Rose’s last hunt

YOU’VE probably been around us long enough to know that the Houndbloggers are partial to old hounds (even when they are as bad as our Harry) and hounds that won’t give up (even when, as in the case of our Eider–late of the Clear Creek Beagles–their desire to hunt anything and everything, all night if necessary, results in their being expelled from a respectable pack with a disgraceful report card). We can’t help ourselves: we love them.

We also have a real soft spot for The River Bottom, a quietly wonderful blog about life in the country with beagles. The posts over there are a highlight for me, and when a new one goes up, I stop whatever I’m doing and pay attention, right then, in order to savor whatever news there is from River Bottom country in Litchfield, Minnesota. They came up with a beautiful one today that spoke to us, partly because it was about an old beagle who is a tried-and-true hare-tracker. Didn’t hurt that it reminded us a little of Mr. Box who, in his youth, failed to return from a hunt with the sun going down and the snow blowing in (to read about his great adventure, click this link and scroll down the page to “Mr. Box’s Epic Journey”).

Here is how The River Bottom began this afternoon:

I’m listening but I can’t hear anything. The spruce trees are all covered in snow, big snowflakes are drifting down. It’s getting dark, And cold. I don’t think Rose is coming back.

Pete is down on the south road waiting and listening. We covered all the roads looking for tracks, two or three times. No dogs crossed the road.

I’ve been in and out of this trail it seems like ten times. Under that dang jack pine that hangs over the trail. Its branches slide up over the windshield. I swear it’s going to pull off my wiper blades next time through.

The woods are deep to the west, she could have gone a few miles that way. Even if she is right here and something happened, I could never find her in this stuff. Me and Pete have walked all over this spot looking for her.

When I was loading dogs this morning Rose was there waiting. I was going to put her in the house. She would have cried all day. She’s about 14 now. I loaded her in the dog box too.

I guess I would rather see her disappear into the spruce trees running a hare in the snow than live a long and unhappy old age.

This spot is loaded with hare. Thick heavy spruce trees, aspen and brush when they go out the west side with thick alder and willow swamps. The dogs ran steady all day long.

Rose hasn’t hunted much the last couple years, she mostly just follows me around. I didn’t think she needed a tracking collar.

She started a hare on her own. Her voice is just as loud and pretty as ever. I heard her a couple times after that. With all these dogs running it was tough to pick her out.

When we started catching them up we hadn’t heard or seen Rose for a couple hours. Now we are trying to guess what happened to her.

Read on, please do, at The River Bottom. It’s fine writing telling a good story. With pictures that will make you smile. Enjoy.

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Guest blogger Buck Wiseman: On Foot at Shaker Village

Photo by the Houndbloggers.

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

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

Without further ado, we give the floor to Buck:

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Brian Blostica.

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

Photo by Brian Blostica.

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

An Irish Hunting Year in Pictures and Audio

This is, quite simply, one of the most gorgeous slideshows we’ve ever seen. There are fearsome Irish banks, sly foxes, and mud-splattered hounds, and much more. It’s from sporting photographer David Ryan, and it’s not just the photographs that make this piece so evocative. It’s also the glorious audio. Click play, turn your volume up a bit, and let yourself be carried through an Irish hunt season, from puppy show to hunt ball.

Blessings all around


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

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

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

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

Photo by Dave Traxler.

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

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

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

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

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

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

‘A parson should have a ‘good seat’

Amd ‘light hands’ and an ardor complete

For riding to hounds

Where clean sport abounds.

May no spill that parson delete!

Photo by Dave Traxler.

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

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

Photo by Dave Traxler.

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

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

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

For horses which obey our commands,

and for mules with good manners,

for hounds in joyful voice,

for foxes given us to hunt,

and for covert in which you provide for their safety,

for friends and partners in the chase,

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

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

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

Photo by Dave Traxler.

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

The Full Cry Film Fest: Hounds on the Web

The Iroquois Hunt field on Blessing Day last year. Dave Traxler photo.

EVERY now and then we like to spotlight some hound-related videos you can find on the internet, and a recent discovery prompted us to go on and get the 2011 version of the Full Cry Film Fest under way. After all, hunt season isn’t too far off  for those of us hunting in the northern hemisphere, and for some of our more northerly neighbors it’s already in progress.

A Facebook friend alerted the houndbloggers to the following funny series on foxhunting as “therapy” for Irish hunters (and visitors). The narration, by the German videographer, is entirely tongue-in-cheek. But the video of the ditches and banks (not to mention the mud) that Ireland’s Limerick Hunt faces are anything but fiction! The series comes in 19 parts that are eccentrically edited, in that one part might be six minutes long and the next might be 58 seconds long. If you can put up with that, there is a reward: the videography includes great shots of foxes and hounds running, Irish scenery, and humorous commentary. Here is a hint, from Part 18: The Run:

You can find the entire series–well worth watching–at Andreas Haberback’s YouTube channel here. And you might spot some familiar faces, such as that of Hugh Robards.

In hound videos, of course, the Holy Grail is the shot of hounds in full cry. It’s not easy to catch, but here are some nice examples we’ve collected from around YouTube:

And to see a nice move by a clever fox:

For a nice slideshow, check out this one from Yankee magazine showing the Myopia Hunt.

The Roscommon Hunt went out on foot during snowy, icy weather back in January 2010, and someone cleverly though to take a video camera. It’s short but scenic!

And, of course, winter or not, the fox has to hunt, too:

Speaking of Ireland … have you heard of the midnight foxhunt? Full cry AND full moon! This video explains all, starting at the 50-second mark:

Have you “winded” some good hound-, fox-, or coyote-related videos? The houndbloggers would be glad to use them in upcoming Full Cry Film Fests!

Peterborough foxhound show: The video!

Ringside scenes from the world’s most important show for working pack hounds! Thanks for your patience!

To see Part One of our coverage, click here. Two see Part Two, click here.

The show’s modern foxhound results are here. Old English foxhound results are here.

And the houndbloggers offer many hearty thanks to Creative Commons, the Free Music Archive, and composers Kevin MacLeod and Jonah Dempcy for use of their wonderful music.

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!