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!

He’s Mr. Foxhound now!

Paper on hound walk this summer. Dave Traxler photo.

REMEMBER Playper? The tri-colored Class Clown? The puppy who liked to unearth and carry random objects around in the hunt field? Well, treasure those memories, because Paper ain’t a boy anymore. He’s the man.

The last time we got out with the hounds was on Sunday, Jan. 30, a day that was notable because the sun came out. Which it hasn’t done for a long while. We were all delighted to be out in relatively warm temperatures and with the sun on our backs, and we didn’t expect the day also would mark a milestone for our young friend Paper. We’ve been following his development since he first started going out on hound walk back in the summer of 2009, and it’s probably worth a brief recap.

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason and the hounds leaving the meet at Foxtrot on Jan. 30, 2011. Photo courtesy of Peggy Maness, who rode in the hound truck with us.

Paper came to Iroquois from the Live Oak hounds in Florida. He arrived in Kentucky still a puppy, and he exhibited a silly streak very early. He got his name, in fact, while he and Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller were making the 10-hour drive from Kentucky to Florida. Jerry had put Paper in a large traveling crate with an absorbent paper pad on the bottom of it, and Paper found that pad rather a lot of fun. He started shredding it not long after Jerry left the Live Oak kennel, and he didn’t stop until they rolled into Lexington. As the young pup kept himself busy with this, the bits of paper piled up in his crate until, finally, when Jerry looked in his rear-view mirror to check on him, the hound had disappeared completely in the mound of ripped paper he had created.  Hence Paper.

Paper has become a favorite at Iroquois because of his various antics on hound walk and out hunting. But, it must be said, this year he has graduated into quite a serious member of the working pack. And, last Sunday, he led the pack on a coyote run, showing the ability we always knew he had in him.

The field and the hounds at the meet. Peggy Maness photo.

Last Sunday afternoon was a remarkably warm, breezy day after a long frigid spell. The ground was frozen cold, but the air above it was warm, and what scent there might have been stirred and dispersed in a strong breeze. The sun, while nice to feel after its long time away, also didn’t help the scent to linger for hounds’ noses to find. The hounds’ body language signaled to huntsman Lilla Mason early on that scenting conditions were very poor. It was, Lilla said, as if they were telling her, “We’ve got our noses on, but they’re not picking up much that’s interesting.”

The scenting conditions might have been less than ideal, but the pack was as good as they could be. Bringing them back to the hunt field after a long absence due to the long stretch of “unhuntable” weather was like putting on a comfortable old shoe, as Lilla described it. The hounds were as responsive as ever and settled quickly to their task. “It was like we’d never left,” Lilla said.

Lilla Mason on Sackett at the meet. Photo by Peggy Maness.

The hounds started winding something in the field near Grundy’s barn. They started feathering–but then couldn’t quite make out the line, another hint that scenting was difficult on a day when the earth was cold and the air relatively warm. The hounds tried, feathered, and even sometimes spoke, but the line proved elusive. They kept casting themselves to the south, feathering enthusiastically. They were clearly trailing up to something but couldn’t quite get consistent enough scent to strike off. When joint-Master Jack van Nagell tally-hoed a coyote heading into Pauline’s Ridge, Lilla harked the hounds to that line less than a minute behind the quarry. The hounds feathered, desperately working what little of the line there was–but it was not enough to send them into full cry. That told her how difficult scenting was going to be, and, if she needed any more evidence, Lilla got proof positive that scent was not the hounds’ friend that day when a curious thing happened on top of a cliff.

“I could see a coyote in the grass, that black coyote,” Lilla said. “It was quite a way off, and it was just standing there in tall grass. I’d already harked hounds to the line once with my voice, and they didn’t pick up scent, so I couldn’t do that again, because it’s like I’m lying to them. I couldn’t risk that again.”

Paper has taken the leap from playful puppy to serious working pack hound. Photo by Dave Traxler.

“It’s terribly frustrating, as a huntsman,” Lilla added. “You’re sitting there staring at a coyote. I could get the hounds into the high grass, and I could see the coyote in there. He was lower than the grass, and through the wisps of grass I could see him moving back and forth in front of the hounds. And they couldn’t smell it. And he knew they couldn’t smell him. They were feathering, but they couldn’t quite pick up the line.”

Flash back to summer hound walk: “When you watch the hounds on summer hound walk, you realize how much depends on their noses,” Lilla said. “That’s true of almost any dog. If I throw a red biscuit two feet in front of me, and they see me throw it, they don’t look for a red biscuit in grass–they smell for it where they think it landed.  It’s hard for humans to understand how much hounds depend on their noses. Their noses are so much more sensitive than ours, whereas we depend on our eyes.”

Iroquois joint-Master Jack van Nagell gave a tally-ho when a coyote headed into Pauline's Ridge. Peggy Maness photo.

You can also see this difference–hounds’ reliance on their noses rather than their eyes–when Michael Edwards and Alan Foy scatter biscuits in the grass before unloading the hounds at a meet. When the hounds rush out of the trailer to hunt for the biscuits, they don’t look for the for red and yellow dog biscuits. They come out of the trailer with their noses down to smell for them.

“So even though we can see a coyote, they’re using their noses to smell for it,” Lilla continued. “The problem is, you don’t know how many coyotes are there, either. If I rely on my eyes to tell the hounds what to do, I’m committing an error. With a pack like ours, hounds that don’t switch coyotes, you have to let them establish their own line.

Lilla and the hounds at Foxtrot. Dave Traxler photo.

“When you know it’s a bad scenting day, and you know there are multiple coyotes, you sort of have to wait to let the hounds pick up one of them. You can’t assume which one it will be until they tell you. They might be working hard, about to pick up a line, and if you lift them and cast them and put them on another line, well, that’s no good. You want to teach them to work it out for themselves.”

A four-hound group did just that, finally speaking on the line of a reddish coyote that had headed out the east end of Pauline’s Ridge. Paper, Sassoon, Battle and Bagshot took off on the line they’d found, but the hounds had cast themselves widely, a necessary tactic on a bad scenting day when you’re hunting coyote. As Paper and his three companions raced on close behind the coyote, they distanced their packmates. The other hounds behind them caught onto the same line, but when they reached the sunny open ground after Paper’s group, the main body of the pack had trouble holding on to scent as it dwindled rapidly in the warmer air. As Paper, Sassoon, Battle, and Bagshot hurtled toward the western boundary of the hunt country–and a busy road where horses could not follow–their packmates were left puzzling over a line that, to their noses, was nearly invisible. When they made a lose, Lilla opted not to cast them forward and risk having them run toward the road, too.

Road whips Michael Edwards (foreground) and Alan Foy picked up two of Paper's compatriots: Sassoon and first-season hound Battle at the Jan. 30 hunt. Road whips are essential! Dave Traxler photo.

“I also knew there were coyotes back in Pauline’s Ridge,” Lilla said, “so it wasn’t too egregious for me, as the hounds came out of the ridge, to send them back in again and let Michael and Alan get those two couple back.”

It turns out that Paper and Bagshot, spotted by whipper-in Elizabeth Playforth, came back on their own, and Alan and Michael quickly picked up Sassoon and Battle.

The moment when Paper struck off and led his group on a coyote, and in far from perfect scenting conditions, didn’t last long. But it was an important indication that the Class Clown is becoming a serious student, and is even on his way to being a potential pack leader. Not for him the tempting aluminum can or old cow bone. Not anymore.

No more decoys for Paper: he's the real deal! Eloise Penn photo.

“He’s Mr. Foxhound now,” Lilla said. “No puppy left in him. He’s running with the big boys. He’s just changed, hasn’t he? He’s no longer goofy.”

As Paper and Bagshot filtered their way back to Lilla, their colleagues in the pack, meanwhile, had struck off again in the east part of Pauline’s Ridge. “That helped bring everyone back together,” Lilla said. But when hounds went quiet soon afterwards, the pack, working their noses hard the whole time, scattered out again, trying to find scent anywhere they could. As hounds worked silently, snuffling through the grass, woods, and cliff, Lilla headed back up to the ridge and blew her horn. She soon collected 10 or 11 couple and headed west with them, intending to draw the covert at Pauline’s house.

The field got a nice view at Foxtrot on Jan. 30. And welcome back, Brownell! Peggy Maness photo.

Just then, another tally-ho, this time from field secretary Betsy van Nagell, who spotted–guess who! The black coyote, of tall grass fame, emerging from his weedy haven.

“He looked over his shoulder just like he was saying, ‘Hi!'” Lilla said. “And he just trotted away down the hill. I immediately took the hounds over there and put them on the line. And they couldn’t do anything with it.”

I’m not sure who ticked off the Scent Gods that day, but someone did, and the black coyote knew it.

“He was moving so slowly,” Lilla said. “He knew we could see him in the grass, and he knew we were going to see him when came out of the grass and went down the field. He trotted right by the field. He always goes that way: he comes out of the top of the ridge and goes south like that. Sometimes he’s a lot of fun, but this time he knew there was no scent and wasn’t bothering to move very quickly, just trotting a long and not giving off a lot of scent from his pads. At least the field had a nice view.

Because, really, you can't have too many pictures of Paper. Lilla Mason took this one on a 2009 hound walk.

“To an uneducated eye, they’d probably wonder, ‘What is wrong with those hounds?’ But those kinds of days really teach you how much they hunt by scent.They hunt by scent, not by sight. They can hunt a little bit by sight, but scent really is the key.”

Missing just one and a half couple, Lilla took the pack into Pauline’s Scrub, a good covert for game and also near where Lilla suspected the three absent hounds would be. Hounds spoke in the fenceline between Pauline’s Scrub and the Deer Covert, a good, strong cry on to the Deer Covert. Spirits lifted–but the burst was short-lived.

Whipper-in Hannah Emig on Comet at the Jan. 30 Foxtrot meet. Peggy Maness photo.

“They went to the Swamp Covert, to the Deer Covert, then went quiet for a minute before picking it up again,” Lilla said. “They ran across the field by Salt’s Barn, then turned sharply west out in the open into the Silo Pond Covert, right where we started. They made a lose there. The line was very, very strong going into the Silo Pond Covert, but once they got in there, they hardly even feathered. They tried really hard: they had their noses down, they were frantically looking around. If it hadn’t been so close to sunset, I would have tried to cast a little to the south, but I think they had done as much as they could with it.”

Having battled the Gods of Scent all afternoon, Lilla called it a day. From a hunting standpoint, the day was understandably frustrating for huntsman and hounds alike. But there were at least two important saving graces: the mere fact of being out again, galloping a horse alongside hounds over the countryside, and Paper’s brief, shining moment, leading the pack on a line.

Hound of the Day: Dragonfly

WEDNESDAY dawned chilly, with the season’s first light frost and thin fog here and there. A perfect morning to start the houndbloggers’ hunting season! We missed the first hunt of the informal cubhunting season on Oct. 2 in order to attend the World Equestrian Games, and we were glad to be back out again in the hound truck with Michael Edwards, the Iroquois kennel manager and a road whip for the hunt.

Huntsman Lilla Mason, on the bay horse, and joint-Master Jerry Miller discuss the morning's strategy with the whippers-in at Wednesday's meet. Iroquois joint-Master Dr. Jack van Nagell is visible to the left and behind Lilla, mounted on a gray horse.

The fog gave way to golden sunlight as hounds met at Foxtrot. Wednesday’s pack marked the debut of several of the year-old puppies, including Driver (whose mother, Dragonfly also hunted Wednesday and is our hound of the day!). Lilla opted to introduce the 10 puppies in small groups rather than all at once, and Driver had been angry not to be chosen in the first group of three that went out on Oct. 2. According to Lilla and Michael, he threw a bit of a tantrum over being left behind, flinging himself against his kennel gate and howling his disappointment.

Dragonfly's son Driver, second from right, was glad to make his debut.

So Wednesday was a day of great excitement for Driver and Bangle, also hunting for her first time, as well as for the houndbloggers. We feel as if we’ve been too long away from the hounds, and it was good to see them again.

It was also a day of lessons for Driver and the BA litter puppies who are brand-new to the chase.

If anticipation has a sound, this is it. These are the hounds waiting to get off their hound trailer at the meet. As Michael prepared to unload them, they followed his every move. This video also includes some distant footage of a coyote we spotted mousing in the afternoon after scent had all but burned away.

Speaking of the heat, it’s worth noting the scent conditions. After a very wet spring, we have had drought conditions for the last half of the summer. If you’ve been watching the World Equestrian Games, you can see the frizzled, brown grass around and get some idea of the Sahara conditions after a rainless nine weeks in the Bluegrass country!

The wet early spring produced thick, scrubby coverts, but the drought and temperatures heading back into the 80s (is it really October?) mean there’s almost no scent to speak of.

Last year, curiously, we had much the same weather pattern, and when cubhunting season rolled around, it seemed as if there were no game at all. In retrospect, here’s what we think happened: in the hot, dry autumn weather, coyotes figured out that, under such poor scenting conditions, they could lie low in the thick coverts. Instead of running out in the open across the fields, they could simply creep from covert to covert with less fear than usual of raising a strong scent for hounds to pick up.

“Early in the season, what you really want is for the hounds to stay in the covert that you’re drawing until you move on to the next covert,” Lilla explained. “Otherwise, puppies will get left behind or hounds will get into another covert and possibly get on a run before puppies even have time to honor the cry.”

To help keeps hounds in covert, Lilla asks the whippers-in to surround the covert. That way, when a hound–particularly a puppy–pops out of the covert and sees a whipper-in, it’s more likely to return to or stay near the covert rather than independently move off to the next one. The whippers-in stationed around the covert also serve as extra sets of eyes on the huntsman’s behalf.

A stirrup cup always adds a little cheer!

“I had two and a half couple of puppies out,” Lilla said. “That’s not that many, but when you try to put them in corn for the first time, it’s not very inviting to them. You have to rely on the older hounds to convince the puppies. So I stood there for a while. I had two first-time puppies, Driver and Bangle, with me. They stuck their noses in the corn, but there were thorns and things, and at first they decided, ‘No, I don’t think so,’ and they stayed with me. But then the older hounds started speaking, and suddenly they wanted to go in the corn. That was great. The older hounds’ voices draw the puppies into the corn, and then they want to stay in there, because they get excited about the fun going on there.

“Corn is a good way to teach puppies to draw a covert, but in some corn fields there can be weeds and thorns and things in there, too. But they get in there, and they follow the other hounds and hear the other hounds. It can make for good training.”

Backfire: keen as mustard

Hounds spoke in the corn, and the coyote ran around and around, and then joint-Master Jerry Miller spotted six couple of hounds running the line into the Cabin Covert.

“So I moved the rest of them into the Cabin Covert,” Lilla said. “They spoke there, and then a coyote was viewed away from the east end of the Cabin Covert.”

In the rising heat and dry conditions, the scent did not stick around for long, and the hounds cast themselves back into the corn in some beautiful hound work. They screamed off again in the corn, but lost once again. They cast themselves north and east toward the Silo Pond Covert, but with no success this time.

At this time of year and in these dry conditions, and given what the coyotes are doing–lying low in the thickest scrub–it’s more advantages out to cast those areas, because that’s where game is. So Lilla headed south with the pack toward one of the thickest, biggest, most inviting coverts in the area: Murphy’s Covert. Her plan: cast the hounds there in hopes of recovering the line.

All muscle: Dragonfly training at home before placing second in her class at the Virginia Hound Show this summer.

The grass on the way to Murphy’s Covert was tall, obscuring her view, and as she rode on, Jerry radioed again with a crucial piece of information: Dragonfly, with a few older hounds not far away from her, was behind Lilla and feathering madly–a sign that she had picked up scent. Dragonfly and these hounds, it appeared, had made a U-turn in the high grass and were working back north toward the Cabin Covert again, while Lilla, with the young hounds, was heading south.

No sooner had Jerry told this than Lilla heard a wonderful sound: Dragonfly’s voice, behind her.

“She opened up,” Lilla said. “Everybody immediately honored her, and I thought, ‘Well, I can count on that,’ and I encouraged the hounds with me to join her.”

Banker, recently arrived from the North Cotswold in England, got his first experience of the Kentucky countryside at the Foxtrot meet.

Lilla’s decision to count on Dragonfly proved wise. Dragonfly, an import last year from the North Cotswold in England, knew what she was doing. Lilla put her faith with this hound who had hunted only fox in England and smelled her first coyote just last year.

“Dragonfly was just screaming, and off they went again,” Lilla said. “You know, coyotes will do that. They’ll get behind you a lot. And Dragonfly was smart. I think she’ll really beginning to figure out coyotes. She turned around and went back, toward the direction we’d already come from, and a lot of the older hounds were with her. Most of the hounds that were with me that I was taking to Murphy’s Covert were younger, and that made me think I should go back to see. And, yes, she was right.

“That’s why you count on old hounds like that. They call it fox sense. Well, Dragonfly’s got coyote sense now. She might not have last year, but she sure does this year, and she showed it to me Wednesday.”

Goodbye, moles: Bangle on the move.

So how about Driver? How did he do on his first hunt?

“Driver and Bangle, it was their first day out, and so they didn’t want to go in the corn, and they were happy just to stay with me,” Lilla said. “When hounds spoke in the corn, they went in. But every time the hounds would quit speaking Driver would come out and start lollygagging about. Betsy, our field secretary, was standing out by herself, and she told me that Driver came galloping by her, as if he thought he’d just go off and explore on his own, maybe put his nose down and start investigating things.”

We’ve seen him do that early in his houndwalking days this summer, too.

“But suddenly Driver noticed her there on her horse, and she said he stopped as if he was startled to find her there. She got on the radio and told one of the whips he was over there. A whip came to get him back to the pack, and she said he glared at her, like he was saying, ‘You told on me, I know you did.’

Driver (center) back in April.

“His immaturity showed that day. We’ll bring him out every hunt day. Paper was the same way, if you remember. He would sort of play and pick up garbage, but then once the hounds started speaking he was always there.”

And Bangle?

“She got a little intimidated by all the horses, and at one point she got behind all the horses and couldn’t catch up to me. So I asked both fields to stop and I rode back there and got her eye and brought her forward. After that, she figured it out and knew not to get in back with the horses but to stay in front of them.”

Here’s another interesting side note about Bangle’s development. She might finally be outgrowing her mole hobby. Some people have a passion for fly-fishing, antique-collecting, or vintage cars. For Bangle, it was all about moles. It’s easy to see the appeal: they’re sniffable, they’re small and soft, and they probably make a pretty good snack if you dig down far enough to catch one before a whipper-in shows up to break up the party.

Yuck.

On hound walks, Bangle would slip away from the group and pull up to her favorite pasture for some digging–something the whippers-in and houndwalk volunteers quickly learned to anticipate and head off whenever possible. Because once Bangle was in her mole field, she was planning to be there as long as it took to find every single mole. (To see video of Bangle on summer walk–but no moles!–click the play button below)

But, on Wednesday, Lilla said, “I think Bangle is finally saying goodbye to the moles.”

I think we can all agree this is good news for both the hunt and the moles.

“On Wednesday, I saw her digging in a mole hole, and then the hounds went on past her,” Lilla continued. “She looked up at the hounds, looked at the mole hole, then looked up at the hounds again. She took a last look at the mole hole, and then said, ‘I think … I think I’m going to go with … the hounds.'”

Good call, Bangle!

The star pupil at the moment: Backfire. We’d all been eager to see this handsome guy out on the hunt field, because he seemed so sharp even on hound walk in his early days integrating with the pack. He seemed precocious, and now it looks like that initial impression is bearing out.

“Backfire is really turning on,” Lilla said of Backfire after his second hunt. “He’s learned to honor cry, he’s very quick to cry, he’s just alert. Hyper-alert. The minute he hears something, he’s over there to find out about it. It’s not like he just stands and cocks his head trying to decide what to do. He automatically does it. He still doesn’t know what his nose is, but he is really enjoying this. It’s like he’s thinking, ‘This glove fits. I can do this!’ He’s just crisp and sharp.”

Conclusion: “It was just a great day.”

Next up … More oddities and some great marathon driving from the World Equestrian Games!

In Memoriam: Savvy

On Feb. 4, Savvy had the kind of hunt day hounds must dream about. It was to be her last: she developed a twisted intestine about a week later and died after surgery.

EVERYONE has been saying it: thank heavens Savvy had such a good day out.

Our hunt season has been mostly ruined this season by the unusually bad weather, but on February 4 huntsman Lilla Mason and the joint-Masters spotted a chance between two foul weather systems. They went for it, aided by one of the Iroquois hunt country’s generous landowners. It was a chance worth taking: the hounds wanted out, there was another snowstorm looming on the horizon, and did I mention the hounds wanted out? It wasn’t a regularly scheduled hunt day, but who cares? We’re living in uncertain times, meteorologically speaking. Carpe passable weather!

What passed for good weather on February 4 was damp with a bone-chilling breeze, and a few brave souls convened to follow hounds on horseback. But the hounds had their hunt, and what a hunt it was. For Savvy, it was the hunt of a lifetime.

“It was absolutely marginal weather,” Lilla said. “The footing was horrible. The temperature was pretty warm, but the ground was semi-frozen, sort of melted on top and greasy underneath.

Whipper-in Blaine Holloway at the meet. The day was damp with a chilly wind, and the footing ranged from ice to greasy mud.

“The only reason we were able to go is that the people on Foxtrot Farm allowed us to park our trailers along their farm road, because they weren’t going to be doing much work on that part of the farm that day. You could never have pulled a trailer into a field, it was just incredibly wet. But the hounds really needed to go out.”

It seemed highly likely there would be some coyotes afoot, based on the farm’s own reports.

“The farm had asked us to draw the hounds through their cows, because the cows were calving and they’d seen some coyotes among their cattle,” Lilla explained. “They told us that any time we draw through their cattle the coyotes seem to stay away for a few days. The smell of the hounds lingers, and they get spooked off.”

To give everyone the best chance at a good day out before the next round of bad weather moved in, Lilla brought out 12 couples of hounds, including, of course Savvy.

“Savvy was one of our leading hounds, and Jerry (joint-Master Jerry Miller) said if she hadn’t died we would have bred her,” Lilla said. That’s a strong testament for a hunt that only breeds one litter each year.

Savvy on summer houndwalk. She led a group of hounds on a seven-hour chase on Feb. 4.

“She was that good,” Lilla said. “She had some of our best bloodlines, and she was everything that works for us. Every once in a while on a hunt she’d be the last one in because she would not stop, but she was never doing anything wrong. She just had this unbelievable nose and drive, and she would follow that nose no matter what.”

Lilla’s plan was to start at the Cabin Covert, draw hounds thoroughly from east to west through the calving herd, then head south to Murphy’s Covert and draw heading north. That would put the hounds heading away from a potentially dangerous two-lane road that cuts across the southern end of the hunt country.

“We were hoping not to get a coyote up that went south across that road, because we knew it was going to be hard to keep up with the hounds on horses,” Lilla said. “If we could get one up that would stay north of that road, that would be good.”

At their first stop, the Cabin Covert, Savvy and her 23 packmates picked up traces of coyote scent. “They were feathering a little bit,” Lilla said, referring to the quick side-to-side tail motion hounds make when puzzling out a scent. But they didn’t strike off. Lilla led them on to the cattle, weaving the hounds in and out among the herd.

Savvy enjoyed kennel visitors as much as they enjoyed meeting her.

“After we’d been through all the cattle, I looked up to my left, and there was Savvy, all of a sudden going perpendicular to my intended path,” Lilla said. “She was heading straight east. I knew better than to try to do anything about it. I wouldn’t call Savvy independent, but she would sometimes disagree with me when she knew she was right about something. Being the old wise girl she was, I knew she was winding something, and it would be counterproductive to send a whip over there to turn her around.”

One or two hounds, then four, then the rest of the pack drifted in Savvy’s direction, too. Then they started feathering. The hounds picked up their pace, heading up a hill. Lilla and the field trotted after them, but it was a treacherous climb, with ice patches and slippery mud. Led by Savvy’s nose, the hounds disappeared over the crest of the hill. By the time the riders got there, they were a field ahead–and then they opened up in full cry.

They ran north, then looped south. The field, struggling over the ground and forced to go through gates rather than risk jumping on the slick mud, struggled to keep in touch with them. When Lilla spotted a few tail hounds, she stopped atop Pauline’s Ridge to collect them. Blowing her horn there, she gathered up about seven couple–who promptly rejoined the hunt when the rest of the pack opened up in full cry again in the ridge.

“They really fired off then,” Lilla said of the pack.

The pack screamed along Pauline’s Ridge, dropped down to the creek bank at the ridge’s bottom, and then took off in a ruler-straight line heading north into the open grassland near the northern extremity of the country.

“That north country is completely open: no coverts, a few vegetation fencelines, and that’s it,” Lilla said. That big patch of the country is so open and grassy it’s called Little Kansas, and you can get some idea of its expanse from this “helmet cam” video Lilla took there several years ago:

“When a coyote starts running through Little Kansas, you better kick on, because they’ll be flat out,” Lilla explained. “Out in the open like that, that coyote is just going to run fast, and so will the hounds. Sure enough, they got way ahead of us.”

Lilla and the field could hear the hounds ahead of them in the distance, but there was little they could do to catch up to them. Hillsides facing north proved especially icy, but even where the ground was relatively good, horses couldn’t safely go faster than a trot.

Then Lilla spotted a farmer repairing a fence.

“I stopped and said, ‘Hello, have you seen any hounds?'” she said. “He said, ‘Yeah! I saw big coyote go by, and there was this one white hound right on its tail, and the rest of the hounds came about a minute later. But that one hound was right on its tail!’

“Now, I don’t know because I wasn’t there,” Lilla said. “But I would bet you that was Savvy.”

That was a thrilling bit of news, but the immediate concern was more pressing: if they kept heading north, as seemed likely, the coyote and hounds would cross another busy two-lane road and would then be at the northern extremity of the hunt country–and close to a large cattle operation in the corner of the country that has asked the hunt not to bring horses through during calving season. Lilla had sent road whips Michael and Alan onto the two-lane in question, Todd’s Road. But three couple got past them and blazed across the road, and Savvy was one of them.

“We had started hunting at 1, and it was about 3:30 when I stopped with the nine couple I had,” Lilla recalled. “It was about 4 when that three couple crossed, including Savvy. The nine couple I stopped were pretty tired and winded, and I didn’t have much choice but to take them in, especially after it became apparent that the three couple on the other side of the road were going to keep on hunting. All the road whips were up there. If I’d taken my nine couple closer to those three couple, they’d have heard the three and gone to them, and we couldn’t get into that cattle operation with horses to protect all those hounds’ safety. So it seemed more prudent to take the nine couple in.

“The three couple all had tracking collars on, and it seemed that Michael and Alan (kennel staff Michael Edwards and Alan Foy) would catch up to them pretty soon. I definitely didn’t want to try to entice those three couple back across a road, especially as it was getting on to rush hour.”

One of the houndbloggers keeps an eye out for hounds from his post near Todd's Road

Lilla took her group in, and Michael and Alan closed in on Savvy and her gang, expecting them to be tired and ready to leave off their coyote trail in due course.

But Savvy and her pals had other plans. And they were long-term plans. Those hounds streaked up and down that part of the country, encouraged by the fact that that land is rich in coyotes. Sitting on a gate to help protect the crossing at Todd’s Road, at various times the houndbloggers themselves saw three coyotes racing through the field to the north of the road. We spotted Savvy and the other hounds, too, racing along the trail, far away from us and obviously having the time of their lives.

Driving along the roads in his hound truck, Michael kept his window rolled down so he could stop and quickly whip out his radio tracking device; both he and Alan carry these so that they can “beep” the hounds’ location by their tracking collars. Whenever he stopped, Michael could still hear the hounds singing, and he caught the deeper note of Savvy in the chorus.

After he rode back to the meet, Jerry, too, sped out in an all-terrain vehicle to help us catch these hounds as they criss-crossed the fenced farmland. But this little corps of nine hounds hadn’t been out hunting in a while. I don’t know whether they knew more foul weather was on the way, but they had no intention of coming in until they were good and ready. They hunted until about 8 p.m., seven hours after they had started.

Savvy was among the winners at the Virginia Hound Show in 2009. Photo by Jim Meads.

“Every time anybody saw them, they had their noses down and were in full cry, doing exactly what they’re supposed to do,” Lilla said. “And that was Savvy. That was what she was like her whole life. Once she got her nose down and she was hot on something, you might as well pull up a chair, put your feet up, and just wait, because that was it. And that’s what you want in a hound.”

Michael, Alan, and Jerry were gradually able to start picking up individual hounds, but the last three to come in that night were Savvy, Grindstone, and Parish.

When Michael and Alan finally laid hands on them behind the Sisters’, Savvy and Co. looked tired but deeply content with their day.

It was a day to remember, both for them and for us. In light of the sad event the following week, that hunt day is a happy memory indeed. Savvy developed a twisted intestine and was rushed to the vet clinic. They performed surgery, but Savvy did not recover. She was 7. She is sorely missed, not just for her own talents, nose, and perseverance, but also for what she undoubtedly would have given the pack through her puppies. And she just had that way about her.

“She wasn’t only one of our best hounds, she also had a lot of personality,” Lilla said. “She had kind of a funny face, because she was really woolly, and she had these intelligent eyes in all this silly hair.”

“She had this way of looking up at you with a kind of smile with squinty eyes,” Michael said. “She loved people, loved life, loved being a hound. If you wanted to breed a hound, she’s what you’d hope to get, one with the personality and heart to run six or seven hours, speaking the whole time. She was incredible.”

Backstage with the Hound Guys – Part II

While the rest of the pack snuffled in the grass for their pre-hunt biscuits, Latch discovers that huntsman Lilla Mason has returned as huntsman. It was Lilla's first day carrying the horn since breaking her ankle in November. She's out of her cast, but not yet in her proper tan-topped boots because they don't fit over her swollen ankle.

The January 23 meet at Foxtrot was gray and damp. But it was a happy day for huntsman Lilla Mason, who picked up her horn again after almost three months on the sidelines.

When they rushed out of the hound trailer at the meet, the hounds went about their usual business–that is to say, they immediately sniffed around in the grass for the biscuits Michael Edwards and Alan Foy scatter at every meet (a pre-hunt biscuit or two helps prevent stomach acid build-up).

“It was such a thrill when the hounds got out of the trailer,” Lilla said. “Latch came running over to me and leaped up in the air, standing on her back legs and jumping up and down. It  was like seeing old friends you haven’t seen long time. When I blew the horn, their heads snapped right up and they moved right off with me.

“Stanza was out in front of me, and when I said her name, she froze, turned and looked, then came running back. She ran a circle around my horse, then ran out and back again, like she was saying, ‘It’s you! You’re back!'”

Lilla has kept largely out of the hounds’s sight and hearing since she broke her ankle in November and handed the horn over to joint-Master Jerry Miller. Miller’s task since then was to maintain the pack without putting too much of his own imprint on them (read more about why and how he did that here). Did he accomplish that goal? The verdict from Lilla: yes.

“The best thing about the day I came back was that I could tell by the hounds’ demeanor and body language that they were the same as when I got hurt,” Lilla explained.  “That was so meaningful to me. If someone other than Jerry had taken them over and managed them differently, it would have been heartbreaking if the hounds had cowered or been different when I came back. After an absence, you wonder, ‘Are we all going to be on the same page mentally?’ And we were. They were the same pack they were when I left: confident, enthusiastic, obedient, just as they were when I left them in November. I’m very thankful to Jerry for that.”

Before the hunt, Lilla tells the whippers-in, including road whips Michael and Alan, her planned route and directs them to where they are most needed.

The conditions were … I guess “gooey” would be the technical term. We’ve had drenching rains all winter, and the ground was deep. It was only thanks to a generous landowner that we were able to hold the meet at Foxtrot, and it turned out to be a showcase for how complex and important Michael and Alan’s work really is on a hunt day.

This says it all about the footing on Jan. 23

Lilla and the whippers-in all carry radios, and so do Michael and Alan. That communications network is solely for the hounds’ protection. It allows Lilla to direct the whippers-in even over long distances when they are out of sight, allows Michael and Alan to position themselves along a stretch of road where a coyote (and thus the hounds) might try to cross, and allows everyone to communicate and get to hounds as needed.

I hopped in Michael’s truck once the hounds had moved off. When Lilla radioed that the hounds were heading into the Silo Covert, Michael drove on top of a rise to the south of the covert. From there, we could view a wide swath of landscape, keep tabs on the hounds, and speed back toward any of three roads that border that part of the country, if need be. Alan, in a second truck, was stationed exactly opposite our position, watching north and east across the same acreage.

“We always like to keep the hounds between us,” Michael explained.

The radio, seen here in a leather case attached to the saddle, is an important part of a whipper-in's equipment. The hunt staff, including Michael and Alan in their trucks guarding the roads, use radios to coordinate their positions in order to protect the hounds

We sat watching and waiting, following Lilla’s radio reports as she tried a few coverts without finding anything. Then she brought the hounds to Junior’s Scrub, a brushy area with a thickety treeline and tall grass. Suddenly: coyote scent. The hounds’ noses played rapidly along the ground, searching, trying to parse out the coyote’s path. The hounds’ movements became electric, and they waved their tails quickly from side to side, feathering, a sure sign that they smelled something.

Lilla’s voice crackled over the radio: “Hounds are in Junior’s Scrub. They’re really feathering. Bonus and Stifle are really trying to work something out.”

The view from Michael's dashboard

“It was one of those days when air is dead still,” Lilla said later. “Sound really carries on a still day like that, and I could even hear the traffic from all the way out on the interstate. I thought I’d try moving through coverts a little more quickly, because surely the coyotes would hear us coming. When the hounds came in to Junior’s Scrub and started feathering, my heart started beating.

“I thought might be an old, cold line. So I waited to let them work it out. When the hounds started to feather, I didn’t move my horse forward with them, because any sound would echo through the still air, and I didn’t want to to distract them. There was something there, but they couldn’t quite work it out, and I wanted to give them ample room and opportunity. The field was quiet too, which was helpful.”

And then, all at once, the hounds struck off.

“It was like a clap of thunder,” Lilla said. “There was no preliminary yipping, it was just BAM and they were off–really thrilling. I knew they’d worked the line out and were right on top of whatever it was.

“But it was like a bad dream, too, because the mud was so deep,” Lilla added. “The horses were being so careful, and you almost had to push them into a canter. It was slippery, and they had to take it down a gear, where on a regular day you could have run on. We just couldn’t move fast enough.”

As the hounds shot away from them, Lilla and the field on their horses were mired down, slowed by the heavy ground. Jumping coops was out of the question, and even getting through gates proved tricky.

“It was very slick in the gateways where the tractors had gone through the gates, and some of the ground was still frozen, so it  was treacherous going,” Lilla said. “We ended up far behind the hounds. It was a good example of why things are different when you’re hunting coyotes. Unlike foxes, coyotes just get out of there so fast. It’s harder to protect hounds’ safety on days like that because you can’t push your horse and can’t get to the hounds as quickly as you could on days when the footing is better.

“We knew the footing wouldn’t be great that day, but I didn’t think it would be that deep. Still, we had to get the hounds out.”

Two coyotes had run simultaneously out of Junior’s Scrub, one heading west and the other south, a common tactic coyotes often use to confuse a pursuer. This time, the ploy didn’t work especially well, because the main body of the pack, 15 hounds, stayed together in pursuit of the southbound coyote. One hound, young Griffin, headed west after the other.

Griffin on the fly.

From where we sat in his truck on the hill, Michael and I couldn’t hear the spine-tingling sound of the pack until Lilla came back on the radio, breathlessly giving directions at a gallop. In the background we could hear the pack, too, off in the distance.

“This is my favorite part of the hunt, even though I don’t see a lot of it,” Michael said. “This is what it’s all about.”

We sat tight for a moment, tensely listening for the next update that would tell us which direction hounds were running, and therefore which way we should head.

The radio crackled again, but this time it was all a muddle of strong wind, flapping saddle leather, and an unintelligible voice calling out. Static. More wind, and then the signal clarified into the voice of one of the whippers-in: “Tally-ho! They’re right on it!”

Another whipper-in cut in to say the hounds had turned south and were running along the banks of a wide creek, just at the bottom of coyote-rich Pauline’s Ridge. There was a pause when hounds lost the scent and wheeled around like a school of fish, tails feathering busily as they searched silently for the coyote’s line, and then full cry again! The whipper-in closest to the hounds reported the pack had climbed the ridge and turned east at the top.

Back on the road, Michael headed east, too, the radio signal fading out and in again as we negotiated turns and crested hills. Committing to the east was a gamble, as all decisions on the hunt field are, but it put Michael in a flexible position if hounds switched direction and headed south again, something Michael thought was a strong possibility. “If they keep going east, I’ll be right in position,” Michael explained. “If they head back south, from this road I can get south pretty fast.”

We roared along, waving to landowners as we rushed by and keeping our eyes open for the hunted coyote. Instead, we saw ponds, flocks of Canada geese, horses grazing peacefully in their paddocks. At one point we passed a yard where three house dogs sat in a line, bolt upright and ears pricked, clearly tuning in to the distant cry of the foxhound pack.

All seemed quiet and pastoral outside our windows, but inside the truck the excited radio transmissions described a dramatic chase as it unfolded. Radio messages poured in from Lilla, from whips in their various positions, from Alan in his own truck as they spotted hounds, heard hounds, or requested information to adjust their positions.

Then hounds did indeed turn again, as Michael thought they might, and headed back south–a path that would bring them onto a busy road if they didn’t lose the line first. Michael detoured onto the back roads, taking a short-cut to the street in question, near the hunt country’s southern border. Our goal now was to get to the road before the hounds did and stop any oncoming traffic.

File:Canis latrans2.jpg

Wikipedia photo

And then, as we came up a hill to the place where Michael anticipated coyote and hounds might try to cross, we saw it: the coyote, a big one with a heavy coat highlighted with tawny gold. He loped along across the top of a ridge we call Smitha’s Cliff, too far away for me to catch on camera, then disappeared into a dip near the road. The next few minutes were frantic. Hounds, no longer speaking but still on the line of the coyote, appeared on the ridge and ran on. We backtracked, and so did Alan, just in time to see the coyote cross the road. That, we now knew, was the path the hounds would take, too. Michael and Alan braked, hopped out of their trucks, and stationed themselves along the road, arms spread wide, to stop oncoming cars and trucks.

Before they reached the guard rail on the road’s north side, the hounds were speaking again. They squirmed under the rail and screamed across the road, barely conscious of us as they passed. They were focused on one thing: following that coyote.

The coyote, meanwhile, had leaped up the rocky hillside on the opposite side of the road. He still had a significant lead over the hounds, and he made good use of it, skipping over the top of the ridge and disappearing. The hounds streamed after him but went silent along the top of the ridge, out of our sight. Their quarry evidently had made it to safety in a hole among the rocks and trees, and the hounds gradually began to filter back down the hillside toward the road again.

Lilla, hampered by the treacherous ground, was riding five or ten minutes minutes behind the hounds and still hadn’t made it to the road. By the time she arrived, Michael and Alan had held the road safe for the hounds. Lilla decided that, given the exhausting ground conditions, it was best to call it a day after a ripping welcome-back coyote run.

By day’s end, horses had gone 16 miles round trip over some of the most testing ground the hunt had ever faced.

The end of the day

Michael and Alan, who carry tracking equipment to track any hounds that are late in returning, loaded up the hounds. The hounds were damp from running through the wet thickets and mud. A few ears were scratched by brambles, but the hounds’ eyes shone with the startling intensity that working hounds are famous for. Sayso, below, is a good example. She came back when called, but her eyes suggest that, in her mind, she was still homing in on that coyote.

Sayso, a daughter of our beloved Stalker. She picked up some bramble scratches on her ear in the thick coverts, but she doesn't appear to care. How about those amazing eyes!

We headed back to the kennel, but for the kennel guys the day was far from done. While Alan attended to the hounds he’d picked up, returning them to the hound trailer at the meet, Michael pulled into a nearby farm to make sure a farmer’s gate we’d used was shut and locked, as the farmer wanted it. Michael counted up hounds as he went, to make sure everyone was accounted for. Griffin, the hound that followed the westbound coyote by himself at the start of the run, had hooked up with the hilltoppers, and Michael wanted to be sure he’d returned to the meet with them without incident.

Poor Griffin missed all the excitement. He eventually lost his coyote and came back looking for the rest of the pack, who had followed the southbound coyote. Along his way, he met up with the hilltoppers, who had not kept up with the first flight and therefore couldn’t return him to the pack. Horses, at least, were familiar, so he stayed with them until the end of the day when he was reunited with the pack back at the meet.

Joint-Master Miller confirmed for Michael that Griffin was safely in, and then Michael drove back to make sure the road signs warning about horses and hounds had also been collected; they had.

Back at the kennels, the hunting hounds still needed their dinner, as well as a thorough examination to be sure bramble scratches were the only things the hounds had picked up on their run across country. The hounds that hadn’t hunted also were waiting for their turnout time in the paddock. The puppies, having spent several hours out, were now ready to come back in.

It was, like most days at the kennel, a long day for Alan and Michael. But it was worthwhile, especially knowing that the hounds they care for had performed so well.

“This is a blast to me,” Michael said. “It’s what I live for, chasing these hounds. I get depressed just like they do if the weather’s bad and we can’t hunt. We spend the whole year getting them ready for this, it’s what they’re about and what I’m about, and I love it.”

Backstage with the Hound Guys – Part I

TO RIDERS  in the hunt field, Michael Edwards and Alan Foy appear as two white trucks in the distance, if you even spot them at all. The two men serve as the hunt’s road whips: their function during a hunt is to protect the hounds if they run toward one of the country roads that cross the hunt country. They also collect hounds at the end of the day.

But that’s just the time they’re out and about with the hunt. Much of the rest of their working lives is spent in the kennel, well behind the scenes, doing the daily work to keep the pack (and the retirees) healthy, happy, and fit.

Iroquois kennel manager Michael Edwards keeps a watchful eye on all the hounds

They’re like the backstage crew at a big Broadway show, and their work is critical to the hunt. In the kennel, they handle the daily feeding, medicating, and general care of about 85 hounds who range in age from newborn pup to 11-year-old retiree. Most–about 65–are working pack hounds, athletes in the prime of life. Fit and full of themselves, they have their own tribal rules and office politics, which Michael and Alan have to keep abreast of and manage, when necessary.

If you think working in a foxhound kennel is only about pouring Purina and cleaning drains, welcome to Michael and Alan’s office:

The office has a computer system that allows Michael Edwards and Alan Foy to track hounds' exercise schedules and veterinary updates, among other things.

The kennel computer and database track almost everything about each hound: when it hunts or goes on hound walk, when it goes to the vet and what procedures were done there, who needs what medicine when. It also allows the kennel guys to inventory supplies.

The daily medicine rounds are obviously important, but they aren’t easy when your intended target is walking around among a jostling crowd of 80-pound hounds, all of whom think you probably have a dog biscuit somewhere on your person. But on the day I visited, Michael waded through the hounds with surprising ease, even managing to get an eyedropper full of ear medicine into the proper ear, without a) fumbling the dropper so it gets trampled under everyone’s paws,  b) getting bitten by the hound whose ears have to be medicated, or c) accidentally squirting the dropper full of liquid onto, say, his own shirt. I have tried this at home with Harry, without four or five other curious hounds in my face, and it never went that well.

Michael keeps careful track of who gets which medicine and why. Dealing with veterinary medical issues is a key part of the job, both for maintaining herd health and for treating incidental cuts, scrapes, and other ailments

Michael keeps the medications for each group of hounds in one hand as he slips into each run. He learned long ago that digging them out of a pocket among the hounds was an invitation to chaos. Hounds are wildly curious about pockets, because everyone knows that’s where treats live, and a person reaching into a pocket is a person to mob before every other hound in the run can get there first. “They all think someone else is getting something special,” Michael explained.

Result: crushed pills or, worse, dropped pills that get snatched off the floor by the wrong hound. Hound rule number one: if a person’s got it, it’s probably a treat. Hound rule number two: if it drops on the ground, eat first and ask questions later. Fickle, Michael says, is particularly adept at that, and will even eat her own medicine right out of his hand.

Not everyone is so easy. Landsman, one of the retired hounds, is shifty about medication. He ate his breakfast with the other retired hounds but kept a wary eye on Michael. Landsman needs ear medication, which has to be dripped into his ear canal. Understandably, it’s not something he’s fond of. He licked the last of his breakfast off his lips, then made a stiff turn to the right to evade Michael, who was approaching due west with the offensive eyedropper of medicine. Landsman tottered quickly between me and the concrete-block wall, apparently intending to make a break for it down the kennel’s center aisle.

The double-decker hound trailer. Much like a school bus, really: everybody has his favorite seat.

“Landsman always thinks he can outrun Michael, but he hasn’t done it yet, has he?” Michael said as he intercepted Landsman. The old hound stopped, shoulders between Michael and the wall, and actually tilted his left ear slightly toward Michael. This was just part of the game, and, once caught, Landsman didn’t seem to mind the drops at all.

As they make medication rounds, Michael and Alan also check hounds over for unusual bumps, scrapes, heat, and swelling or other symptoms that something could be wrong. That’s important for many reasons–not least because an illness left unchecked could spread through the entire kennel.

Alan Foy, an Army veteran who served with the 82nd Airborne, and some of the Iroquois hounds earlier this year

To the hounds, the guys in the kennel are both alpha dogs and sources of comfort. “If they get out hunting and they get somewhere where they don’t know where they are, when they see us, I think they feel like, ‘There’s Michael and Alan to come save us,'” said Michael. “I remember in Stomper’s first year hunting, he didn’t come in with the rest of the hounds. When I got down to Nan Price’s driveway, I saw this lump laying by the road. It was Stomper. I guess he just decided, ‘Well, it’s dark and I don’t know my way home, so I’ll just sit here and hope somebody finds me.’ I picked him up and got him in the truck, and he was just like, ‘Oh, thank you, thank you!’ You have to build that type of relationship where they’re like that, where they’re loyal to you.”

When Michael and Alan arrive at the kennel each morning, the hounds start up in greeting. First one, then another, then a couple more, until finally the whole kennel is singing.

“They know when we get here they’re going to be fed, they’re going to get to go do something,” Michael explained. “It’s just part of their day to be with us.”

A hunt day starts like any other for Michael and Alan, except that the hounds Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason has selected to hunt don’t get breakfast–an immediate tip-off to them that they’re going hunting. Do they know? Michael thinks so.

“The fun part is separating out who goes from who doesn’t go, because they all want to go,” he said. “Finish will bite on your boot if you don’t take him out to go hunting, just to let you know he’s mad as hell he’s not going hunting.”

There are several reasons the hunting hounds skip breakfast. As with any athlete, you wouldn’t want their bowels to be full before they have  to run long distances. But Michael and Alan do scatter biscuits in the grass before they let hounds out of the hound truck at a meet, which helps prevent the hounds’ stomach acid from building up. They toss them biscuits again at the end of the hunt. That’s to help keep the hounds’ blood sugar reasonably high, says Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller, and it helps give them a good appetite for the full meal they’ll get back at the kennel after hunting.

A woolly welcome: Sassoon says hello before heading out to hunt

Before loading The Chosen Hounds in the hound truck and driving them to the day’s meet, Michael and Alan put blaze-orange tracking collars on them, then turn them out into the grass paddock alongside the kennel for about 20 minutes. The idea is to let them empty themselves and gallop around a bit, but it was pretty clear on the day I was there that the hounds mostly just wanted on that truck. After a few minutes of perfunctory piddling and pooing, they filtered back over to the paddock fence and sat shifting their intense gazes between us and the hound trailer parked tantalizingly behind us by the kennel’s main gate.

Soon a few hounds started whining, and then more joined in, and eventually they were all sitting and whining, plainly trying to hypnotize us into loading them up now. Noooooooooooow. NOW.

Alan puts a tracking collar on one of the hounds before hunting

Even loading the double-decker hound truck requires a surprising amount of thought. For example, if one hound is intimidating to another, it might be best to keep them in separate compartments. Michael and Alan must always be aware of these developments that are part of the pack’s complex and changeable dynamics. For the most part, though, they allow the hounds to choose where they’re most comfortable.

“It’s kind of like the school bus when you were a kid,” Alan said. “You’d have the little area of seats you liked.”

Alan drove the hound trailer to the meet, while Michael took care of another important duty: setting the warning signs out on the road closest to the meet, a hint to drivers to keep their eyes open and their speed moderate.

This particular meet at Foxtrot was a special one, because it was Lilla’s first day back after breaking her ankle back in November. The hounds didn’t seem to notice the change at first, but as soon as she spoke to them from the back of her horse, it was clear they recognized her and were glad to see her.

But we’ll save that story, and the tale of the day’s hunt, until tomorrow!

Some pieces of Paper (with video)

Paper (left) is growing up.

IT TAKES a village to raise a hound, in a manner of speaking. Huntsman and kennel staff are key in any hound’s development and training, and his interactions with the whippers-in are also educational. And don’t forget the importance of positive peer pressure: his fellow hounds are crucial teachers, too, providing lessons in everything from pack and kennel etiquette to the do’s and don’ts of the hunt field.

Earlier this year, he was “Playper,” always finding some object to carry around in his mouth or some curiosity to tempt the other puppies with. Now, as his first season in the hunt field unfolds, our Paper is showing more maturity. He still gets separated from the pack more than one  would ideally like, but he’s clearly mindful of the Golden Rule huntsman Lilla Mason schooled him on during summer walk: with pack=good, away from pack=bad. Now, when he finds himself out on his own, Paper follows the sound of the huntsman’s horn and voice and makes his way back to the pack.

We can see his maturity in other, more subtle ways, too. Though he’s still a teenager and throws in those joyous leaps now and again, he’s leaner and more professional these days. If we were to sit down for a parent-teacher meeting with Paper’s first-season profs, they’d probably say he needs to apply himself more to the work at hand, but he’s definitely shown some improvement as the season continues.

The hunt met at Foxtrot on Saturday and enjoyed an early run, but warming temperatures and a brisk breeze (which you can hear on the video) played havoc with scent. At least four, and by some counts as many as six coyotes burst out of the Cabin Covert. From our position as car-followers, we could tell for certain that one ran east and at least one ran south. The hounds screamed after the one heading south, but when they lost their coyote nearing the border of a neighboring farm hosting deer hunters, it became necessary to bring the hounds back toward the Cabin Covert again rather than cast them again in an attempt to follow the south-bound coyote; the chance of barreling full tilt into a deer hunter was just too great.

Car-following has its limits, and we experienced those on this run: we could hear the hounds but couldn’t see them from our vantage point. We did hear some beautiful hound music, and there are times I’m just as happy to hear the hounds on a run as I am to see them, but I am disappointed not to have captured that on videotape.

We were able to capture some good examples of hounds feathering when they returned to the Cabin Covert, knowing as they did that a coyote had left there. They clearly found a low spot where the east-bound coyote had crossed when leaving the covert and racing through a field of corn stubble. The hounds that passed that spot feathered and feathered, obviously smelling the last remnants of scent, but in the challenging conditions–an older line on a breezy day as the temperature climbed–it did not, alas, result in a second run.

Middleburg's Red Fox Inn, dating from 1728, is the town's most famous landmark

Half of the houndbloggers are now in Middleburg, Virginia, in the heart of the commonwealth’s hunt country. It is in the nature of houndbloggers that they do not, as a rule, like to be separated from each other, but this is one of the rare cases when we considered that two weeks apart was worth it. Why? Would you be surprised to know that hounds are involved? I’ll be here in Middleburg doing some research at the National Sporting Library, while Christopher (above, the one wearing tweed) stays at home and continues the futile effort to keep the Beagle House hounds off the bed and under control.

I hope to have some interesting things to report on from Middleburg, including the National Sporting Library, some thoughts from local huntsmen, and some photos of a couple of local packs, both foxhounds and beagles. And a real highlight, the December 5 Christmas in Middleburg celebration, when the Middleburg Hunt meets downtown and trots up Washington Street–we’ll try to get photos and, if possible, video of that!

This little fellow greets visitors at the National Sporting Library

Full Cry now linked on Baily’s

One final note of interest: the hound blog is now linked online at Baily’s, the worldwide hunting directory that is based in England! The new online Baily’s site is really excellent. It does require a subscription to access full stories and large photos, but you’ll be glad to know they’re running a special subscription rate of about $25 at the moment; for more information, check the link above (a link to Baily’s is also listed under our “Interesting Places” and “Hound Resources” link lists to the right-hand side of our home page). In the meantime, it doesn’t take a subscription to enjoy the great photos in the Baily’s online gallery or the photo slideshow on their homepage. Tell ’em the Hound Welfare Fund sent you!