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.

What we’ve been doing this summer

Princes, Kings, Champagne, and a Scratch

HA puppy Hamlet, as photographed by IHC member Gene Baker.

IT’S hard to believe how much the HA puppies have grown! Iroquois Hunt member Gene Baker caught young Hamlet looking regal and mature–and wise beyond his years. Amazing to think he and his siblings are only seven months old.

To see the HA pups on the move, click here and here for videos from their hound walks. Thanks, Gene, for sending the photograph!

Kennel reception a hit

The HA puppies recently provided entertainment to visitors at the Iroquois kennel’s Champagne reception, hosted by the hunting hounds and the retirees.

The hounds hosted a crowd last month at the kennel's Champagne reception.

Now, when the Iroquois hounds put on a party they really, er, put on the dog. Their friends Uschi Graham and Kasia Pater, who also is the honorary chair of this year’s Hound Welfare Fund dinner and auction (June 4: mark your calendars!), lent a stylish hand and decorated the kennels with Persian carpets, potted palms, bronzes, and a work by Andre Pater.

Despite the afternoon’s very windy conditions, a good time was had by all–and the wind even died down eventually, making it easier to keep hold of your Champagne flute and hors d’oeuvres!

Iroquois member Robin Doller chats with one of the day's hosts.

Also within easy reach at all times: bottles of bubbly. Yes, the good stuff. The hounds know what they’re doing when they choose Champagne!

Many, many thanks to everyone who helped make the day so much fun, including Michael Edwards and Alan Foy for answering questions and showing off the hounds and their living quarters and Gene Baker and Blaine Holloway for providing a pair of handsome examples of proper hunt attire–and, of course, thanks to all the guests!

King’s Troop and the Foxhunting Tradition

One of the houndbloggers’ pet topics is the long and close relationship between foxhunting and the military, and we were especially excited to see a story touching on that shared history in the May 2011 issue of The Field.

The story on p. 80, which you can read online here, is about the King’s Troop. The King’s Troop grew out of the Riding Troop, a ceremonial troop that was part of the Royal Horse Artillery. In 1947, King George VI–he of “The King’s Speech,” if you’re a movie fan–changed the troop’s name to the King’s Troop. Upon King George VI’s death, his daughter Queen Elizabeth II left the name unchanged in his honor. The King’s Troop is a highly prestigious unit and, although the Troop’s function is ceremonial, its members are serving military and trained fighting soldiers. According to the Ministry of Defence, six members of the Troop are deployed in Afghanistan at any given time.

So what’s the hunting connection? The Royal Artillery has its own hunt (that link includes video; you can also see more video of their hounds here), and King’s Troop members frequently are to be found riding there. The King’s Troop also has its own hunt button. A few tidbits from The Field:

  • “In the hall above the door is a fox’s mask, the conclusion of a 50-minute hunt with the Derwent (24 February 1953) from Rowe Bridge to Howl Dale. The precise accounting of a boar’s head nearby is unrecorded.”
  • Neil Cross, the troop’s current commanding officer, commented on the King’s Troop’s close involvement in hunting: “It is important that we know how to get something extra out of a horse and how to ride the terrain. This is critical when towing a 1 1/2-ton gun carriage.” His words reflect the longstanding view among cavalry officers that foxhunting provided excellent training, because it taught not only a good seat at speed across country, but, more importantly, the importance of terrain and natural conditions in battle.
  • Patrick Martin, now huntsman for the Bicester with Whaddon Chase, is a former soldier who joined the King’s Troop in 1977 at age 17. “What my three years with the Troop taught me was discipline, respect for authority, and to turn yourself out to the top standard,” he told The Field.

The King's Troop. Photo courtesy of Kuva1574/Creative Commons.

The King’s Troop is a thing of beauty to watch in its state duties, which include providing the gun carriage and a team of black horses for state and military funerals, as well as firing royal salutes on state occasions and royal anniversaries. the King’s Troop also takes over duties of the Life Guards at Horse Guards for one month each year.

Hound Blog Hunch Bet update: no Toby!

Sadly, the houndbloggers received word this morning that Toby’s Corner will not run in the Kentucky Derby after showing some lameness in a hind leg. To read more about Toby and his withdrawal from the Derby, click here and here.

Master of Hounds is still in the race, though!

Toby (right) and cousin Eider are feeling pretty glum about Toby's Corner's withdrawal from the 2011 Kentucky Derby.

And obviously we weren’t the only ones rooting for Toby’s Corner. Photographer Maggie Kimmitt kindly sent us a shot of this banner in Fair Hill, Maryland, where Toby’s Corner is based with trainer Graham Motion.

It’s disappointing news, but here’s hoping Toby’s Corner gets over his lameness quickly and returns to competition soon! Until then, it looks like our Toby is considering ways to console himself on Derby day. Drink responsibly, Tobes!

Photo by Gina Spadafori.

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.

Like driving someone else’s racecar

Substituting for an injured huntsman means taking over a pack that has been trained by (and that has bonded with) someone else, and it takes more than just knowing how to blow the horn.

WHEN Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason broke her ankle out hunting in November, she was lucky in one respect: she had an experienced huntsman to whom she could pass the horn. And that person, Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller, was someone who works with the hounds daily alongside her.

That mattered, because as we’ve seen, Lilla has put a lot of time and training into the hounds (Jerry has had an important role in that training too). Having someone who knows the hounds and the huntsman’s style is vital to ensure the hounds’ steadiness until Lilla returns.

“Unfortunately, I got hurt right after the opening day of the hunt season,” Lilla said. “I’ve spent months since the last hunt season–from April to October–training the hounds and getting the pack exactly where I want them: responsive, together, controlled by voice. I’ve done that in the training style that Jerry has devised over the years, which is a kind, humane, quiet style. The reason it’s such a relief to have Jerry hunting the hounds for me now is that I know he knows he is a substitute. He hunts the hounds in that quiet way, but he’s also going to be very careful not to take the hounds over as his own, because I’ll be back.

“The worst thing would be if someone were to come in and hunt them in a different way from the way I do and try to take the pack over. That would usurp all the work we’ve done, and when I came back, it would be much more difficult for me to finish the season in the manner which it began.”

His years as Iroquois huntsman and his role as architect of the pack's training program has stood Jerry in good stead during the times he has subbed for Lilla out hunting and on hound walk. (Photo kindly given by Peggy Maness)

For Jerry, the prospect of taking over the Iroquois pack was more complicated than just accepting the horn and blowing it. A pack of hounds doesn’t automatically respect a horn; they respect the person who has worked to forge a bond with them through training. In order to maintain the continuity of what is effectively Lilla’s team, Jerry is careful to leave as little of his own imprint on them as he can.

“As much as I like them and would like to have these hounds be mine, that’s like taking somebody’s racecar and driving it as a substitute in the next three or four races,” Jerry explained.  “The first thing you need to do is not to wreck it. That’s the worst thing you could do. You don’t want to tear the transmission up and don’t tear the motor up, either. Just take it around carefully, because you’re not really the driver of that car. You’ll take it out because people want to come out and see the race, but the idea is to race it fairly and competitively, but don’t do any damage to it.

“The thing about a pack of hounds, and the reason you like your huntsman and Masters to have longevity, is because you breed the hounds not only for your country, but also for the way the huntsman hunts hounds,” he continued. “You can read about this in all the literature, but you can ruin a pack of hounds in a week or two weeks. If someone else other than Lilla came in and tried to impose their own personality on those hounds through the way they discipline them or reinforce them, and especially if they try to push them around or bully them, these hounds react to that. Some hounds won’t come back because they’ve gotten upset, and they’ll just be unruly. And the longer they stay away, the more they learn bad habits.”

Having temporarily turned her horn over to her back-up huntsman, jt-MFH Jerry Miller, regular Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason wore a regular member's black coat when she returned to the hunt field for the first time since her injury.

This hunt season, we’ve seen two strong examples of how important a hound considers the bond with its huntsman to be. When Strawberry first arrived this fall from England, her confusion at finding a completely new huntsman was clear. Since her birth, Strawberry had only ever known one huntsman–the Cottesmore’s Neil Coleman–and she was perplexed to find herself without her usual leader when she debuted under Lilla in November. Her first response was to head straight back to the hound trailer.

Similarly, when Jerry hunted the hounds for the first time after Lilla’s injury, he had to endure the pack’s initial skepticism about him, even though he knew them from training.

When he first blew the horn, the pack remained at the trailer, waiting for Lilla. Sure, that guy who walked with them in the summer had the horn now, but he wasn’t their huntsman. Their huntsman was Lilla. And they would just wait for her to show up, thanks. It took Jerry some minutes to get the pack away from the trailer.

Hunting history is riddled with similar accounts of hounds who, once “joined up” with their regular huntsman, will only have eyes for him (or her). Consider the case of whipper-in Jean MacLean in her first attempt to walk out the Clear Creek Beagles when huntsman Buck Wiseman was out of town:

When Buck was away and needed her to walk the hounds out, she discovered that the young hounds she’d helped raise from puppyhood merrily packed up with her when she opened the kennel gate for morning exercise. But the older hounds that had been there before she arrived were so skeptical that they would sit just outside the kennel and refuse to come along with her. They were, she realized, waiting for Buck. To them, she wasn’t the real deal, and no amount of biscuit-tossing could convince them to follow her.

Once the hounds finally moved off, Jerry still had his work cut out for him. One crucial element he had in his favor is his knowledge of the individual hounds and the philosophy under which they are trained.

Jerry Miller's role as back-up huntsman, he said, is to maintain the pack's steadiness and "not to do any damage" until Lilla can return

“A hound doesn’t just react to a couple of toots on a horn,” he said. “You have to know every individual hound. If you were going to play the piano and I took every third key away, that’s going to make it harder for you to play. You have to know which hound is acting up, which hound you have to pick up, which one you have to set down.”

Hunting hounds without imposing his own hunting style on them has required restraint from Jerry.

“He’s hunted them slowly and very deliberately, waited for any hounds that are missing so that the pack doesn’t get too spread out,” said Lilla, who has been following the hunt in a car regularly while she’s recovering. “It might be more fun for riders if he went out and hunted them the way  he would if he were always the huntsman, but he’s doing it this way so that the hounds will be better off when I come back.

“This helps me. If he had done things differently, it would have completely confused the hounds, because they’d have gotten used to a totally different style than mine, and I’d have to start over with them,” she added. “The ultimate honor you can do another human being is to do something for them that you know is not going to make you look your best. He knew he wasn’t going to look like a hotshot huntsman. He did it for the hound program.”

Part of "Lilla's team," as portrayed by Peggy Maness

Mind you, it’s taken some restraint from Lilla, too. While Jerry is hunting the hounds, she minimizes her contact with the hounds and rarely even speaks, in case the familiar sound of their regular huntsman’s voice distracts them.

“The worst thing I could do while he’s hunting is come out and be too loud, because pretty soon they’re going to get around me and stop doing what he’s asking them to do,” she explained. “They have to be obedient to the person who has the horn.”

“She has the golden thread with  her hounds,” Jerry acknowledges. “They know her personality, they know what she’s doing and when she’s upset. You can see it in them. When Lilla gets upset with a few of them, the others react to it, too. They just tighten up together and go on.  But if someone new comes in and gets uptight with them, those hounds will just disappear. They’ll decide they want to stay away from that person.

“And if a new person comes in and tries to be their best friend and keep them right next to his horse, that can be just as bad, because instead of working, the hounds will just trot along next to his horse like they were on a trail ride. So there’s a fine line between discipline and reinforcement. I try to put them in, let them work the covert, then be on the other end to pick them up and go on to the next covert, without imposing on them.

“I have to maintain things. I have to make sure that everyone responds and that I don’t get three or four hounds that decide they’ll refuse to listen and go hunting on their own, that decide since Lilla’s not out they don’t have to listen to anybody.”

It’s a slower style of hunting, but it preserves the pack and their training in the near term while Lilla recovers.

For a glimpse of Lilla’s relationship with the hounds, see how they gaze at her in this video taken from the huntsman’s point of view on hound walk this summer:

There’s a code of honor among huntsmen that holds the relationship between huntsman and hounds, that golden thread, as sacred. Jerry ‘s restraint in hunting “her” hounds is honoring that tradition, Lilla said. She has reciprocated, too, by wearing a black hunt coat–rather than her red huntsman’s coat–when she returned to the hunt field for an hour (with her leg in a cast!) at her first hunt since the injury.

“What Jerry has done for me is the most honorable thing a retired huntsman can do for one who is active,” Lilla said. “He’s not out there for the sake of his own ego. He’s not trying to look like the best huntsman in the world, and he knows he’s not going to look like the best huntsman in the world doing it this way. But he knows they’re not his hounds now; I trained them. And that’s the way he looks at it: ‘I’m just the substitute.’

“One huntsman would never insert himself or do anything to possibly damage or interfere with another huntsman’s relationship with his own hounds,” she concluded. “Your relationship with your hounds is like a marriage, and you wouldn’t step in between a huntsman and his hounds any more than you would step between husband and wife.”

So how is Lilla’s recovery coming? Very well, she says. She’s started riding again, and she had that happy hour out with hounds just before Christmas.

“Since I got off crutches, it seems like every day there’s been immense improvement,” she said. “I’ve been riding, but I still have this inconvenient boot on my leg. I need to go see a welder and get a big stirrup made. I’m riding in a dressage saddle and in a controlled environment, and, with the weather we’ve had, nobody’s riding outside anyway. So I’m very encouraged.”

Copyright 2010 Glenye Cain Oakford,

Blessed are the foxhounds (with much video!)

IHC Blessing of the Hounds 11-07-09

The Iroquois Hunt's Blessing of the Hounds honored the pack's retirees as well as its current hunting members. The human "new entry" also were well represented among the riders!

THERE’S something truly beautiful about the Blessing of the Hounds ceremony that opens the formal foxhunting season. It’s a “high church” event for foxhunters, a way to honor the sport’s most important players: the hounds, the game, and the land.

At Iroquois, we add a special twist by including retired hounds in the blessing ceremony, a tip of the top hat to their years of service and all the sport they and their progeny have given the club.

A good many of the Iroquois Hunt’s neighbors and landowners were in attendance today as the riders, horses, hounds, and hunt staff gathered in toasty sunshine on the clubhouse lawn. Deacon Bryant Kibbler conducted the service, and in his brief homily, he, too, made a point to honor our old soldiers who were standing nearby with huntsman Lilla Mason, their sterns gently waving as if they were remembering their glory days in the hills and fields around them.

They were joined by a sprinkling of current members in the hunting pack. Our big woolly, Grundy’s son Sassoon, is “far from retired,” Lilla said, “but he loves a party.” The sisters Finite and Finesse, fondly known as “two bodies, one brain,” also attended before taking to the hunt field.

Finite and Finesse

Two bodies, one brain: Finite and Finesse

(In case you need a reminder about how they got their nickname, here is their story, originally posted in Hound’s Life: Summer Walk earlier this year:

They are a testament to this hunt staff’s patience. They showed little real interest in hunting early on in their careers and usually could be found loping along together as if in their own world. But one day, something clicked.

“Lilla spotted them on a run out hunting one day near Blue Fox Farm,” Miller recalls. “She said over the radio, ‘It’s Finesse!’ I said, ‘No, you’ve got that wrong,’ and she came back on the radio and said, ‘And Finite!’  I couldn’t believe it.”

But there they were, the two sisters leading the whole pack.

“They lost 10 or 15 pounds that season because they finally started hunting,” Miller said. “Before then it seemed like they could just live on air. We used to feed them about this much”–cupping his hand–”and they still stayed fat because they expended so little energy on the hunt field.”

Sassoon, Finesse, and Finite are all woolly hounds rather than smooth-coated. The other woollies out this morning to receive their blessing were Gloucester, Fickle, and Stalker.

For Stalker, it was an especially important milestone. Stalker is nine years old this season, and he has a heart ailment. “Every day is a blessing for Stalker,” said Lilla, and that’s true. We don’t know how long we will have old Stalker around, but he has earned the hunt’s special affection for his courage.

Stalker '01

For Stalker, every day is Blessing Day

The other retired hounds who enjoyed a nostalgic visit to the hunt club were Parapet, Pancake (better known in her early hunting days as “Pancake. Pancake. PANCAKE!”); Glamorous, so named because she appears to be wearing an ermine wrap around her neck and shoulders; Radiant; Glowworm (whose father, Captain, was the first hound retired under the auspices of the Hound Welfare Fund); and Harlequin, the HWF’s retiree of the year for 2009 who was featured in the blog earlier this year.

Harlequin photographed by Peggy Manness

Harlequin, as captured by Peggy Manness of Maness Photography

The older hounds stepped right back into their familiar role, pushing their way right up with the younger hounds to compete for biscuits and trotting over to visit spectators gathered around the lawn for the ceremony. One child could be heard to say, “Mommy! That dog’s got a beard!”

We love our woollies!

The clip below is from the beginning of the Blessing of the Hounds ceremony; the two biggest woollies are Sassoon and Stalker.

Then it was on up the road for a stirrup cup in a field adjacent to Miller Trust Farm, where the hounds are kenneled.

It was especially nice to see so many young riders out today! They took everything in stride. The smallest riders retired from the field after having their photos taken (and some ham biscuits and cake, provided by Lilla as part of the stirrup cup). But the other juniors joined right in for the hunt day, galloping and jumping and watching the hounds work in the grassy fields, woods, and creek bottoms on Miller Trust and the surrounding country.

We think everyone–hounds, horses, and riders–went home happy. The weather was too hot for good scenting, but the hounds worked well together, and, all in all, it was a pleasant start to the formal season, complete with some impromptu schooling over fences in “the bowl” near Boone Creek on Miller Trust. In the clip below, you get a good idea of how high some of the growth is now, courtesy of the unusually wet summer we’ve had. The clip starts with the field jumping a coop and also includes the sound of Lilla’s horn and the hounds speaking briefly.

Finally, it was time to hack home again. Lilla rode her horse, Lager, right into the kennel to make sure everyone was home safely.

Blessing Day - Back in kennels

Lilla and Lager make sure everyone's back safe at the kennel

Hound at Miller Trust

"I'd rather be hunting!"

We hope you had a happy hack home, too.

Long hack home

The end of the day. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!

Happy Blessing Day, everyone!

Houndbloggers Abroad: Hounds between the covers (of books, that is!)

The Ways' bookshop in Burrough Green, near Newmarket

The Ways' bookshop in Burrough Green, near Newmarket

WHEN we’re not chasing hounds chasing game, the Houndbloggers’ favorite hunt is for old sporting books. We prefer ones dealing with the management, breeding, and training of hounds–and especially if they include great old anecdotes about specific hounds, their personalities, and their adventures (or misadventures, as in Captain Pennell-Elmhirst’s great piece about the Ootacamund Hounds in Ooty, India).

There’s probably no better place in the world to shop for those treasures than in England. Hunting with hounds has such deep roots there, and the love of the dog is so generally strong, that you are likely to stumble on some extraordinary and delightful find every place you try, from the second-hand bookstore on the corner to the expensive sporting specialist shop. Every year, we visit England and return overloaded with tomes that have taken our fancy, often on fairly obscure topics. England’s bookstores, in fact, seem to specialize in the obscure, which is one reason I love them so much. How could anyone resist the slender volume titled Arthropods of Medical Importance or the obviously intriguing Life of the White Ant found in d’Arcy’s second-hand bookshop in Devizes?

Here are a few of our favorite sporting shops, excerpts of books we’ve recently spotted there, and their websites or contact information, in case you’re interested in inquiring about your own particular passion, from the history of the grouse to house-training your own dog.

Most of these are in England’s southwest because that is where we spend most of our time. But there are excellent second-hand and sporting specialist book shops throughout England and around the world. If you know of one and would like to share information about it, please let us know, and we’ll be happy to do a later post on them.

R.E. and G. B. WAY, Burrough Green, near Newmarket.

Contact (from the US):  011-44-1638 507217. From the UK, dial 01638-507217.

This lovely shop’s location near the heart of Britain’s racing country attracts a lot of Thoroughbred lovers. But their enormous and varied stock covers many, many canine and hunting subjects, too. Their hound-book inventory, in particular, is outstanding. They’ve got single copies of exceedingly rare or hard-to-find books, but they also have multiple copies of desirable volumes considered classic and essential for foxhunters and hound lovers, like The Noble Science of Fox-Hunting by F. P. Delme Radcliffe and Ikey Bell’s Foxiana, all beautifully aged.

The Ways' bookshop occupies a lovely old house that is completely stuffed with sporting tomes, photographs, personal hunting journals, and the like

The Ways' bookshop occupies a lovely old house that is completely stuffed with sporting tomes, photographs, personal hunting journals, and the like

The shop is open by appointment and occupies a marvelous ivy-covered house just a few miles outside of Newmarket. Among the unique offerings there are several personal, handwritten hunting journals kept by individuals who hunted with some of England’s most renowned packs at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century.

In the Ways' front grande, a hint of what topics lie inside

In the Ways' front garden, a hint of what specialities lie inside

The Ways’ shop took the biggest toll on our bank account, and it is fairly expensive, but the fact that they have multiple copies of many books does allow the shopper some chance to compare prices.

Good to know: The bathroom on the ground floor also serves as the half-price room! The books there cover a huge range of subjects and fill the shelves all around the, er, bathroom equipment. Worth a visit.

A Find: The Science of Foxhunting, by Scrutator. Published in 1868, this volume is a presentation copy signed by the well-known 19th-century huntsman Frank Goodall, who gave it to a friend whose name, unfortunately, we can’t decipher! (UPDATE! We’ve found that it is inscribed to the Hon. Alan Pennington, an apparently very dashing and forward sort of rider to hounds who also served as Master at the Holderness for one season before “resigning on account of the scarcity of foxes,” according to one reference.)

A View: “We dislike to see hounds at anytime huddled up together round their huntsman, like a flock of sheep penned in the corner of a field by a dog snapping round them. When the entry have become steady, and are admitted into the pack, discipline of this kind  is as injurious as unnecessary, since we have remarked that hounds kept in such  strict order are more inclined to run riot than those treated with more confidence.

“The late Assheton Smith was, in this respect, the most  trusting huntsman we have ever seen in the field, and we were often amused with the sudden change in the behaviour of his hounds on his arrival at the place of meeting. Whilst in charge of the kennel huntsman and two whips, they trotted along in a compact body, solemnly and demurely, not a hound venturing to step out of place; but no sooner did they catch sight of their master, or hear his voice, than, breaking loose from further restraint like boys out of school, they rushed eagerly to meet him, jumping and playing round his horse, with other manifestations of excessive delight.

“The character of the hounds seemed changed in a moment, and as they moved off to draw covert, an independence of action was assumed totally at variance with their former deportment. They knew no whipper-in dare touch or control them in their huntsman’s presence, to whom, however, they yielded that cheerful obedience so pleasing to behold in all animals attached to a kind master, a word or wave of the hand being sufficient to recall or turn them in any direction.”  –The Science of Foxhunting, by Scrutator, p. 165-166

John Head, who owns the Salisbury shop with his wife Judith

John Head, who owns the Salisbury shop with his wife Judith



In Salisbury, our favorite stop is John and Judith Head’s, one of Britain’s top sporting booksellers. They specialize in highly prized rare volumes and sporting prints, but don’t be afraid to peruse the handsome shelves if your budget is small. We’ve found terrific books there for prices starting as low as £7, about $13. Small hunting prints, including some by Munnings that are difficult to find in print form in the US, also start in that price range. Also on offer: signed prints by Snaffles, Lionel Edwards, and John King.

But the real beauty of the Heads’ shop is in the variety of rare and high-end stock on a wide range of sporting and countryside subjects. My favorite purchase from there is my copy of Hon. George Charles Grantley Fitzhardinge Berkeley’s Reminiscences of a Huntsman from the late 1800s, and more recently we have spotted some beautiful treatises on hound and dog training.

Another plus to visiting the Heads’ quiet shop in Salisbury is the chance of meeting John and Judith. They are wonderful storytellers and are also a wealth of information about books, field sports, and much more.

The Heads' shopwindow in Salisbury offers a tempting glimpse at the delights inside, from rare signed prints to valuable volumes.

The Heads' shopwindow in Salisbury offers a tempting glimpse of the delights inside, from rare signed prints to valuable volumes.

Good to know: The Heads’ shop is closed on Saturday. On the other hand, if there is a game fair or horse trials going on any particular Saturday, you can probably find them there!

A Find: Tell Him, by Lt.-Col. G. H. Badcock. We usually spend most of our time looking at the books about hunting and hounds, but we happened across this slim but interesting volume about dog training and thought it worth mentioning, although it is less representative of the Heads’ stock than the more beautiful and rare books are.

A View: “The whole secret of success with a dog lies in being perfectly natural with him, and trying to copy someone else is not being natural. How many times have I said that you cannot fool a dog by trying to be other than yourself, I should be sorry to say, but certainly, in regard to training, it is the greatest truism of all. Every normal dog has the power of thought-reading very highly developed, and they will give their confidence to one person who they know understands them as readily as they will withhold it from someone who does not, and I admit at once that this is a very difficult proposition to tackle, if the gift for understanding and winning the confidence of a dog is not a natural trait.” —Tell Him, by Lt.-Col. G. H. Badcock

D’ARCY BOOKS, Devizes, Wiltshire

Contact:  011-44-1380-726922 from the US. From the UK, 01380 726922.

This charming two-storey shop on the High Street in Devizes is a must-visit for us. It’s known in our family as “McGregor’s,” because the owner is a Mr. McGregor; he usually can be found at the shop on Thursdays and Saturdays, sitting in a lawn chair just to one side of his shop entrance, wearing his fingerless gloves and reading some interesting book.

D'Arcy Books in Devizes has small sections on field sports, equestrian, and canine topics that never fail to yield marvelous finds at very fair prices.

D'Arcy Books in Devizes has small sections on field sports, equestrian, and canine topics that never fail to yield marvelous finds at very fair prices.

Mr. McGregor at his second-hand bookshop, d'Arcy Books

Inside, d’Arcy Books is the epitome of an English second-hand bookshop, complete with creaky stairs leading up to the history and military sections. You can find anything and everything there, from cookbooks to ancient guidebooks describing local landmarks, and, in fact, the section reserved for sporting and equestrian books is fairly small. But we have always, always been extraordinarily lucky at d’Arcy, and I never seem to venture in without leaving with something exquisite–and usually with some change still in my pocket!

One of our two best finds there was a pristine biography of the famed but tragic jockey Fred Archer, who rode Iroquois (for whom the Iroquois Hunt is named) to victory in the 1881 Epsom Derby. The book dated from the early 1900s and had the softest red leather covers, and it is one of the best biographies I have ever read, of anyone.

D'Arcy Books also excels in local Wiltshire and British history and countryside books, like these pretty old guide books.

D'Arcy Books also excels in local Wiltshire and British history and countryside books, like these pretty old guide books.

The other miraculous find: an exceedingly rare presentation copy of artist Joan Wanklyn’s Guns at the Wood about the Royal Horse Artillery’s elite King’s Troop.

Good to know: The sporting section in d’Arcy Books might look small, but new books are added there regularly, and it is always worth checking back there even a couple of times in a week. It is one of the best sources we know for wonderful volumes at good prices. Also worth a look: the local history and countryside sections.

A Find: The Way of a Dog, by William Beach Thomas. Essentially an essay on living with dogs, this lovely and moving book is written largely in the form of a letter to the author’s dog.

A View: “Though I let you wander freely, it scarcely occurs to you to leave the garden. A walk with me is so much greater sport than a solitary ramble that you have half-forgotten that the second is a pleasure at all. But when I promise a walk you even open the wicket gate, which leads to the fields, by yourself and hurry to the juncture of road and path to await, in utter excitement, my decision. When the field path is chosen every nerve in you tingles to delight. Companionship with me–that is your consummate pleasure; and if two animals enjoy companionship as you and I do, each must surely understand the other, by virtue of some sense of which this reason, or our boasting, is mere branch. If you possess no reason, you are conscious of something better and more full of meaning even than instinct.” —The Way of a Dog, by William Beach Thomas

The famed "Bibliotherapy Room" at Mr B's Bookshop in Bath features free coffee and a fireplace

The famed "Bibliotherapy Room" at Mr B's Bookshop in Bath features free coffee and a fireplace



For new books, we heartily recommend Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath. It occupies three floors of in one of Bath’s remarkable champagne-colored stone buildings, and it is, without question, the best bookstore for new books that we have ever been in.

Mr. B’s isn’t a sporting specialist; it is a general-interest shop that specializes instead in very high-quality editions of old classics and new works. But we include it here because it offers a notable array of works about countryside subjects that are near and dear to many foxhunters’ and dog-lovers’ hearts. Not only can you find unusual works pertaining to wildlife and country life here, but almost every book they offer is also gorgeous, making it an outstanding place to purchase gifts or books pretty enough to collect on their looks alone!

Head up a twisty staircase to the shop’s second floor, and there you’ll find the shop’s horse, dog, and country life sections. Conveniently located in the next room is what Mr. B’s calls its Bibliotherapy Room: comfy chairs facing a fireplace, with free coffee on offer in Mr. B’s own mugs. All of which makes it very tempting to sit for a long while, paging through dog books.

Mr B's Bookshop is hands-down the best shop for new books that we've ever visited--anywhere!

Mr B's Bookshop is hands-down the best shop for new books that we've ever visited--anywhere!

Good to know: Mr. B’s has a resident dog, Vlashka. Ask to meet her!

A Find: Words from The Countryman, edited by Valerie Porter. A collection of wit, wisdom, article snippets, observations, and letters to the editor that have appeared in The Countryman magazine, published since 1927.

Two Views:

“While staying with a friend in Scotland, a very deaf man of my acquaintance thought it would be interesting to try the effect of his electric deaf-aid on the 15-year-old dog. He put it in place, and when the owner called the dog it immediately started to its feet, barked, and wagged its tail. It had not heard its master’s voice for years.” — from 1953, in The Countryman

“Motoring one night recently I saw, on rounding a bend, that the whole roadway ahead was dotted with pairs of tiny green points, gleaming iridescently in the darkness, and continually appearing and disappearing. I found that I had met an army of rats on the move, and that the green points were the creatures’ eyes. The gleaming brilliance of animals’ eyes, when caught in the glare of headlights, is a common sight to motorists. A cat’s, a dog’s, or a rabbit’s eyes usually shine green. The eyes of a fox flash back bright crimson, the eyes of a bullock a kind of rich amber.” — From 1931 in The Countryman

Mr B's specializes in beautiful, upmarket editions of familiar classics as well as new books. These gemlike special editions often feature gorgeous covers that makes these books ideal gifts.

Mr B's specializes in beautiful, upmarket editions of familiar classics as well as new books. These gemlike special editions often feature gorgeous covers that makes these books ideal gifts.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this e-ramble through these shops. I know the Iroquois hounds haven’t been able to hunt much recently due to the terrible weather, and so that means their devoted followers have been “in kennels,” too! Here’s hoping this “paper chase” of sorts has helped keep you occupied until you and the hounds see sunshine and the hunt field again.

Sporting treasures, these from John and Judith Head's shop in Salisbury

Sporting treasures, these from John and Judith Head's shop in Salisbury

Hark to the horn–hunt season’s almost here! (with audio)

HUNTSMEN are amazing for all kinds of reasons. Personally, I’m impressed by the fact they can blow into a hunting horn and have something other than a raspberry come out the other end.


I came across this audio of “Gone Away” and “Blowing for Home” while looking up some information on England’s Heythrop Hunt at their website, and it put me in a hunting mood. If you’re in the midst of trot sets and trying to get yourself and your horse fit for the coming hunt season (heck, depending on where you are, you might already BE cubhunting!), hark to this musical reminder of why you’re doing all that fitness work–and why it will be worth it!

As a bonus, the third button on the Heythrop audio is even better than the horn calls. It’s the Heythrop hounds in full cry.

The Disappointed: the Beagle House hounds thought the horn was calling them

The Disappointed: the Beagle House hounds thought the horn was calling them

To hear the horn and hounds, click on the link above. The first two buttons (labeled “One” and “Two”) are the horn calls; button “Three” is the pack in full cry. Oh, yes–you might want to turn the volume down slightly (or not!) and hold on to your house hounds. Mine came racing from the backyard to my desk, looking for the action all those hounds were yelling about. They were pretty disappointed to discover the quarry had gone to ground in my laptop. Sorry, guys.

Becoming leader of the pack (with video!)

The Clear Creek Beagles: They like their walks!

The Clear Creek Beagles: They like their walks!

NOTE: For those who had trouble viewing the Iroquois hounds video below, my apologies! I mistakenly had it listed as “private broadcast,” but it is now public. Please try again!

It was a houndful weekend here at Full Cry, and while we apologize for missing our self-imposed deadline of posting these words over the weekend, we must beg your indulgence and hope you agree that time spent with hounds is generally happier than time spent in front of a computer!

We started this weekend walking with the Iroquois hounds in Lexington, Kentucky, on Saturday and ended walking with the Clear Creek Beagles in Louisville, about an hour and a half to the northwest of Lexington. This is the ideal summer weekend, as far as we’re concerned.

At Iroquois, the hound walks are almost ready to make the shift from the ground to horseback as huntsman Lilla Mason and the whips mount up in preparation for the season. But, for now, everyone is still accompanying the hounds on foot, and the training emphasis, Lilla said, is on “getting the hounds’ eyes.”

Remember the dog biscuits? They’re still a training tool, but Lilla is feeding fewer of them these days, preferring instead to reward good behavior with pats and attention,which make the hounds equally happy. Lilla also has subtly changed some of the biscuit-feeding routine. These days when she stops mid-walk to toss a few cookies to the hounds, she doesn’t say anything to them to let them know she’s stopping. This tests their attentiveness. If the hounds ahead of her have let their minds drift, they’ll miss the crucial moment when Lilla has halted and silently started throwing out treats to the hounds that have stayed close and kept an eye on her, waiting for just this opportunity.

This trains the hounds to keep their focus where it always should be, on the work of the pack and the location of the huntsman, the pack leader.

“The biscuits make them learn to watch you,” agreed Buck Wiseman, joint-Master of Beagles and huntsman at the Clear Creek Beagles.

But it’s not just about the biscuits

Biscuits are a great tool for huntsmen (and dog owners!), but they are not the sole source of a hound pack’s loyalty to its huntsman. Building that loyalty is a pretty complex thing, we find when we ask huntsmen about it.

Consider this anecdote from Neil Coleman, professional huntsman of the Cottesmore hounds in England (whose bloodlines, incidentally, are to be found in the Iroquois kennel).  Coleman arrived as a whip at Cottesmore in 1981 when the renowned Capt. Brian Fanshawe became the hunt’s joint-Master of Fox Hounds and amateur huntsman. Working so closely with Fanshawe and the hounds, Coleman saw first-hand how hounds form attachment and loyalty to a huntsman–even when biscuits play little role in the relatonship. Coleman has said that, at the end of each hunt season every spring, Fanshawe would head off to other business, returning again in the fall to take up hunting the hounds again. Despite the fact that they rarely, if ever, saw Fanshawe throughout the summer months of hound walking and training, when the hounds heard the engine of Fanshawe’s car pulling into the drive to the kennels again each autumn, they went nearly beserk with joy. Why? He gave them their sport, and his arrival heralded the opening of hunt season again, something hounds appear to value at a “price above biscuits,” to paraphrase the old saying.

Keys to the pack: mutual respect, affection, and a common language

Keys to the pack: mutual respect, affection, and a common language

Visiting the Clear Creek Beagles, we had a chance to get another huntsman’s perspective on this, too. Buck, who’s been hunting hounds since he was a 13-year-old in Virginia, says a close connection between huntsman and hounds sometimes seems mystical and is, in fact, exceedingly difficult to explain. Whether or not a huntsman has a magical way with hounds, he’s got to develop a language that both he and his pack can use to understand each other. That language is verbal, but it also has to do with body language and setting rules and routines that the hounds can understand, and that they expect the huntsman to play by, too.

“You’ve got to encourage them,” Buck said as his pack of about 15 couple leaped and bounded at the hem of his kennel coat. “You’ve got to make cheerful sounds when you want to be cheerful. You’ve got to sound truly gruff when you want to get their attention. It’s more art than science.”

Walking with the Clear Creek Beagles looks much like walking hounds at Iroquois, but on a smaller scale. The emphasis is the same: to reinforce hounds’ focus on the huntsman, to provide exercise, and to build pack rapport (especially for the puppies that form the upcoming season’s new entry, or first-time hunters).

Individuals make up a pack, of course, so a huntsman has to get to know individual hounds and their personalities,  quirks, and habits in order to help that hound make a place in the pack successfully. Buck points out a bitch named Eve that Clear Creek had sent to another beagle pack as payment for a stud fee to one of its doghounds.

“She was miserable there,” Buck said. “They couldn’t get their hands on her. So they sent her back. But she’s just as happy as she can be here. We have others, like old Mason here, who are great with me, great with Jean (MacLean, Clear Creek whipper-in), and are fine out hunting, but they don’t like strangers in the kennel much.”

Is it time for our walk?

Is it time for our walk?

A huntsman can’t hunt very well unless he has the loyalty of the pack, and that means having the loyalty of its individual members. Jean got an early lesson in that when she first started working with the Clear Creek Beagles in college. When Buck was away and needed her to walk the hounds out, she discovered that the young hounds she’d helped raise from puppyhood merrily packed up with her when she opened the kennel gate for morning exercise. But the older hounds that had been there before she arrived were so skeptical that they would sit just outside the kennel and refuse to come along with her. They were, she realized, waiting for Buck. To them, she wasn’t the real deal, and no amount of biscuit-tossing could convince them to follow her.

Clear Creek Beagles puppy Hadley starts off feeling a little shy but soon joins up

Clear Creek Beagles puppy Hadley starts off feeling a little shy but soon joins up

As we walked along, surrounded by a pack of wagging, panting beagles, there were few obvious quirks in the Clear Creek pack at the moment. There were only two I could spot. One was Hadley, a shy puppy who hung back well behind us as we walked with the pack through fields and along Buck’s dirt and gravel drive. Buck and Jean kept an eye on Hadley but didn’t push him to join up with the pack, even when he would stop, tail down, and watch the pack recede for a long while. Left on his own, he’d then gallop forward again, always remaining some yards behind the pack, Buck, and Jean. At one point, an older bitch, Salute, trotted back and rounded Hadley up, bringing him back into the pack with her. Eventually, about halfway through a walk of just over a mile, Hadley had screwed up his confidence enough to stay mid-pack, where he trotted along, holding his tail up cheerfullyand casting glances at Buck.

“He’s joined us, but I still have some work to do with him,” Buck observed. “I’ll put him in a yard, pick him up and put him over a wall into his yard. That’s important, so they get handled. He’s not in a yard right now where he’s getting handled so much, so I’ll move him. I’ll just keep picking him up and playing with him every day.”

The other unusual personality was Sancerre, an independent-minded five-year-old bitch that Buck and Jean say they’ve kept in the pack because she’s such a good hunter. Otherwise, she can be aggravating, because she likes to play tricks like hiding in long grass until Buck and the pack have passed, then scurrying off on her own for a private hunt. (She also, incidentally, loves to swim, which doesn’t generally present a problem)

“Sancerre is biddable, she’s just … rebellious,” Buck explained, laughing.  He sounded like an indulgent father describing why he had left a delinquent child in his will.

“Right,” said Jean. “Sure.”

“Sancerre is tolerated,” Buck said with a smile.

“Sancerre is smart,” said Jean. “She likes to fake him out sometimes.”

The creek is a favorite stop on the Clear Creek Beagles' hound walk

The creek is a favorite stop on the Clear Creek Beagles' hound walk

It all looks very informal, this little pack of hounds busily traveling up the farm road together, stopping for a swim in the creek, scouting for biscuits in the grassy verges. But there’s training going on, as Buck pointed out.

“Every time I stop and toss biscuits and talk to them, that’s training for control,” he said, echoing Lilla back at Iroquois. Also like Lilla and Jerry Miller at Iroquois, Buck likes to let his hounds walk and hunt in a looser pack formation rather than in a tight little squad around him.

“I’ve always believed that anyone who has to keep them around him in a little bunch doesn’t really have control of his hounds,” Buck said.

So how do you create the loyalty that leads to real biddability, that makes the hounds want to be with you, even when you’re in the middle of an open field on a sleeting hunt day, when your hounds are some ways distant and you need to call them back to you, with not even a biscuit to use as a lure? Sure, you can breed for a certain amount of biddability, and Buck has stuck with old English and American pack bloodlines to maximize biddability. But that’s not the whole story, not by a long way. The golden thread, that perfect sympathy and communication between huntsman and hounds, is hard to describe.

“To some degree it’s the breeding, and to some degree it’s walking them out every day,” Buck acknowledged. “But the rest of it, I don’t know. They just listen.”

Sancerre, one of the beagle pack's more challenging characters, catches biscuits mid-swim

Sancerre, one of the beagle pack's more challenging characters, catches biscuits mid-swim

Like Lilla, Buck spends a lot of time communicating with individual hounds, stopping to give them a pat or a biscuit and speaking to them by name–Hazelnut, Sweetbriar, Snuffbox, Harlequin, Mister, Mermaid, Socket, Matchbox–they all leap to attention or look in Buck’s direction and wag their tails when he speaks to them.

Buck places a good nose and a strong desire to hunt at the top of his “must have”  list, but biddability is a close third.

“If you can’t take them out and bring them back, particularly if you’ve got a day job, your life is hell,” said Buck, an attorney in his non-beagling life. “You’ll spend the week recovering hounds all over your country.

“You know, it’s kind of a two-way street. They’ve got to trust you, and you’ve got to believe they’re going to respond. Because if you don’t believe in them, they’ll know you don’t. But how do you build that? I don’t entirely know. That’s the magic.”

“There’s nowt so queer as scent”

The nose knows ... but we don't, entirely.

The nose knows ... but we don't, entirely.

As Mr. Jorrocks said in Handley Cross. Jorrocks ended this pronouncement by adding,” ‘cept a woman.” But I think I’d end it differently: “There’s nowt so queer as scent, ‘cept what we’ll do to try to understand it.” More of that in a moment.

“Oh, that weary scent!” exclaimed Mr. Jorrocks, “that weary, incomprehensible, incontrollable phenomenon! ‘Constant only in its inconstancy!’ as the hable hauthor of the noble science well said.”

Indeed. Everyone knows what scent is, by definition: it’s an odor, or “an odor left in passing, by means of which an animal or person may be traced,” according to But it’s almost impossible to get a precise understanding of how scent behaves, though many have tried. How, exactly, does something generate a smell, what carries the scent, and how does a hound’s nose capture the odor? The jury is out on that, apparently. There are two basic theories of how smells work that are competing for subscribers. One says that molecules’ shapes and how those shapes fit with sensors are what give something a distinctive scent; the other says that the particular vibrations of molecules are what does it. We do know that hounds, like dogs generally, have large olfactory lobes in their brains, meaning that scent and the ability to detect it is important to them and they are highly attuned to it. No one understands that better than the people who handle working hound packs, whether beagle, basset, or foxhound, as well as the people who work with bloodhounds.

And yet we still know so little about the thing that is at the very center of our sport: scent and the ability to track it. There have been many attempts to understand and measure scent, to unravel the effects of temperature, geography, moisture, and wind on its behavior, and these efforts have driven scientists, huntsmen, and curious amateurs to some peculiar (and highly entertaining) experiments. One book by Milo Pearsall and Hugo Verbruggen noted that “experiments have shown that a person traveling above the ground when suspended from a cable trolley could not be tracked by dogs.” (More importantly, what did the neighbors think?)

If that were not alarming enough, consider the next phase, in which Pearsall and Verbruggen tested the importance of human skin flakes to a hound’s ability to track a person: “A person dressed in full surgical gear, wearing total body isolation garments, laid track for a dog who had successfully tracked that person several times. The result: the dog showed no interest at the starting flag, nor anywhere else even when led on lead. When the person removed hood and mask, the dogs easily could follow a fresh track … When the person’s boots were cut off but while he wore the hood and mask, the dog easily followed both a fresh and aged track.”

On the other hand, responding to that experiment’s conclusion, one Lieutenant Weldon Wood wrote an essay for the National Police Bloodhound Association Book and asked, “If this is true, then how is it explained that a dog has followed the trail of a person on a bicycle or in an open car?”

Good question, Lt. Wood, and we still have no idea, despite decades upon decades of study.

Happily for trackers of hare, cottontail, fox, coyote, and the like, game doesn’t wear “total body isolation garments,” although there are times when scenting conditions are so poor it seems as if the quarry is. Scent and its operation on the canine nose are mysteries, but the more pressing mystery, from a huntsman’s point of view, is why scent is so changeable and how conditions of land and weather can change its behavior. Here again, ceaseless study has not led us very far. It is generally understood that hot weather and sunlight are bad for scenting, but there are myriad theories as to why this might be true.

The English Master of Fox Hounds H. M. Budgett wrote a classic text, Hunting by Scent, in 1933 that amply illustrates the lengths hunters were driven to in their fervor to get a grip on scent. Budgett employed a pair of magnificent bloodhounds, Ledburn Baal and Hopeful of Hambrook, to help him test his theory that what hounds actually track are particles and oils left behind by the quarry (human or animal) touching the ground ahead of the hound and laying a scent trail directly on the grass or soil, not by the mere whiff of air over the body as it moved past. He was ferociously thorough. He used runners on glass-capped stilts, runners in tall wooden sandals, runners clad in riding boots and rain gear secured with rubber bands to prevent any particle from flying loose to make even the fragment of a trail, convinced that if the man did not contact the ground, the hound would not track him (more or less what Pearsall and Verbruggen had found). But it didn’t always work out that way.

“Even when these precautions were taken the bloodhound picked out the trail with perfect ease, and appeared to have learnt by experience how to follow the scent left by the stilts and foot-boards,” Budgett reported in some frustration. “I must confess that at this point my faith was badly shaken. I had hitherto felt convinced that  the ‘body scent’ theory would prove to be fallacious, and that scent tracks would be found solely to consist of particles of matter left by the contact of the quarry. It now appeared, however, that I had been mistaken, as it seemed impossible for any odorous particles to be deposited on the ground from the carefully washed glass bottles on which the stilts were mounted. My family marvelled at the obstinacy with which I stuck to my convictions; they suggested that I should give up the unequal struggle and accept the opinion of others having a wider experience of bloodhound tracking than myself.”

I don’t think I blame them.

Budgett, however, didn’t stop his inquiries, and the subheadings of a couple of chapters in Hunting by Scent will sound very familiar to hunters who have asked the same questions, and devloped their own theories based on their own experiences, about what variables affect scenting on a hunt day–and why. The subheads outline every hunter’s quest for understanding: “Conditions under which scent is good or bad. Direction of air currents on which scent is carried. Relative temperatures of air and ground. Examples. Effect of sun. High wind. Woodlands. Ploughland. Snow and frost. Hound’s knowledge of scent conditions. Meterological considerations. Forecasts of scenting conditions. Effects of moisture in the ground and in the air. The use of smoke to determine movements of air currents. Experiments with anemometer fan and spider’s web. Valuable results obtained with this delicate apparatus. Reasons for its abandonment. Electrical scent instruments. Walking-stick scent indicators.”

If that reads like a cross between Merlin’s lab book and the diary of a man slowly going insane, well, probably there are many huntsmen who feel a little like both as they try to parse the scenting and the weather and then determine where to cast their hounds.