and hit that covert and the first hound speaks and the pack breaks away, and they start screaming. They blow gone away and you’re galloping that Thoroughbred horse as fast as you can across that beautiful country, you’re in a rush, things are good! An hour and a half later, you’re red-faced, you can’t blow the horn. … That’s coyote-hunting for me. When it goes right, it’s about as exciting as anything I’ve ever done. How often it goes right? I’m not going there.”

Next time: Dr. Stanley Gehrt on the life of the urban coyote!

The Great Hound Match of 1905-Part 2

Many thanks to the National Sporting Library for access to its archives and for use of the photos. Among the original documents there are hunting diaries kept by both Henry Higginson and Harry Worcester Smith.

THE competing hounds, the Middlesex Hunt’s English hounds and the Grafton Hunt’s American hounds, took a break on Sunday, Nov. 5, 1905. The “score” was essentially even, with no clear winner in the book yet. But word was out: the Great Hound Match of 1905 was providing some of the best sport American foxhunting had ever seen. On the Sunday that the two packs rested, intrepid hunters from nearby Warrenton and Clark County, Virginia, arrived en masse with plans to join the fun when the Middlesex hounds resumed the competition on Monday in what was now becoming known as “the Market Harborough of America,” according to one reporter, a reference to the heart of England’s famed Leicestershire hunting country.

“The farmers and landowners have received the hunting contingent royally,” the same paper noted. “Not only have they willingly offered their fields for hunting, but have done all in their power to further good sport. The Piedmont Hunt has done all in its power to protect the farmers, repair the damage done to wire by cutting and keeping an actual record of all injuries received by the farmers on account of riding over their lands. … In this way a fine hunting feeling is spreading through Piedmont valley, and there can be no doubt that very shortly this country will be the Mecca to which all fox hunters will turn for sport.”

Participants in the Great Hound Match meets were provided with invitations and badges for each meet

Monday dawned overcast with scenting judged good for the meet at MIddleburg. MFH Henry Higginson’s Middlesex pack, hunted by the hunt’s English professional huntsman Robert Cotesworth jumped a fox in their very first covert just 10 minutes into the hunt, “And hounds were in full cry at 7:35,” the judges’ report informs.

There were two checks in the run, one for three minutes among cattle at 7:50 and a second for two minutes at 8:15, before the pack ran the fox to ground–the first time in the match that a fox was accounted for. Judge H. L. Movius called it “a fine run” and considered that “the hounds ran very well, although they did not show very much speed.”

The other two judges, Dr. Charles McEachran and James K. Maddux, were more effusive. McEachran said: “Today’s hunting was in my opinion the best shown to-date. From the time the fox was found with exception of two checks, one of three minutes, the other of two minutes, they held to th eline splendidly. They ran their fox to ground, and every hound in the pack hunted, was up at the earth. From the time the fox was found until he was run to ground, the field had 57 minutes of as good a run as anyone could wish.”

“The work of the Middlesex hounds far surpassed what I had expected to see English hounds do here,” Maddux reported. But he ended with a speculative note of doubt, adding, “But while they hunted admirably and gave splendid sport, I do not think they ran fast enough to kill in this country.”

Accounts of the Middlesex run were printed in the London Daily News, New York Herald, and Boston Herald–an indication of how widely the Great Hound Match was, by this point, being followed.

On Tuesday, day 7, MFH Harry Worcester Smith’s Grafton hounds took the field again. Smith hunted his hounds himself, as was his custom, and he did it with a broken foot. In fact, both competing Masters were riding with cracked bones: Higginson had broken two ribs early in the match.

Following the English hounds’ high standard the previous day, Smith now had his work cut out for him, as the Boston Herald pointed out.

“When the Grafton pack started this morning it was up to do something to even up yesterday’s splendid performance of the Middlesex hounds,” the paper reported.

Smith’s morning started off badly. Early morning winds, a frostless night, and only a light dew didn’t bode especially well for scenting, and for a while Smith’s American hounds trailed down Goose Creek “and did nothing,” the Herald said. “Up to nine o’clock it looked very much as if the Grafton pack was to draw another blank. This difficult situation persisted for another hour and a half, and the Grafton supporters’ hearts sank. Then suddenly: a fox.

Two hounds discovered Reynard, who bolted up a hill as the rest of the pack harked to the two that found him. He ran about 200 yards ahead of the pack, which appeared, some said, to be running him almost on sight.

“The first part of the day when hounds galloped away without drawing or running a fox was a sorry exhibition, but after the fox was jumped hounds ran remarkably fast,” Movius, a judge, said.

MFH Harry Worcester Smith hunted the Grafton's match pack, six couple of American hounds

The fox carried them across a road, around a two-mile loop, then back across the road. “By this time,” our Herald reporter continued, “the fox had gained enough distance to allow him a minute in which to lay a Chinese cryptogram for the pack on a dry field just north of the pike.”

This resulted in a check, and another judge, Maddux, took matters into his own hands. Movius, summarizing the first part of the run, said, “I was kept out of the first part of the run by the creek, but found hounds at the first check at 10:10, here hounds were helped by Mr. Maddux (having viewed the fox), who, as one of the judges, should not have handled them. From here hounds worked on a cold trail for 50 minutes (about one mile) when the fox was again viewed and hound were put on the hot trail by Mr. Smith.”

That was the last the field saw of them.

In the end, the hounds lost their fox, though, the judges having been distanced, no one could say for certain exactly when or where. McEachran described the straggling end to the day as hounds, recovered by Smith after  a disappearance of an hour and a half, were continuing to try to find their fox.

“When I picked up the pack again there was nothing doing but running stale lines,” McEachran wrote.

The Middlesex returned to battle for day 7 but were quickly hampered by high winds that, in the opinion of the judges, completely undid scent after about 45 minutes. Hounds found their fox 12 minutes into the hunt, and “we had several good bursts, and hounds showed splendid work and manners,” McEachran reported. They pursued the fox to a ruined house, where landowners told Middlesex huntsman Cotesworth that foxes often went to ground.

The Middlesex hounds convinced some skeptics that English hounds are fast enough to account for the speedy American red fox

“Hounds spoke until within fifty yards of the old house,” McEachran wrote. “To-day’s sport I consider first class. All hounds up at finish.”

Even Maddux, the judge originally nominated by Smith and one who earlier in the week had been skeptical that the Middlesex hounds were fast enough to catch a red fox in Virginia, had changed his mind based on their latest performance. “The Middlesex hounds to-day ran their fox brilliantly for twenty minutes, the pace was very hot, quite good enough to enable them to kill,” he wrote in his report. “Up to this time I did not believe English hounds capable of running fast enough to kill in this country. However, I now think if they can keep on going as fast as the first twenty minutes, they have as good a chance to kill as the American pack.”

On day 8, high winds came with the sunrise, and Grafton suffered a calamitous lack of scent.

“The best that Grafton hounds could do after trailing an hour and a half was to furnish a nine-minute burst that filled the field with the hope that in spite of adverse circumstances a kill would be recorded,” the Boston Herald said.

The windy weather wasn’t the only unlucky circumstance to trip up the American hounds, as the Herald reported: “When the American pack had the fox up and going they were crossed by the Orange County Hunt of New York, which is wintering at The Plains, some 14 miles distant from Upperville. Mr. John R. Townsend and Mr. Robert Gerry of New York, who were with the Orange County hounds, called off hounds and coupled them, but after the interruption Mr. Smith’s hounds were unable to find again in that locality.”

The American hounds, like this Walker hound shown with Iroquois Hunt founder Col. Roger D. Williams, had a racy build that served their fantastic speed in pursuit of fox. But early on even their supporters worried that the hounds might be too independent for classic pack work.

Smith was allowed to hunt “from sunrise to sunset” under the rules, and he pretty well did that on day 8 in search of better luck, leading the field across an estimated total of 60 miles. The field included Smith’s old friend Burrell Frank Bywaters, who followed the action–what there was of it–in his buggy on the roads. To add insult to injury, after Smith’s trying afternoon, Bywaters fell in with a local pack of hunters on his way back to his lodgings–and those hunters saw their hounds run a fox to ground.

Smith’s pack finally found a fox at 4:07 p.m. Led by his standout hound Sinner, a Bywater dog, Smith’s American hounds ran for 18 minutes and put the fox to ground.

But it was a lackluster day, as Movius described: “Hounds showed good speed in the last burst. Hounds worked indifferently at times.” Still, a new judge, Hunter Dulany, scored them as working “remarkably well.”

On day 9, the English Middlesex hounds returned to the field in frosty conditions that had put a fragile layer of ice on smaller streams. Scenting nonetheless was judged “fair” to “poor” by the judges, and hounds drew seven coverts without success. But then they went away “giving good music”,” according to a press report, burst into full cry while closely pursuing a fox. The fox went to ground in an open field, and “the pack swarmed around the entrance within a minute,” the report said.

This time, it was Higginson’s pack who got the dreaded review of “worked indifferently at times” from Movius; the failure to find at early coverts had counted against them.

When the Middlesex hounds returned to their kennels approaching sunset, they had run foxes during their outings for a total of four hours and 58 minutes; the Grafton’s American pack had run foxes for six hours and 32 minutes. With only three days left in the match, the judges were facing the very real possibility that neither pack actually would catch a fox to win. If they didn’t, then it would be up to the judges to award the cup (and the $2,000 stake) to the pack showing the greatest ability to manage a kill–even if they hadn’t.

The Middlesex Hunt's English hounds were a heavier type than the American hounds and had substantial bone. Hound match judges were surprised by their speed and good cry.

In the meantime, Middlesex Master Henry Higginson was grounded by a bizarre incident in which a landowner, Amson Payne, had arrested Higginson for trespassing on his land. Payne threatened, in fact, to arrest the entire hunt in an incident that the Piedmont Mastership understandably found embarrassing. But until the issued could be settled, Higginson stayed out of the saddle in order to make his appointment with the local magistrate. Payne, at the hearing, admitted his land hadn’t been damaged when Higginson accidentally crossed it but said he would sue all of the riders behind Higginson in the field, a process that would have tied them up in court for some days, unless the  Middlesex Master agreed to pay him $100. Higginson made a compromise and paid the man $50.

While Higginson was detained at the magistrate’s, Smith was enjoying a run with his hounds. They got up one fox, but soon afterwards two more sprang up, briefly distracting hounds before they followed one toward Leesburg. “All of a sudden, the hounds ceased giving tongue and the field, which had a generous run across country, was left in doubt as to what had happened,” one newspaper reported. “The hounds either lost or denned the fox in this vicinity and an investigation was being made this afternoon.”

Henry Higginson

Smith himself lost his hounds, but the judges generally remained impressed with the pack’s speed and initiative.

The Middlesex hounds’ final day in competition proved a sad and frustrating one. Just minutes after the moved off from the meet, “as the hounds turned off the road into the open field on the way to the covert, a red fox that trotted out of the Bald Hill woods was headed directly towards the hungry-mouthed pack,” the Richmond Transcript reported. “The hounds did not scent or see him at first. Cotesworth saw him before the hounds, and hied on the pack full cry and running on sight from the very first.”

The fox paused for a critical moment, then made a fast dash, but the hounds were already too close.

The hunters, including Higginson, were deeply unhappy with the circumstances of the match’s first kill and strongly suspected that someone had dropped a “bagged” fox in the covert. The hunt continued after this dispiriting start, and Higginson’s English hounds ran another fox to ground. Higginson called for an immediate investigation of the killed fox, and the judges, on taking testimony, unraveled a sad tale. A man named Hall had bought a fox for $4.50 the day before and then, Hall said, the fox had escaped from him in the vicinity of the covert. The kill, regretted by everyone, was disallowed as any evidence of anything other than terrible circumstance.

The Grafton met on the final day, with good scenting in their favor. The pack quickly got up one fox, then another, and split, with two couple running the first and four couple running the second. “I went as fast as I could gallop to Steptoe Hill, when I got there I found the entire pack giving beautiful music. Three foxes broke away in different directions. the pack took up one line, stuck to it. … The run was fast and notwithstanding the cold weather, the hounds held to the line and threw their tongue each.”

Joseph B. Thomas, who became an authority on foxhunting, was among those who was inspired to set up kennels in the Middleburg area after the Great Hound Match of 1905

Movius differed with McEachran in assessing the scent, calling it “poor” to McEachran’s “good,” but he, too, was impressed by the American pack. “Hounds followed line very well considering the unfavorable conditions,” he said.

The match concluded at about 10:15 a.m. when Harry Worcester Smith’s hounds lost their fox.

Does it sound like a draw to you? It does to me. Which is why I was surprised to read the judge’s one-sentence decision: “We award the Match and the stake together with the Townsend Cup to the Grafton Hounds, they, in our opinion, having done the best work with the object of killing the fox in view.”

Harry Worcester Smith took the win as a complete vindication of his view that the American hound was the best animal for hunting the red fox in America. But even the editors of The Rider and Driver, where the whole match challenge had started almost a year earlier, were more tempered in their view: “As may be noted by the account elsewhere the English hounds were no doubt working under some serious handicaps. There was no little native fervor exhibited on behalf of the American hound, at least that seems to be indicated by the fact that on two occasions the American hounds were lifted by judges and laid on the line of scent. These incidents, however, were not permitted to weigh with the judges in reaching their decisions.”

It should be noted that the English hounds faced quite a few obstacles. Higginson did not prepare them as strenuously for the match as Smith did his hounds, for one thing. And, unlike the Grafton pack, the Middlesex hounds had arrived not too long before from England and had no experience of hunting in Virginia, which Smith had afforded his hounds in their time hunting with Bywaters.

Higginson wrote that he was “perfectly satisfied with the work of my hounds,” adding “Messrs. Movius, Maddux and McEachran gave the decision to the Grafton, and it would be most discourteous to them for me to make any statements as to how their decision agreed with anything I may or may not think.”

A reward for a job well done, by all the hounds!

Needless to say, the debate over English versus American hounds continued long after the Great Hound Match of 1905. It still continues, even as fox-catching has given way to fox-chasing as a goal of the hunt, and as development and the coyote’s new predominance as game in many territories have prompted packs to reassess their hound programs.

So what, if anything, did the Great Hound Match of 1905 accomplish? Several things. It raised Virginia’s profile as the nation’s most fashionable place to hunt and helped the sport to grow here; among the people drawn to the Middleburg area by the hound match was Joseph B. Thomas, who built a state-of-the-art kennel at Huntland here and went on to write the wonderful book Hounds and Hunting through the Ages.

More importantly, from working foxhounds’ point of view, the match showcased the talents of both types. The match proved that English hounds could, in fact, provide brilliant sport and beautiful music, and that they were fast enough to press and catch foxes in America as they had for centuries in English grasslands and woodlands. The match also proved that American hounds’ independence could be managed through thoughtful training and that their sizzling speed, even though it outpaced a field of followers, was indeed more than enough to account for American red foxes. In short, the match proved the worthy qualities of both hounds.

Today, the emphasis on catching red foxes has faded in America. Unlike in England, where sheep farming is still common, foxes are rarely a problem to farmers here. But hound lovers and foxhunters undoubtedly will continue to argue, as they always have, the merits of one kind of hound against another for providing good sport.

Puppy Love

Driver is one of the new English puppies born this year at Iroquois

Driver is one of the new English puppies born this year at Iroquois

Springtime means puppies at the foxhound kennels.  We’ve got 10 puppies at Iroquois this year. The biggest by far is Driver, who is king of the kennel–or at least of the puppy pen! He’s out of Dragonfly, while the other nine pups are out of Baffle; both bitches are English, as are the puppies’ sires. Dragonfly hails from the North Cotswold, and her puppies are by the Duke of Beaufort’s Gaddesby ’07. Baffle is from the Cottesmore, and her puppies are by Cottesmore Stampede ’06.

It’s not clear quite yet which puppies will turn out to be “woollies,” with the distinctive wiry coats, but one thing is already obvious: they’re all awfully cute.

Puppies in the kennel July 2009

In hound breeding, a litter of puppies always get names beginning with the first two letters of their mother’s name. That’s how Dragonfly’s son got to be named Driver. Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller already has a list of BA names for Baffle’s puppies, but he and the kennel staff haven’t assigned all of the names yet as they wait to see which name suits which hound. A few already are settled. Bangle is a female with a light buff-colored heart shape on one shoulder. Bashful, another female, is the smallest hound in the litter and got her name partly because she likes to do her, er, business in private, as far away from the other puppies as she can get.  Two males, Banknote and Bagshot, have some black on them and the names just seemed to suit their striking looks. And a third male, Barwick, got his aristocratic-sounding moniker because he seems so unflappable and stiff-upper-lip-ish.

These puppies probably will be entered — joining the hunting pack — in the fall of 2010. Eventually, at the end of their careers with the pack, they all will be retired at the kennel under the care of the Hound Welfare Fund.


The unflappable Barwick in a typical pose

The unflappable Barwick in a typical pose

Puppies are both delightful and devilish, as Driver recently reminded a person at the kennel who, understandably expecting a lick, lowered his nose to Driver’s–and raised it again with Driver attached like a small alligator! As Cuthbert Bradley wrote in 1914, “In the character and disposition of foxhound puppies and boys — and we speak from experience, having walked a couple at a time of each species — there is a striking similarity which prompted the great writer Foster to say, ‘I never saw so much essence of devil put in so small a space.’

“Like all gigantically sinful people, the foxhound puppy wears an easy air of perpetual and exaggerated innocence that tends to put the unwary off their guard.”

But we should quickly point out that Bradley also noted: “It is a well-known fact that the most mischievous puppies and boys grow up to become the most useful in after life, for it is the active brain that prompts mischief, and when this has been developed and disciplined it stands for good work later on.”

This means you, Driver!