Foxes and “foxes”

Red fox, by Rob Lee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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

The Royal Artillery “Fox”

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

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

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

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

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

The Year That Was

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s an excerpt:

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

Click here to see the complete report.

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Blessings all around


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

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

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

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

Photo by Dave Traxler.

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

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

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

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

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

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

‘A parson should have a ‘good seat’

Amd ‘light hands’ and an ardor complete

For riding to hounds

Where clean sport abounds.

May no spill that parson delete!

Photo by Dave Traxler.

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

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

Photo by Dave Traxler.

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

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

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

For horses which obey our commands,

and for mules with good manners,

for hounds in joyful voice,

for foxes given us to hunt,

and for covert in which you provide for their safety,

for friends and partners in the chase,

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

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

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

Photo by Dave Traxler.

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

MFHA hunt staff seminar, part 4: Wiley Coyote

In the last 50 years, coyotes have spread widely across the United States and are now frequently found in city limits and in the suburbs, as well as in the countryside

IN the months leading up to the Master of Fox Hounds Association’s biennial hunt staff seminar, we’d already heard a lot about Dr. Stanley Gehrt and his urban coyote presentation. He’d done this presentation at an MFHA meeting in January that had everyone talking, so we were especially curious to hear it ourselves. And, boy, was it worth the price of admission.

Gehrt is an assistant professor and extension wildlife specialist at Ohio State University. His urban coyote study in Chicago started in 2000 and is the longest-running coyote research project in North America. Using radio tracking collars, the study has followed 440 coyotes in 10 packs and revealed fascinating details about their lives, including how they form packs, which ones don’t pack up, how they develop their territories, what they hunt, and how they adapt to living in an urban environment. The results, as presented in his lecture “Uncovering Truths and Debunking Myths about City Coyotes,” were eye-opening.

The first startling fact: coyotes, once found almost exclusively in the southwest as a prairie animal, has spread throughout North America, Central America, and up through Canada and Alaska in the last 60 years or so. That rapid, widespread expansion tells you something important about the coyote: it is a highly adaptable animal that can adjust to rapidly changing environments. And they don’t just adapt by, say, changing their hunting habits or other behaviors. They adapt in more surprising and fundamental ways, like by producing larger litters in time and places where food is readily available and smaller litters when coyote populations are peaking and food is in danger of running low.

Keep in mind that the American coyote’s expansion in population and territory since about 1945 has taken place even as urban areas, highways, and development have also been expanding.

“Coyotes could handle everything thrown at them, and all they did was increase their population and increase their range.” Gehrt said.

As a result, Gehrt said, the coyote is the nation’s “most unprotected game animal,” and many states allow year-round hunting of them because their populations tend to increase so quickly. “They don’t need much protection,” Ghert explained. “They are built to withstand that kind of pressure. And because of that, they view us as their predator. And we are their pretty much only predator.”

We should note here that even though coyotes can be hunted in many areas year-round, the foxhunting season still attains. Foxhunters only chase game, whether fox or coyote, from early fall to spring, and do not hunt year-round.

Ghert’s study area in the Chicago metro area covered 300 square miles and included such seemingly un-coyote-friendly areas as the O’Hare airport, the Navy Pier, and the Sears Tower. The area encompasses about 18 cities in the Chacago metro area and contains about 1.5 million people. And yet Gehrt and his team found coyotes almost everywhere. One, a near-legendary female that is one of the study’s oldest at age 10 and was the first Gehrt put a radio collar on, has her main hiding place immediately behind a local post office. Another managed to get through three sets of fences and into a county jail, where “it scared the crap out of the prisoners,” Gehrt said.

Coyotes mate only once a year, in February, and they are monogamous for life. When one mate dies, the survivor generally will take on a new mate, but only then. The resulting litters typically range from four to seven pups that usually are born in April (which is one reason foxhunters who chase coyote generally have wrapped up their season by then), but litters can range up to 15 pups; in ghert’s study area, the urban Chicago coyote litters averaged eight.

Most coyotes, he found, are killed before their third year, and in urban and suburban ares, not surprisingly, the chief cause of death is the automobile. In rural areas, hunting and trapping are the leading cause of mortality.

But coyotes can live much longer if they are crafty or in safer environments, and Gehrt still has one of his original radio-collared coyotes in the study at age 12. Another significant cause of death: sarcoptic mange. Ghert noted that mangy coyotes are seen more often near houses, usually because they are attempting to stay warm.

Packs typically number anywhere from two to eight coyotes, but–and here’s a surprise–coyotes, or at least urban ones, rarely hunt in packs unless the environmental conditions demand it.

There are three main types of coyote:

  • The resident, who remains in its particular territory, usually covering about seven to eight square miles in rural settings (and less than five square kilometers in urban settings);
  • The solitary, often seeking its own territory, that is just passing through and is not yet settled in a location, and
  • The disperser, a coyote that has left its natal territory and is roaming over long distances.

A solitary’s regular roaming area runs between 30 and 100 square kilometers, while dispersers, the great long-distance travelers among the coyotes, have been known to travel within a space as large as 352 square kilometers. And as hunters well know, coyotes will jump fences if they need to, but they prefer to cross man-made boundaries–fences, in other words–by going under them.

And how about that howling? It’s a chilling sound when you hear a pack of coyotes singing together with yips, barks, and long sustained notes. Gehrt says coyotes howl primarily to determine how many other coyotes are in an area but also as a way to call a pack together, usually to defend a territory.  Unlike wolves, he says, they aren’t known for carrying a tune or holding notes for very long.

“They’re the rappers of the canid world,” he said.

Here’s an especially interesting thing Gehrt and his colleagues found. When only two coyotes are howling, it tends to draw alpha pairs from other ares in, as if for an “alpha meeting.” But if five or more howl together, coyotes in the area tend to run the opposite direction, away from the howlers. That suggests that large groups in concert are advertising their readiness to fight any invaders in their country.

According to the Chicago study, packs do tend to respect each other’s territories, as marked by scat or by the howling described above.

Coyotes are mostly nocturnal, and their diet, even in urban ares, reveals that they scavenge from human garbage less than you might imagine. Studies of coyote scat show that their preferred food items are rodents, especially meadow voles, which make up about 42% of their diet,. “They really are rodent-catching machines,” Gehrt said, recounting that he once found nine rodents, including several large rats, in the belly of a coyote that had been killed by a car. Coyotes also seem fond of goose eggs.

Coyotes increasingly are appearing in urban and suburban settings, and even rural coyotes are adapting to traffic and other products of human civilization as development encroaches on the countryside.

“The eggs are basically McDonald’s meals,” Gehrt said. “It’s something you can pick up and take with you, and they are loaded with fat, which is good for these animals.”

Fruit (23%), deer (22%), and rabbits (18%) are also common components of the coyote menu card, but human garbage accounts for just 2% of the diet, which might say more about us and our eating habits than we’d like to know. Interestingly, Gehrt said rural coyotes do not rely heavily on deer in their diet, again preferring small rodents and rabbits, but they will eat fawns in spring.

Easy prey is appealing to any predator, but that doesn’t mean coyotes aren’t afraid to tackle larger potential food items when they need to, and they can be surprisingly clever at this. Gehrt recounted how one pack in his study repeatedly would herd healthy bucks onto an iced over pond, harass each buck until it fell and could not get up on the slick ice, and then killed it.

People living in rural communities have long known that coyotes will kill cats and dogs. Gehrt confirmed this but noted that, except in unusual circumstances, coyotes rarely eat the cats and dogs they kill. But keep those pets locked up, all the same, as coyotes present a real danger to them.

In Gehrt's study, red foxes survived predation by coyotes better than gray ones did. But fox populations of both kinds drop precipitously when coyotes move in, Gehrt confirmed.

Foxhunters who have seen coyote populations take over in former fox territories have long suspected that the coyote has a negative impact on local foxes. Gehrt confirmed that popular assumption.

Citing a study in Illinois from 1980 to 2000, Ghert said, “They saw coyotes increase dramatically during that time. Red foxes, as you might imagine, decreased but then rebounded a little bit in recent years, but not to their previous levels. Gray foxes crashed. Gray foxes seem to have crashed in a number of states, and we think that’s due to coyotes.”

To find out, Gehrt’s team also put some radio tracking collars on some of the few remaining Chicago-area gray foxes.

“It took us quite a while just to find them, and, when we did, we found that coyotes did kill over half the animals that we monitored, and the other half died from distemper,” he said. “Basically, in two years, all the animals we had radio-collared were gone and we couldn’t find any more.”

The study area’s last group of fox holdouts retreated to a cemetery and made dens there. “It was a Jewish cemetery in a pretty rough area on the south side,” Gehrt said. “The headstones are really close together, and the foxes could run in between the headstones but we couldn’t. They burrowed in those places, but eventually coyotes found their way to that and ended up wiping out that family. So coyotes do have an impact on foxes.”

Gehrt said red foxes, strangely enough, seem to survive coyote predation better than grays–and that’s another surprise, because, unlike reds, grays are known for their ability to climb trees. But Gehrt said red foxes tend to live “in the cracks between coyotes territories,” or, in rural areas, by getting as close as possible to human habitations, where healthy coyotes are less likely to appear.

In fact, at least one of the “old guns” on the older huntsman’s panel at the MFHA seminar, Marty Wood of Live Oak, confirmed this finding in his own experience in the Live Oak country in Florida. Once a fox-chasing pack, Live Oak has been pursuing coyotes increasingly since the mid-1980s and now only finds some red foxes in its country, particularly in areas close to houses, Wood said.

Part of the coyote’s ability to survive and even thrive in conditions that have decimated less resilient animal populations comes down to one character trait: paranoia. That extends to an unwillingness–except when chased or when giving birth and nursing young pups–to go into their own underground dens.

“We have video of mothers coming to their own den with their own pups inside,and it takes them forever to go in, to work up the courage to go inside their own den,” said Gehrt. “When you think about it, coyotes have incredible senses of hearing, sight, and smell, even touch. Those senses are of no use when they are underground.”

A single mating pair might have four or five dens. “The mother likes to have those different dens as an option, because if she thinks you know where that litter is, she’ll move them. And she moves them all the time. We often go through a game of multiple dens trying to find that litter.”

“One thing I hope you take away from this is that there’s still a whole lot of stuff that we don’t know about this animal, and I mean a whole lot,” Gehrt concluded. “They remind us of this every day. Every day they do something that we didn’t think they could do or didn’t think they would want to do.”

For more information on Gehrt’s research, check out the book Urban Carnivores (which also includes information on foxes). It’s published by Johns Hopkins Press and is available on Amazon.com (click to book title above to go directly there). You can also find out more online at http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/urbcoyot.htm.

The Great Hound Match of 1905 – Part 1

Many thanks to the National Sporting Library for access to its archives and for use of the photos. Among the original artifacts there are hunting diaries kept by both Henry Higginson and Harry Worcester Smith.

IT started with a letter in The Rider and Driver back in 1904, when Massachusetts M.F.H. Harry Worcester Smith called on American foxhunting authorities to widen their breed standards to include the emerging American type of foxhound. At that point, the English hound–bigger and heavier–was the foxhound breed standard, but Smith led the charge to include the leaner, racier American type of hound that was being bred mostly in the deep South, Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky as a legitimate and approved standard. His argument was founded mainly on his strong belief that, while the English hounds were still dominant in the hound show ring, the lighter-boned American hounds were better at catching foxes.

“Shall we hold to the heavy English type or shall we go to the racing type, that type which is the successful hound to kill a fox and acknowledged by and proven so by our own trials?” Smith, the Master of the Grafton Hunt (Massachusetts), wrote.

Smith’s assertion was an affront to many established packs who had carefully selected their hounds from some of England’s best packs, packs that had bred hounds for centuries to chase and account for foxes. By comparison, English proponents argued, the new American-style hounds hardly constituted a reason to alter an established breed standard.

“The truth of the matter is this–there is no American foxhound to-day,” responded another Massachusetts M.F.H., Henry Higginson of the Middlesex Hunt. “What Mr. Smith wants, what we all want, is a hound that will kill foxes in America. Now, how are we to get this? Mr. Smith thinks by turning to a lighter type of hound. To quote him: ‘This being the situation, it seems wise to me to allow the Southerners, who have put more time, care, and thought into the breeding of hounds for killing the fox than all the rest of us combined, to have their type acknowledged.’

“Now, if Mr. Smith thinks this, then why not take the English standard? No sane man will deny that our brother sportsmen across the pond ‘have put more time, care, and thought into the breeding of hounds to kill foxes than all the rest of us’ (including the Southerners) combined. Why, when they have produced an animal which, for symmetry, power, hardiness, speed, nose, and staying qualities is unequalled, should we Americans–novices at the game–say: ‘No! We know more than they; we’ll stick to our own weedy sort!'”

Higginson faulted the American hounds both for their “weedy” build and for a relative lack of biddability, and asked, rhetorically, how many of the American hounds’ kills were accomplished “without the use of powder and shot?”

Higginson ended his letter with a direct challenge to Smith: “Let Mr. Smith choose a judge, let me choose a judge, let the two name a third. Then let Mr. Smith go to any fair fox-hunting country in America with such hounds as he chooses–and I will bring such clean-bred hounds as I choose and my huntsman and whippers-in–and we’ll hunt on alternate days for love, money, or marbles. Then if his hounds kill more foxes than mine or show better sport, I’ll admit I’m wrong–but not till then.”

Harry Worcester Smith, the man who got the ball rolling for the Great Hound Match. The Grafton (US) Master was an outspoken proponent of the American foxhound.

After weeks of negotiations over the match’s terms–and after both Smith and Higginson had pulled together packs with the best hounds they could find from American and English breeders, respectively–the Great Hound Match of 1905 finally was agreed to take place on November 1, 1905, in Virginia’s hunt country. The months leading up to the match were marked by acrimonious public exchanges between Higginson, Smith, and their various pro-English or pro-American supporters, as well as by breathless press accounts of the two packs, their breeding and facilities, and the larger debate over which type of hound was indeed best for pursuing the American fox. Insider magazines like The Rider and Driver and The Sportsmen’s Review were understandably hanging on every development, but so, too, did the New York Tribune and the Associated Press.

Smith, for his part, didn’t hesitate to make a Master’s opinion on hound breeding a question of patriotism: “We have just enough pride in America to be willing to back the Grafton Hunt with American hounds, American thoroughbred horses … with saddles and bridles not made by Whippey, but the best that can be made in the United States of America; the livery made in American mills by American operatives, from the tip of the boot to the velvet on the cap, against the imported production.”

By the time the first hunt took place, a lot had happened. The parties had each put up $1,000 for a winner-take-all prize, the Orange County Hunt in Virginia sponsored the winner’s choice of a cup or a $250 purse, and both Smith and Higginson had scouted out the best recruits for their respective packs. Smith appears to have been more detailed in his preparations: he bought a topographic map of the Piedmont Hunt country and toured the land with Piedmont M.F.H. Dick Dulany. Neither pack was allowed to hunt the country before the match opened, but Smith brought his pack to the Middleburg area the month before the match and, coupling them, roaded them all through the lanes between Upperville and Middleburg, with the aim of teaching his hounds  their way back to kennels, wherever they might find themselves on a hunting day.

In fact, the Grafton competitors had had ample training in Virginia hunt country already, courtesy of the famed Virginia hound breeder Burrell Frank Bywaters, from whom Smith had bought hounds. In a letter quoted in Alexander MacKay-Smith’s The American Foxhound 1747-1967, Bywaters wrote: “I hunted his hounds for him the winter before the meet. He wanted them to mouthe a lot of foxes.”

The composite Grafton match pack consisted largely of hounds from Virginia and Kentucky.

Henry Higginson, a staunch supporter of the English-bred hound and MFH of the Middlesex Hunt.

By the time Higginson’s 25 couple of English hounds and their hunt staff rolled into town a few days before the match, Smith’s comparatively small pack of six couple were old hands at Virginia foxhunting. It’s interesting to note, as an aside, that two of his hounds, Snodgrass and Simon, were, as Smith put it, “quarter-bred English,” but these he apparently considered the weakest members, “simply good as running with the pack,” he claimed in The Sportsman’s Review.

Higginson himself didn’t arrive until the day before the match, when his hounds were to be the first to hunt. But, like Smith, he had put careful thought into making up  his pack for the match. He imported 20 couple of foxhounds from the Fernie.

“All are built along the approved English type,” a reporter who visited the Middlesex kennel wrote, “and it has been the main contention of the opponents of the English dogs that they are too heavy to travel fast, although the justice of this criticism has been questioned, as they are able to go faster than any horse that has ever run with them. They are also noted for their docility and can be called from a scent no matter how hot it is, and steered away on a new course with little difficulty.”

If the main question American hound proponents had about the English hounds was whether they were fast enough, the doubt English supporters had about the American hounds was whether they could be controlled. MacKay-Smith notes, “Even those who had faith in the hunting abilities of the American hounds were fearful that they would be uncontrollable.”

The main reason for those doubts stemmed from the way the nascent American type of foxhound had been bred and raised to hunt: independently, often on their own in rocky country too difficult for man to follow on horseback, and often in the night-hunting tradition, in which the “followers,” instead of following, built campfires and sat through the night, enjoying echoes of their hounds’ voices as they ran foxes on their own.

Night-hunting with foxhounds, an American tradition that heavily influenced early American foxhound breeding and produced a fast, highly independent hunting hound

In his unpublished autobiography in the National Sporting Library‘s archives, Harry Worcester Smith himself described the style, utterly foreign to generations of English huntsmen, that he found when he visited Bywaters in Virginia:

We started out with 15 couples of grand looking hounds. … There was little chance to follow hounds because of the rough and mountainous country, but it was great how all these sporting families loved and appreciated a good hound. When the hounds were taken to hunt, they went to the mountain. Their owners knew from the cry which hound had struck a cold trail and when another joined in. When the cry was redoubled we knew that Reynard was up. There was no chance of getting to the hounds–you could only figure in your mind where you thought they might come, and, by galloping, obtain a position at a point where they could come towards you in full cry, possibly see the red fox, and hear them go away.

Faced with hounds who were bred to be highly independent, both of the huntsman and each other, Harry Worcester Smith had done three things to try to minimize potential control problems: he had limited his match pack to six couples, sent his hounds for hunting in Virginia with Bywaters, and roaded them extensively, in couples, around the Middleburg area in the month leading up to the match.

The Match

The match started off with tremendous fanfare. A local newspaper reported that 100 horses had been imported to the Middleburg area so that their riders from up and down the East Coast could ride behind the Grafton and the Middlesex packs as they attempted, once and for all, to settle the question of whether English or American hounds were superior for hunting the American red fox.

Despite the minute-by-minute coverage in the press and the pressing hordes of riders, including quite a number of Society’s brightest lights, the first two days–the Middlesex hunting Nov. 1 followed by the Grafton on Nov. 2–proved blank. Interestingly, Higginson arrived nearly an hour late for the opening meet, delaying his hounds’ start, an incident that in retrospect did not help their chances as scenting declined with the rising sun. He was not, at any rate, late again.

Things picked up on day 3, when the English pack, on a scenting day the judges described as “only fair,” found a fox and ran it for 47 minutes without a check, “even giving tongue as they swam across a creek,” according to the judges’ report. They earned high praise for their good work on cold trails under professional huntsman Robert Cotesworth. The day wasn’t without incident for riders, either. At Goose Creek, judge Fred Okie attempted to follow hounds across the water, as described in the press: “Both he and his horse disappeared under the water, and for a few minutes it was thought that both would drown. After a hard struggle both horse and rider were gotten safely to the other shore.” Bolling Haxall later “swam for his life” when hounds crossed the creek again, and Harry Smith fell off twice, breaking his foot. The hounds finally lost in high wind.

The Great Hound Match of 1905 brought fashionable society, with their horses and hampers, to northern Virginia in droves. It also helped establish the area as prime hunt country.

The six couple of Grafton hounds, hunted by Smith, got their own back at the fourth hunt. They jumped a fox after trailing for an hour, then blazed through another 1 1/2 hours, losing all but nine of the 28-horse field in their sizzling pace. There were seven falls as the field attempted to keep up, and “Mrs. Tom Peirce of Boston, one of the best riders to hounds in America soiled her hunting coat when her gray hunter Tapps put his front feet in a hidden drain.”

Hounds checked at a derelict house, where they “were cast again and again around this old house without success, and finally it was decided that the fox had gone to earth beneath the foundation, and so the hounds were called off,” according to a newspaper report.

The following day, the Middlesex pack of 18 1/2 couple ran a blinder, too, as described by one newspaper: “The English foxhounds of the Middlesex Hunt Club started a red fox in Bald Hill woods, on the Fred farm, this morning, They drove him hard for nearly an hour, and denned him in the Goose Creek bottoms, below the Dudley Farm. It was a smashing run of six miles, with many stiff jumps, and nearly the whole field of 30 riders was well up. Though it was only nine o’clock when Reynard was put to earth, Henry Higginson, Master of Middlesex, decided to let well enough alone, and called off the hunt for the day.”

The reporter also noted: “The fox was tired and laid down in an edge of cover for a moment, but the hounds soon made him understand that he must run for his life. He was too hotly pressed to lay many puzzles as he scurried across the open and down into the Goose Creek bottoms. As he entered the covert the hounds were running on sight. The fox headed straight for an earth he evidently knew and in a few seconds more was safe from the hounds’ fangs snapping impetuously about him.”

This unassuming box at the National Sporting Library contains many original artifacts that make the high drama of the Great Hound Match of 1905 come alive.

The field of 32 riders were able to stay with hounds during the 57-minute run and viewed the fox twice. “The report filed by the judges showed that every one of the 37 hounds were up; the first flight will bear witness that a blanket could not have covered the lot as they pressed into the woods which sheltered the quarry’s refuge,” the Boston Herald‘s reporter wrote.

And as a final feather in Higginson’s cap, one of the judges, James K. Maddux, told the Middlesex Master after the run that “the day had proved a revelation to him as he had no idea English hounds could run so fast and true in the stiff country of Piedmont valley,” the Herald noted.

The following day was Sunday, and the horses, hounds, and huntsmen took a day of rest. So will we, but the story, of course, isn’t quite done yet. Will Harry Worcester Smith’s Grafton pack of American hounds pull off another blistering run, leaving the field in its dust? Will either pack ever catch a fox, the goal they and the judges had set as the ultimate test? Stay tuned.

NSL Dispatches: Yellow Earls and Red Foxes

Reynard

THE stacks of the National Sporting Library continue to yield colorful tales from the hunt field. Today we have anecdotes from two familiar hunting characters known for their color: Hugh Cecil Lowther, the fifth Earl of Lonsdale who was known as “the Yellow Earl,” and the red fox, also known as Reynard.

The Yellow Earl

Hugh Lowther unexpectedly inherited his title as Earl of Lonsdale, and all the riches and lands that came with it, after his older brother St. George died in 1882. At age 25, he had free rein to indulge his love of horses and hunting, and he did, in very fine style, as recounted in Douglas Sutherland’s hugely entertaining biography, The Yellow Earl:

Lonsdale Boxing

“His hunters had to submit to  … rigorous standards: not less than 16 hands, 6 feet round at the girth, and 8 3/4 inches of bone.

“Soon the lavish stabling behind Carlton House Terrace was filled to overflowing and additional accommodation had to be rented in the vast Police stables at Scotland Yard. Barleythorpe, the luxurious twenty-bedroomed hunting-box which Hugh had inherited in Rutland, vied with Squire Abingdon’s stables both in the numbers and the quality of horses he kept there. It was not long, however, before he discovered new and even more extravagant ways of impressing himself on a startled Society. In the days when the fashion for liveried servants and dandified dressing had largely fallen out of vogue, Hugh Lonsdale set a standard of colorful perfection with his turn-outs, which, almost overnight, became one of the sights in London. All the Lonsdale servants were dressed in canary-yellow jackets with dark-blue facings, white beaver hats and white buckskin breeches. …

“His six-inch cigars were specially made to his order, and christened by a gratified toacconist ‘Lonsdales.’ The cigar became almost as much his trademark as the perfect white gardenias which he wore in his buttonhole, and which were sent to him daily regardless of cost wherever he might be.”

The Yellow Earl’s carriages also were a bright yellow. His personal life was equally flashy. Lonsdale had affairs with the actress Lily Langtry and the married stage actress Violet Cameron; the latter situation was deemed scandalous enough that Queen Victoria made it known that Lord Lonsdale should leave England. He went to Canada and embarked on “a 3,000-mile trek across the frozen wastes.” He initially took four springer spaniels and his valet with him, but, fortunately for the spaniels and the servant, Lonsdale sent them back home again when he realized how daunting the Canadian tundra is.

Showy though he was, Lonsdale was an excellent horseman and an expert hound man who held Masterships at the Quorn, Cottesmore, and Woodland Pytchley.

Of his riding:

“Once when he was out hunting with the Quorn he was taking a line of country he had not followed for some time,” reports Sutherland. “Putting his horse at a post-and-rail fence with a shallow ditch at the other side, he was not aware until he was too far committed that another fence, topped with a strand of wire, had been erected a yard on the far side of the dutch. Collecting his horse he cleared the entire obstacle. When it was measured afterwards, the length of the jump was found to be 32 feet.”

Lord Lonsdale's 32-foot jump

Lord Lonsdale had a lot to say about hounds, too, and he was not afraid to advise huntsmen. In 1908, he wrote to the Cottesmore huntsman, Gillson, after the man had been there a year, offering him some tips on relating to the hounds:

“… I should like to see you a little more demonstrative and to converse to your hounds on the way to covert. Noe that you are a professional receiving a salary for hunting them, but that you are glad and pleased and delighted to see them, talking to them as you go to the meet, and showing each one that you take a personal interest in him or her. Speak to them, whistle to them, and let them understand every word and sign. If you are at exercise canter along and stop short, giving some sign by mouth or whistle, and make friends of them  and get off and pat them when they are doing what you want–more can be done this way than in any other, and if you do it continually no whips are needed–pointers, sheep-dogs, retrievers–all animals–are the same–they are all amenable to sound, providing that it is always the same sound or signal. …

“You must talk to your hounds with your mouth inclined towards them, not the back of your head, for your speed through the air reduces the sound by half, so please remember my wish when casting: always wait before cantering away, until your hounds realize that you are about to be off; convey some private signal that they will understand.”

The Red Fox

Much has been written about the wiles of the red fox, and the 19th century sporting writer “Cecil” has some of the best accounts I’ve heard. Two favorites:

“His lordship was informed that that a fox had been seen constantly in a field of turnips on Hatch Warren Farm, and was induced to go in search of him; the hounds had spread all over the field without touching upon him. Not being accustomed to find foxes in such situations, very probably they did not draw well. As the land seemed alive with partridges, it did not appear likely that the fox was there; and Lord Gifford was in the act of taking his horn out of the case to call the hounds away, when the fox jumped up within fifty yards of the spot; a singular instance of concord between the fox and the feathered tribe. …

“I have often known known hounds to run their fox to a certain point with a good scent, and lose him instantaneously, as if he had vanished into ethereal space. On those occasions, it is evident they must have gained some unaccountable place of safety, to which the hounds had not the power of scenting them. I remember hearing of an event which occurred with the justly celebrated Mr. Meynell’s hounds, which shows the great patience, perseverance, talent, and keen-sightedness for which he was so eminently distinguished, and also what extraordinary places foxes will sometimes seek for refuge.

“They were drawing a gorse covert, when a single hound, that could be relied upon, spoke. ‘That will do,’ exclaimed Mr. Meynell; but the hounds could make nothing of it. They were drawn round again to the place where the single hound had spoken; but they could not roust him out. Still persevering, I believe upwards of two hours, the field became impatient, and the greater portion went home. At length, holding a consultation with Raven, his huntsman, he inquired the exact spot where the hound spoke, which was close to a bush that he pointed to.

“‘Then get off and examine it,’ said Mr. Meynell. It was a low bush or stump of a tree which leaned over the gorse, and in which was an old magpie’s nest, where the fox had rolled himself up and was peeping over the side of the nest at the proceedings below.”