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.

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Puppies of Two Species

Driver meets four-year-old Trevor on Saturday's hound walk

WHAT a beautiful day Saturday was! It started with a crashing thunderstorm that prevented me from riding over to catch our trailer ride to the day’s hound walk, so the houndbloggers went out with the hounds on foot for what turned out to be a Very Special Morning.

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason brought the hounds, including one-year-old Driver and many of the BA litter, to Boone Valley Farm instead of to the usual meeting point on the farm across from The Corners. The change of location was exciting to the hounds. The older hounds, Paper among them now, associate Boone Valley with nearby Pauline’s Ridge, one of the richest coyote coverts in the hunt country and understandably a place that holds great interest for experienced hunting hounds.

To the puppies, the field trip was especially exciting. New sights, sounds, and, most importantly, scents! New country to explore!

Even before kennel manager Michael Edwards unloaded the hounds from their trailer, there was some excitement when a herd of cattle came barreling past not far from the hound truck. But the hounds, safe inside, didn’t turn a hair, and when Michael turned them out, they ignored the cattle’s trail and put their noses right in the grass to find the biscuits Michael and Lilla had scattered there for them.

Nearby, another “puppy” was making his debut at Boone Valley, too. That was young Trevor, the four-year-old son of an Iroquois member, who was out on his new pony Polly for his very first hound walk. Driver and Paper were hugely curious about this pair, the smallest person they’d ever seen, riding either the largest hound or the smallest horse they’d ever seen. Like kids everywhere, Paper, Driver, and Trevor were drawn to each other.

Paper, who joined the hunting pack last season, says hello

Paper's pretty sure he's figured out where she keeps those biscuits ...

The day had the potential to be a little too exciting: inexperienced young hounds in exciting new territory where running cattle had piqued their curiosity, old hounds returning to a place they know well for coyote runs, and a strong breeze to carry the scent of coyote to them from Pauline’s Ridge. It was a good test for both groups of hounds, and they did very well. When temptation drew them too far away from her, their noses in the air to catch the odors wafting by, they returned when she called. Occasionally, one or two of the puppies–most notably Backfire, a BA puppy who has showed himself to be forward many times on earlier hound walks–would range away from the main group of hounds and stand gazing off into the distance, nose twitching.

Those are critical moments in a puppy’s development, Lilla pointed out, because they mark a decision. The puppy can either decide to follow his nose and head for the hills, leaving the pack and Lilla, or he can decide to back away from that temptation and stay with his peers and his huntsman.

Backfire, one of the year-old BA litter

“We want them to process information and then make the right decision,” Lilla explained.

Backfire was an especially good example of all of the puppies’ progress. At Boone Valley, we could see Backfire developing the idea that he’s part of a pack. He’s learning that, when the group stops, he can wander a little and taste the air, but when he’s out on his own too far away from the pack and Lilla, it’s a little uncomfortable. Looking off to the far hills, he’s still in touch with Lilla, and when she calls, he hears her and turns.

A huntsman’s ability to stay in a hound’s mind like that, to maintain that golden thread of connection between himself and a hound even when something else is calling to the hound’s deep instinct, is vital to success. It’s not always possible to hold a hound’s attention, but a huntsman that consistently can regain a hound’s attention simply by saying its name–a twitch upon that golden thread–has perhaps the greatest gift a huntsman can have. But it isn’t easy to achieve, and it isn’t foolproof.

“Backfire,” Lilla said, “is a thinker. And we want these hounds to think.”

As with young horses, hounds that can process information and respond to it thoughtfully, rather than simply react with instinct, are better to handle.

Trevor, mom Debbie, and Polly the pony watch the hounds. Well, okay, Polly was watching the grass.

As for Trevor, he had a good day, too! He learned about hounds and also about Polly. The main thing we think he learned about Polly is that she is a PONY, meaning, yes, she will try to roll even while (maybe even especially while) you are riding her, in which case it’s best to get off. He learned that Driver is very big. Most importantly, he found out that this business of following the hounds on horseback is about as much fun as there is in the world.

We think so, too.

Hound of the Day, Oct. 7: Bonsai

Caption Here

"Dear me! So that's a coyote!"

Hounds out : Sayso, Parrish, Payton, Star, Sting, Paper, Hailstone, Gaudy, Barman, Dragonfly, Bonsai, Stam, Stax, Sassoon, Savvy, Saba, Sage, Saracen, Griffin

ON one hand it seems improper to pick a “hound of the day,” because a pack of hounds should perform as a pack, and thus should equally contribute to the pursuit of quarry. It would do no good to have one or two hounds far superior to the others especially when hunting coyote. A coyote can weigh anywhere from 20 to 75 pounds, and their diet includes cats and dogs. If we are to serve our landowner farmers in keeping the coyotes dispersed, we have to chase them with multiple hounds who can find their scent and push them to get up and move. Most farmers don’t mind seeing the odd coyote passing through, but they do mind seeing four or five together, because there is strength in numbers and a coyote pack is a threat to livestock and house dogs. Coyotes have no predator, because they are at the top of the food chain in the animal world. Paradoxically, because of the hunt they are allowed to peacefully co-exist in the area. We have great fun and sport chasing them, and they are less likely to bother calves and humans. So farmers aren’t likely to shoot and poison them, which they would have to do if they were a menace.

On the other hand, there are moments on a hunt day where one hound does something so remarkable as to remind us all of their individuality even though they are supposed to be “just plain cooks and dairymaids.”

The chase is like a chess game between the coyote’s intelligence, instinct, and scenting ability versus that of the hound.  The “checkmate” really goes to both if they play a long and entertaining game, resulting in the quarry finally eluding the hounds.  All go home in hopes of meeting again another day.  This special matching of the wits between God’s creatures is what foxhunters really enjoy.  It is not, as some may think, a “sight hunt,” in which dogs see a coyote and chase it until they don’t see it anymore.  Instead, it is a “scent hunt”: hounds mostly use their noses to track the path of the quarry – and the coyote, aware of this, tries to throw them off the scent.  Coyotes behave cleverly while being pursued, using their complete familiarity with their own habitat to challenge the hounds.
The Oct. 7 hunt was a good example of the casualness with which a coyote will regard the chase on a day when poor scenting conditions give him the advantage.
The meet was from Dulin’s farm.  A long procession of trailers arrived with people and horses anxious to enjoy such a beautiful fall day.  The hound list included some first-year entries: Hailstone, Gaudy, and (of course!) Paper, plus three new drafts from England: North Cotswold Bonsai, North Cotswold Dragonfly, and Cottesmore Barman.  The new drafts have spent the summer getting used to all the new smells from unfamiliar plants animals and grasses native to Kentucky but not found in Britain.  One wonders what goes through their minds when they get the first whiff of a coyote.
The first draw was the biggest covert near this fixture, Pauline’s Ridge.  It is very thick with undergrowth and would likely take a long time for the hounds to work through thoroughly.  But, as it was, they found halfway through and erupted in cry.  A dark coyote was viewed across the top of the Ridge but was not the hunted one, as hounds moved west in the covert, full cry.  Hounds lost the scent at the end of the covert, casting themselves about madly in frustration.  It was clearly a bad scenting day.  However, this is good for the puppies, as they watch and learn from the older hounds to put their noses down and work.  They don’t really know yet what they are smelling for, but they feed off the energy and excitement of the pack, and they understand something important is happening.
Hounds continued to work well together, hunt staff counting all on after the next few coverts.  They were in the corn by Salts Barn when a coyote was viewed one field west.  Later in the season, hounds would be harked to the view, but today a training opportunity presented itself, and the hounds would have to work up to the line unassisted.  This is the kind of scene that thrills the field: first Stax became electric, his nose to the ground, as he frantically moved about, searching.  Then Payton, noticing this, hurried to Stax, then Sassoon, then Barman–all smelling the same little piece of earth.  Their bodies were coiled like springs ready to lurch forth, if their noses would confirm the scent in a certain direction.  Paper, sensing the excitement, dropped the small steno pad of paper he had found in Salts Barn and rushed over to help as well.  The houndwork was brilliant, they just couldn’t work it out solidly enough but kept moving west occasionally speaking as they would find and lose again.
After about a half mile, still feathering,  hounds came up a hill through a small clump of trees.  There on top of the hill sat a big blond coyote, casually observing the approaching entourage of hounds, huntsman, and field members. Hounds didn’t see him initially, as they all had their noses down.  Had it been a good scenting day, one imagines the coyote would have been long gone, but he wisely sat still knowing that by not moving he wasn’t throwing out a lot of scent.
The huntsman couldn’t contain herself and harked the hounds to the view.  They rushed forward, noses still down.  Bonsai raised her head, probably distracted and unsure about the noise the huntsman used to hark hounds to the view.  Bonsai hunted one season at the North Cotswold, and every huntsman has his own tones and voice inflections to communicate with hounds. Suddenly, Bonsai froze in place: she was face to face with a coyote no more than 10 feet away.  She stared, then looked over her shoulder at the huntsman with her intense, black-lined golden eyes, searching for confirmation that this was the right quarry.  She faced him again as the hounds erupted in cry.  His yellow eyes seemed to squint before he shot away.
In less than a second Bonsai showed much intelligence.  She didn’t just blindly rush forward to attack, she carefully thought things through, not wanting to run riot (I could imagine her saying “Dear Me” in an English accent).
This coyote took full advantage of the bad scenting day, weaving through cattle, disappearing into a 10-acre corn field. Found there, he passed into another large, thick covert, then vanished as the temperature rose and the sun began to burn any hope of scent away for good.
Special thanks … to field member Martha Johnson, who was last in line to go over a jump but pulled her horse up and waited to let one and a half couple of hounds go by even though the field was long gone, galloping
away.

— Lilla Mason