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!

Advertisements

The season that was

THE Iroquois hunt season ended in late March, but we didn’t want to let it get away entirely without  looking back on some good days out with the hounds! Personally, the houndbloggers love the summer hound-walking season, but it’s always nice to keep in mind the point of the exercise: preparation and training for the hunt field next fall. So with that in mind, after a long pause, we return to our computers with a look over our shoulders at the hunt season that was in our featured video today (above).

Meanwhile, the focus is on getting hounds ready for the Virginia Foxhound Show this Sunday at Morven Park near Leesburg, Va. Among the hounds Iroquois will take to the big show are members of the leonine HA litter, Baffle’s second litter for us, who have matured into magnificent, graceful, statuesque creatures very much resembling their sire, Hawkeye.

The HAs are featured in the video above, taken back in February, and we have more recent footage of them on a post-season hound walk that we’ll try to post before the show on Sunday. In the meantime, let’s turn on the Wayback Machine, to October 2010, when the HAs were very wee indeed!

And a little video of the little HAs:

My, how they’ve grown! We wish the HAs and all the Iroquois hounds the very best of luck at the Virginia show!

Strolls with the HASABOs


SA puppies Brookfield Traxler 01-15-12

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

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

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

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

Hawkeye. Photo by Dave Traxler.

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

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

SA puppy walk Brookfield 01-15-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saigon Sayit Brookfield 01-15-12 Traxler photo

Saigon and Sayit. Photo by Dave Traxler.

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

Foxes and “foxes”

Red fox, by Rob Lee.

EVERY so often the houndbloggers like to cross over to the hounds’ hunt field rivals, the fox and the coyote, and today it is Charles James’s turn in the spotlight. To get you in the mood for fox tales, we recommend this link to you. It shows a series of three truly remarkable fox photographs that Virginia photographer Douglas Lees took on New Year’s Eve while out with the Orange County Hunt. Enjoy!

Foxes were not the first-choice quarry for mounted hunters with hounds. When the first hounds started hunting stags and the first beagles began with hares, foxes were considered such vermin that they were even beneath hunting with hounds, and no king really would want to be seen putting his hounds on such a lowly line as a fox’s. But farmers, understandably eager to protect their poultry and lambs, no doubt would do what they felt needed to be done. I’ve read that the earliest recorded attempt to hunt a fox with hounds was in 1534, when a Norfolk farmer set his dogs after one.

On the other hand, Chaucer (who lived circa 1343 to 1400) wrote an earlier verse depicting “dogges” of various types running after the fox that stole away with Chanticleer in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale. By the 1300s, mentions of “fox-dogs” have crept into royal records in England, suggesting that foxes were by now at least occasionally hunted, even if they were not yet preferred to deer. An 1833 edition of New Sporting Magazine has an interesting description of this, as follows:”From the accounts of the Comptroller of the Wardrobe of Edward the First, for 1299 and 1300, we may form some estimate of the small degree of repute in which fox-hunting, if indeed hunting it can be called, was held at that period. The fox-destroying establishment of that monarch consisted of twelve ‘fox-dogs’ (terriers not unlikely), with one man and two boys. The master of these fox-dogs’ and his two assistants were allowed sixpence a day, or two-pence each; and three-pence a day for a horse to carry ‘the nets’ was allowed from the 1st of September to the last day of April, which a half-penny a day was paid for the keep of each of the dogs. From these items it appears that the expense for men and dogs was the same all the year round, except that the huntsman and his two whippers-in received each a new suit at an expense for the three of thirty-four shillings and four-pence.”

“The whole concern,” the author writes, “savours so much of rat-catching.”

A not-very-dangerous and not-very-stinky Christmas fox.

In any event, hunting the fox–exclusively and on formal terms–eventually did catch on, and in a big way. England’s oldest foxhunt, the Bilsdale in Yorkshire, was organized in 1668 by George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. (A point of interest: that pack today now has a hunt country covering about 300 square miles. I know, I know–and I’m betting they’ve never heard of a McMansion before, either)

The general view of foxes as noxious vermin is made very clear indeed in a book we’ve quoted here before, Edward Topsell‘s The History of Four-Footed Beasts, published in 1607. Of Reynard, now considered our hounds’ beautiful and noble rival on the field, Topsell said: “If the urine of a Foxe fall upon the grasse or other Herbs it drieth and killeth them, and the earth remaineth barren ever afterward.” And also: “He stinketh from Nose and taile.” Well, all righty, then. Mr. Topsell liketh not the Foxe, we presume.

Topsell's version of a fox in his History of Four-Footed Beasts

Regarding the fox’s “stink,” we have found a little note in the slim 1951 volume The Way of a Fox by Douglas St. Leger-Gordon. He says: “A path used by dog, wolf or fox is punctuated by intelligence depots where each passerby picks up the news, learns something about the identity, sex and general history of the last comer, and leaves a memento of his or her own visit. … A fox’s intelligence depot  is always indicated by the strong musky scent which is as permanent as that of wood-smoke about an old-fashioned hearth. … Contrary to common belief, a fox does not diffuse its strong personal odour upon the air as it passes along in the same way that a glamorous lady exudes ‘Evening in Paris,’ nor is it correct to assume when catching a vulpine whiff that the creature has recently crossed the road or path. One seldom winds a fox where it has been seen, nor does experience bear out the convention that the smell–for it is quite distinct from scent–rises after a while and becomes perceptible to human senses.more important still, the strong taint that assails the nostrils when near some port of call (and nowhere else, I think, under normal circumstances) has nothing to do with the ordinary bodily odour of the beast. … Like cats and many weasels, a fox only gives forth its overpowering aroma at moments of intense agitation, as when attacked, or under the influence of strong emotion.”

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The houndbloggers would be interested to see what scientists have learned that might contradict–or vindicate–this view in the years since 1951.

But within six decades, between The History‘s publication and the Bilsdale Hunt’s formation, the fox had become appreciated for its guile and resourcefulness, and for the challenge it presented on the hunt field. This has led not only to countless interesting, and sometimes heartbreaking, and usually very chilly and often quite damp, hours on the hunt field for many, many generations since. It also had produced a rich history of Reynard’s exploits and how they foiled (or failed to foil) the hounds. We give you one from Cuthbert Bradley, a Hound Blog favorite.

“Wheeling sharp to the left, hounds ran hard leaving Quarrington on the right, across a flat strip of arable country. Here the pilot, evidently meaning to reach Rauceby, was headed by a sheep dog, and turned for Silk Willoughby village, where an open cottage door offered a welcome shelter after a quick hunt of 20 minutes. A baby lay on the hearthrug in front of the fire, while her mother busied herself about the house; the fox jumping over the infant went up the chimney. The alarmed mother had the presence of mind to slam the cottage door just as hounds dashed up, or possibly there would have been a tragedy. Gillard was quickly on the scene with hounds, all apologies for the rude intrusion of the hunted one; and the villagers came running up in eager curiosity, flattening their noses on the window pane. …

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Caine Croft, the whipper-in, climbed onto the roof peering down the chimney-pot, where he could see the fox sitting on a ledge. A clothes prop was borrowed, and Cox of Ropsley, a keen foot-hunter, out on every possible occasion with the Belvoir, went into the house with Gillard and Mr. James Hutchinson, to get hold of the fox. When Cox eventually appeared in the doorway, holding the sooty form at arm’s length–after his teeth had been through his coat sleeve–the village yokels fled out of the garden as though they had caught sight of the devil himself. Carrying the fox into the open he put him down in an adjoining field, and after dwelling a moment or two, he shot away, like an arrow from the bow.”

The Royal Artillery “Fox”

Today, of course, the English no longer hunt live foxes, but only the “stink,” slopped in liberal doses on a drag. To see what this new “fox” looks like, click on the video below from the 2011 Boxing Day meet of our local hunt when we are in England, the Royal Artillery Hunt on Salisbury Plain. The “fox,” mounted this time with the drag swaying from the thong of her hunt whip, appears at about the 24-second mark.

As for the smell, we didn’t get close enough to whiff it (the camera allows us to zoom). Customized recipes for drag scents seem to be pretty numerous, involving everything from aniseed to fox’s urine (the latter features in the Chiddingfold, Leconfield, and Cowdray Hunt‘s drag, which nearly causes huntsman Sage Thompson to vomit after he sniffs a bottle of the drag-line’s mixture in Michael Slowe’s documentary “Hounds and the Huntsman,” available here). We haven’t asked the Royal Artillery how they make theirs!

A couple of notes about the Royal Artillery. The hunt has a wonderful history and still remains very true to its deep roots in the British military. They drag-hunt over Salisbury Plain, which also is the main domestic training ground for British soldiers, and in this video you will see some of the features of that unusual hunt country. You’ll see the field gallop past a “village,” an unoccupied collection of buildings used for various military training exercises and one of the military features that dot the Plain. The RA Hunt does not have any jumps to leap, but that’s not to say that their hunt country isn’t challenging, because it certainly can be, in a most unconventional way. There are the foot-deep tank tracks that criss-cross the land and which must be negotiated diagonally if you’re to get over them safely, as well as slit trenches that can appear almost without warning and the occasional bits of ammunition (some potentially unexploded, as the sign in the video warns) and missile wire!

And if you’re wondering why their huntsman is wearing a green coat instead of the expected red one, that’s a hat tip to the hunt’s former life as a harrier pack. Huntsmen of beagle, basset, and harrier packs traditionally wear green.

The houndbloggers have hunted with the RA Hunt a few times and count those days as among our happiest and most interesting. Before we leave the subject of the Royal Artillery entirely, we should note that one of its staunch followers, Estelle Holloway, died not long before the Boxing Day meet featured in our video. We have quoted her excellent book Hounds, Hares, and Foxes of Larkhill several times here and value it as a great resource concerning the RA Hunt’s fascinating history.

The Year That Was

So how did the blog do in 2011? If you’re interested in our annual statistics, there’s a link to our stats report below. The upshot is that you all helped the hound blog reach new heights in 2011! The blog was viewed about 39,000 times in the course of the year, mostly by viewers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. The most-viewed post of 2011 was The Eider Has Landed, our report of Eider’s arrival at Beagle House on Jan. 16, 2011. (Eider, understandably, is pretty excited about this, but he’s not letting it go to his head.) The year’s top five posts of the year, in terms of views:

1. The Eider Has Landed (Jan. 16, 2011)

2. MFHA hunt staff seminar, part 4: Wiley Coyote (April 26, 2010)

3. Beagles, bassets, and dozens of running bunnies (with two videos!) (Feb. 28, 2010)

4. St. Hubert and the Blessing of the Hounds (Nov. 3, 2009)

5. Houndbloggers Abroad: Hunting’s historic clothiers (a tale of goss, coodle, and ventile lining) (Oct. 28, 2009)

To see the stats report, click on the link below this box:

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 39,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 14 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

A Hunt for the Veterans

IT IS Veterans’ Day in the United States, or Armistice Day if you are in England–a special day for the houndbloggers, too, who always celebrate the entwined histories of the military and the hunting hound.

A couple of years ago in this space and on this date, we visited with one of our favorite hunting soldiers, one P.W. Nickalls, officer of the Northants Yeomanry during what was long known as the Great War before, sadly, it became World War I. Nickalls’s squadron found sport in some unusual places,and it probably helped that the squadron commander was a former Master of the Pytchley.

Photo by Dave Traxler.

You can find Nickalls, as we did, in the footnotes of Joseph B. Thomas’s book Hounds and Hunting Through the Ages. We’d like to quote him here again, in honor of all veterans, with a special tip of the hat to our sporting brothers and sisters who serve and have served.

“Sometimes we hunted hares instead of foxes, and early in ’16 the owners of the land began to object to their crops being ridden over and their hares being killed. An order came from headquarters that hunting must cease. The Second in Command, who never paid much attention to what he scornfully called ‘red tape,’ was determined to hunt, come what may. One day we set out full of confidence, and had a very good hunt after a hare which we eventually bowled over by the high road. The hare, much too precious to be eaten by the hounds, was being waved over their heads in triumph, when round the corner and full of Red Hats came a big G.H.Q. car. It was too late to take cover or even to hide the hare–it was the Corps General himself. With a salute from all sides the big car disappeared. ‘What a sportsman!’ we exclaimed, for he must have seen exactly what happened. ‘Send him the hare for his supper,’ said the irrepressible Second in Command. No sooner said than done. A cheer A.D.C. told next day that the soup had been excellent, and brought us an invitation to dine at G.H.Q.

“In November, 1917, came the order for Italy … We decided to take 2 1/2 couple and try to pick up some more there. We trained to Ventimiglia and proceeded to trek from there to Savoni, the Colonel and the hounds leading the way. We were the advance guard, and the inhabitants rushed out and pelted us with flowers as the potential saviours of their country. They regarded the hounds with amusement but without surprise–had not they always heard that Englishmen were mad? So it was natural they should want hounds to fight the Austrians. When we got to the Italian front we at once began to make inquireies about hunting. The Treviso foxhounds had been broken up, but the hounds were being trencher-fed in the Venetian Plain. We soon located some and bought them for our pack. These with the ones we brought from France made a fair-sized pack, but the Italian foxes were by no means as good as the French, and we had much the best sport with the hares.”

The obituaries in Baily’s hunting directories for the years covering wartime provide a more somber glimpse into the lives and deaths of hunting servicemen. Fred Doughty, first whip to the South and West Wilts, was killed in action in 1915. So, too, was well-known Midlands hunting figure and Captain F.G.A. Arkwright, who was killed during World War I in “a flying mishap.”

A Master of the Ootacamund Hounds in India, Lieutenant Theodore Bailward, also was lost, and Commander C. F. Ballard of the Royal Navy, and “prominent member of the South Oxon Hunt,” drowned during World War I in the sinking of the Formidable. There is this note, too, in the Baily’s for 1915-1916, on the passing of Major G. W. Barclay of the Rifle Brigade:

“Son of Mr. E. E. Barclay and brother of Major M. E. Barclay, the Joint-Masters of the Puckeridge. Major Barclay was 24 years of age and was Master of the Eton pack and also of the Trinity Beagles at Cambridge. He received ten wounds at Ypres in July, 1915, and went again to the Front in March last.”

Photo by Dave Traxler

Killed also, the Master of the Devon and Somerset Staghounds, one Major Morland J. Grieg. On a happier note, the following from 1917: “Captain Philip Godsall, of the Oxon Light Infantry, a follower of the Wynnstay Hounds, escapes from Germany.”

It makes for sobering reading as the list goes on and on. Doubtless there were hunting people lost on both sides of the conflict, and doubtless there still are hunting people stationed the world over in danger zones. If anyone has stories of these, the houndbloggers will be happy to post them.

Baily's Hunting Directories

In England, Baily’s reveals, hunting was much altered in wartime. “There were no lawn meets, no hunt breakfasts, no scarlet worn, and no fields of any size,” the directory reported for the season of 1914-1915. “Elderly men came out, a few–very few–ladies, a sprinkling of boys and girls in the school holidays, a small number of farmers, and last but not least a considerable number of soldiers on leave from the trenches, or in the convalescent state after wounds received.”

Hounds, too, and also game often faced destruction in wartime. In September 1939, after England declared war on Germany, the Royal Artillery pack, with the exception of seven couples, were destroyed. But in 1940 General John Frost helped preserve the then RA harrier pack by saving the lives of another pack, as he wrote in A Drop Too Much:

“It transpired that a small pack of harriers called the Quarme was about to be put down as it was found impossible to feed them owing to wartime shortages, so I decided to save them and keep them back at Bulford. I put them in with a couple and a half of what remained of the RA Harriers pack in their kennels at Bulford and had a lot of fun chasing hares on the (Salisbury) Plain.”

Photo by Dave Traxler

In her history of the RA hounds, Estelle Holloway also writes of World War II: “For the 1942-43 season, hounds were supported by the Airborne Division located at Syrencot House and hunted by the 4th Parachute Battalion. Meeting on the lawn at Syrencot, loyal and trustworthy hounds never spoke a word concerning Operation Overlord, or the formation of the 6th Airborne Division assault, planned to secure the left flank of the Allied Ivasion on Normandy beaches later in the war. During precious Saturday afternoon recreation, a jolly of foxhounds, harriers, and Major Uniacke’s beagles destroyed foxes feeding on the plague of rabbits and smallholders’ chickens, out of control now because shoots could no longer be organized by farmers.”

It should be noted here that the RA hunt–now a foxhound pack–no longer kills anything, plague of rabbits or not, due to the ban on hunting in England. The pack hunts legally, within the new law’s bounds, as a drag-hunting pack.

British officers, retired and current, and soldiers turned out in force at the Royal Artillery hunter trials in England in 2009. The Royal Artillery is one of the world's military regiments with a long and storied connection to both horses, hounds, and hunting.

In September 1917, with World War I raging, the Liddlesdale Foxhounds notified Baily’s they were down to just four couples: “All the staff are at the War.” In February, the Masters of Foxhounds Association had “decided on their own initiative substantially to reduce the number of days’ hunting in every hunting country throughout England and Wales. Having so decided, they were prepared to slaughter a very large proportion of the hounds in order to avoid any suggestion that food which ought to be used for human beings was taken in any large quantity for hounds.” Shortly afterwards, the Ribblesdale Buckhounds also destroyed the population of Lord Ribblesdale’s deer park and suspended its pack. Some packs struggled on much reduced, but many others disbanded or stopped hunting, some never to be revived. “Mr. Eustace Bouth’s Foxhounds,” someone sadly informed Baily’s, “will not hunt so long as the War lasts.”

Having said that, some new hunts also were formed by sporting military sent abroad, including the Royal Exodus Hunt of Baghdad, established between the World Wars.

Finally, returning to the human side, in an interesting document called “A Memorial Roll of the Officers of Alexandra Princess of Wales’s Own Yorkshire Regiment Who Died 1914-1919,” we found a poignant notice regarding Captain Guy Lister Nevile of the 10th and 2nd Battalions, who died on June 14, 1915, at Givenchy. He was 29. “They advanced until every man was killed, wounded, or pinned to the ground by rifle and machine gun fire,” a battlefield report notes. “Captain Nevile was shot while advancing carrying his hunting horn. He cannot be traced but we still cling to the hope that he may have come in wounded.”

He did not come in and has no known grave. But his name is on the Le Touret Memorial north of Bethune, the “Memorial Roll” advises.

Well, Captain Nevile, we remember you, and all of your hound-loving brothers and sisters who have served, here at the hound blog.

Casting back on a rainy day

Photo by Dave Traxler.

Thank heavens for rain. God knows we need it sometimes, and so do our landowners. But does it have to fall, and fall so heavily, on days when hounds are supposed to meet? At least there is a silver lining: poor weather provides a fine opportunity to think back to sunnier days. The summer hound walk and roading season ended several weeks ago, but we thought we’d cast back a bit and enjoy a last look at some video and photographs we and photographer Dave Traxler collected over the summer.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

Now, of course, our thoughts have turned back to fall and the new hunt season. Which means the return of the Hound of the Day series, as well as more photos from Dave, and video when the houndbloggers are out with the camera. Stay tuned for all of that when the weather allows us back out again, and, in the meantime, stay warm and dry!

What we’ve been doing this summer