In Memoriam: Savvy

On Feb. 4, Savvy had the kind of hunt day hounds must dream about. It was to be her last: she developed a twisted intestine about a week later and died after surgery.

EVERYONE has been saying it: thank heavens Savvy had such a good day out.

Our hunt season has been mostly ruined this season by the unusually bad weather, but on February 4 huntsman Lilla Mason and the joint-Masters spotted a chance between two foul weather systems. They went for it, aided by one of the Iroquois hunt country’s generous landowners. It was a chance worth taking: the hounds wanted out, there was another snowstorm looming on the horizon, and did I mention the hounds wanted out? It wasn’t a regularly scheduled hunt day, but who cares? We’re living in uncertain times, meteorologically speaking. Carpe passable weather!

What passed for good weather on February 4 was damp with a bone-chilling breeze, and a few brave souls convened to follow hounds on horseback. But the hounds had their hunt, and what a hunt it was. For Savvy, it was the hunt of a lifetime.

“It was absolutely marginal weather,” Lilla said. “The footing was horrible. The temperature was pretty warm, but the ground was semi-frozen, sort of melted on top and greasy underneath.

Whipper-in Blaine Holloway at the meet. The day was damp with a chilly wind, and the footing ranged from ice to greasy mud.

“The only reason we were able to go is that the people on Foxtrot Farm allowed us to park our trailers along their farm road, because they weren’t going to be doing much work on that part of the farm that day. You could never have pulled a trailer into a field, it was just incredibly wet. But the hounds really needed to go out.”

It seemed highly likely there would be some coyotes afoot, based on the farm’s own reports.

“The farm had asked us to draw the hounds through their cows, because the cows were calving and they’d seen some coyotes among their cattle,” Lilla explained. “They told us that any time we draw through their cattle the coyotes seem to stay away for a few days. The smell of the hounds lingers, and they get spooked off.”

To give everyone the best chance at a good day out before the next round of bad weather moved in, Lilla brought out 12 couples of hounds, including, of course Savvy.

“Savvy was one of our leading hounds, and Jerry (joint-Master Jerry Miller) said if she hadn’t died we would have bred her,” Lilla said. That’s a strong testament for a hunt that only breeds one litter each year.

Savvy on summer houndwalk. She led a group of hounds on a seven-hour chase on Feb. 4.

“She was that good,” Lilla said. “She had some of our best bloodlines, and she was everything that works for us. Every once in a while on a hunt she’d be the last one in because she would not stop, but she was never doing anything wrong. She just had this unbelievable nose and drive, and she would follow that nose no matter what.”

Lilla’s plan was to start at the Cabin Covert, draw hounds thoroughly from east to west through the calving herd, then head south to Murphy’s Covert and draw heading north. That would put the hounds heading away from a potentially dangerous two-lane road that cuts across the southern end of the hunt country.

“We were hoping not to get a coyote up that went south across that road, because we knew it was going to be hard to keep up with the hounds on horses,” Lilla said. “If we could get one up that would stay north of that road, that would be good.”

At their first stop, the Cabin Covert, Savvy and her 23 packmates picked up traces of coyote scent. “They were feathering a little bit,” Lilla said, referring to the quick side-to-side tail motion hounds make when puzzling out a scent. But they didn’t strike off. Lilla led them on to the cattle, weaving the hounds in and out among the herd.

Savvy enjoyed kennel visitors as much as they enjoyed meeting her.

“After we’d been through all the cattle, I looked up to my left, and there was Savvy, all of a sudden going perpendicular to my intended path,” Lilla said. “She was heading straight east. I knew better than to try to do anything about it. I wouldn’t call Savvy independent, but she would sometimes disagree with me when she knew she was right about something. Being the old wise girl she was, I knew she was winding something, and it would be counterproductive to send a whip over there to turn her around.”

One or two hounds, then four, then the rest of the pack drifted in Savvy’s direction, too. Then they started feathering. The hounds picked up their pace, heading up a hill. Lilla and the field trotted after them, but it was a treacherous climb, with ice patches and slippery mud. Led by Savvy’s nose, the hounds disappeared over the crest of the hill. By the time the riders got there, they were a field ahead–and then they opened up in full cry.

They ran north, then looped south. The field, struggling over the ground and forced to go through gates rather than risk jumping on the slick mud, struggled to keep in touch with them. When Lilla spotted a few tail hounds, she stopped atop Pauline’s Ridge to collect them. Blowing her horn there, she gathered up about seven couple–who promptly rejoined the hunt when the rest of the pack opened up in full cry again in the ridge.

“They really fired off then,” Lilla said of the pack.

The pack screamed along Pauline’s Ridge, dropped down to the creek bank at the ridge’s bottom, and then took off in a ruler-straight line heading north into the open grassland near the northern extremity of the country.

“That north country is completely open: no coverts, a few vegetation fencelines, and that’s it,” Lilla said. That big patch of the country is so open and grassy it’s called Little Kansas, and you can get some idea of its expanse from this “helmet cam” video Lilla took there several years ago:

“When a coyote starts running through Little Kansas, you better kick on, because they’ll be flat out,” Lilla explained. “Out in the open like that, that coyote is just going to run fast, and so will the hounds. Sure enough, they got way ahead of us.”

Lilla and the field could hear the hounds ahead of them in the distance, but there was little they could do to catch up to them. Hillsides facing north proved especially icy, but even where the ground was relatively good, horses couldn’t safely go faster than a trot.

Then Lilla spotted a farmer repairing a fence.

“I stopped and said, ‘Hello, have you seen any hounds?'” she said. “He said, ‘Yeah! I saw big coyote go by, and there was this one white hound right on its tail, and the rest of the hounds came about a minute later. But that one hound was right on its tail!’

“Now, I don’t know because I wasn’t there,” Lilla said. “But I would bet you that was Savvy.”

That was a thrilling bit of news, but the immediate concern was more pressing: if they kept heading north, as seemed likely, the coyote and hounds would cross another busy two-lane road and would then be at the northern extremity of the hunt country–and close to a large cattle operation in the corner of the country that has asked the hunt not to bring horses through during calving season. Lilla had sent road whips Michael and Alan onto the two-lane in question, Todd’s Road. But three couple got past them and blazed across the road, and Savvy was one of them.

“We had started hunting at 1, and it was about 3:30 when I stopped with the nine couple I had,” Lilla recalled. “It was about 4 when that three couple crossed, including Savvy. The nine couple I stopped were pretty tired and winded, and I didn’t have much choice but to take them in, especially after it became apparent that the three couple on the other side of the road were going to keep on hunting. All the road whips were up there. If I’d taken my nine couple closer to those three couple, they’d have heard the three and gone to them, and we couldn’t get into that cattle operation with horses to protect all those hounds’ safety. So it seemed more prudent to take the nine couple in.

“The three couple all had tracking collars on, and it seemed that Michael and Alan (kennel staff Michael Edwards and Alan Foy) would catch up to them pretty soon. I definitely didn’t want to try to entice those three couple back across a road, especially as it was getting on to rush hour.”

One of the houndbloggers keeps an eye out for hounds from his post near Todd's Road

Lilla took her group in, and Michael and Alan closed in on Savvy and her gang, expecting them to be tired and ready to leave off their coyote trail in due course.

But Savvy and her pals had other plans. And they were long-term plans. Those hounds streaked up and down that part of the country, encouraged by the fact that that land is rich in coyotes. Sitting on a gate to help protect the crossing at Todd’s Road, at various times the houndbloggers themselves saw three coyotes racing through the field to the north of the road. We spotted Savvy and the other hounds, too, racing along the trail, far away from us and obviously having the time of their lives.

Driving along the roads in his hound truck, Michael kept his window rolled down so he could stop and quickly whip out his radio tracking device; both he and Alan carry these so that they can “beep” the hounds’ location by their tracking collars. Whenever he stopped, Michael could still hear the hounds singing, and he caught the deeper note of Savvy in the chorus.

After he rode back to the meet, Jerry, too, sped out in an all-terrain vehicle to help us catch these hounds as they criss-crossed the fenced farmland. But this little corps of nine hounds hadn’t been out hunting in a while. I don’t know whether they knew more foul weather was on the way, but they had no intention of coming in until they were good and ready. They hunted until about 8 p.m., seven hours after they had started.

Savvy was among the winners at the Virginia Hound Show in 2009. Photo by Jim Meads.

“Every time anybody saw them, they had their noses down and were in full cry, doing exactly what they’re supposed to do,” Lilla said. “And that was Savvy. That was what she was like her whole life. Once she got her nose down and she was hot on something, you might as well pull up a chair, put your feet up, and just wait, because that was it. And that’s what you want in a hound.”

Michael, Alan, and Jerry were gradually able to start picking up individual hounds, but the last three to come in that night were Savvy, Grindstone, and Parish.

When Michael and Alan finally laid hands on them behind the Sisters’, Savvy and Co. looked tired but deeply content with their day.

It was a day to remember, both for them and for us. In light of the sad event the following week, that hunt day is a happy memory indeed. Savvy developed a twisted intestine and was rushed to the vet clinic. They performed surgery, but Savvy did not recover. She was 7. She is sorely missed, not just for her own talents, nose, and perseverance, but also for what she undoubtedly would have given the pack through her puppies. And she just had that way about her.

“She wasn’t only one of our best hounds, she also had a lot of personality,” Lilla said. “She had kind of a funny face, because she was really woolly, and she had these intelligent eyes in all this silly hair.”

“She had this way of looking up at you with a kind of smile with squinty eyes,” Michael said. “She loved people, loved life, loved being a hound. If you wanted to breed a hound, she’s what you’d hope to get, one with the personality and heart to run six or seven hours, speaking the whole time. She was incredible.”

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A Pupdate: pack manners, playmates, and the kennel staff’s view of hound politics

Paper & Co.

Paper & Co. in a playful mood on Saturday afternoon

FOXHUNTING is on hiatus for now while the deer hunters are abroad in the countryside, and that gave us a chance to check in at the Iroquois kennels to see how the puppies are doing.

Paper, of course, has been out hunting now and is gradually maturing into an adult pack member. He’s had important lessons all summer and fall, and now the real education starts on the hunt field. There, he has to confront new situations and work professionally with the hunting pack. I guess to put it in human terms, he’s getting his university degree, and by next year he should be a full-time contributing member of the working world.

But what about our youngest puppies, Baffle’s litter and Dragonfly’s huge son Driver? They’re still in elementary school, but the lessons they’re learning now are critical to their future development.

These puppies were born in the spring, and for the last couple of months they’ve been getting their first exposure to working in a group, to pack manners, and to coming when called, Iroquois kennel manager Michael Edwards explained to us on Saturday.

Baffle's puppies in exercise field

Room to roam: all the hounds--puppies, current working pack members, and retirees--get plenty of free exercise in the two-acre field adjacent to the kennel

After breakfast each day, the 10 young puppies spend about three hours out in the kennel’s two-acre exercise field, one of the best tools the Iroquois staff has for the young hounds’ education.

“They stay out here while we’re getting stuff done in the kennel, and they play and play,” Michael said. “I try to get them out twice a day, once at the end of the day, too, so that they get four to five hours outside.

“Right now, the girls in this litter seem a little more rebellious than the boys,” Michael said of Baffle’s puppies. “The two bigger girls, Bangle and Bandstand, they’ll be the ones that won’t want to go in their kennel. But they’re all very lovable and want attention all the time.”

Assistant kennel manager Alan Foy (seen in the photo above with Baffle’s puppies) has also been working with the youngsters to start developing their sense of pack identity and cooperation.

“Alan’s been taking them out back here, just trying to teach them to stick together and respond when he calls them, and they’ve done really well at that,” Michael said, adding that it’s too early for most of the puppies to have learned their individual names yet. The kennel staff is trying to learn the puppies’ names, too! Many of them look so similar it can be hard to distinguish them, with a few exceptions. Bagshot is the woolly male of the litter; Bashful and Banknote are easy to pick out because they are the two smallest; and Driver, well, he’ll always stand out in a crowd due to his size and dark coloring.

Driver puppy picture 07-2009

Driver back in July.

Driver 11-14-09

Driver today with kennel manager Michael Edwards. A VERY big difference!

“Driver is the biggest baby out here,” Michael said, meaning both the biggest baby and the biggest baby. Recently, Michael set a five-gallon bucket out in the kennel yard, spooking Driver.

“He would not come out here on this concrete while that bucket was sitting there,” Michael said. “I had to get it and move it all the way out by the far gate before he would even come in here, and even then he came in looking at it real carefully. So we’re going to do something we did that worked well with the ST litter (Stam, Stax, Star, Stanza, etc., born in 2007). We’re going to put a windsock in their kennel, something that’s moving all the time so they get used to it. It made a big difference with them.”

In addition to their mini-houndwalks around the property, the puppies also have ventured farther afield with Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller and huntsman Lilla Mason. On those, they rode in the hound truck to the old point-to-point course, the same place the older hounds have their early summer walks and pond exercise. Like the older hounds, the puppies got to practice sticking together in a wide open space–their first formal exposure to that critical lesson in the company of the people who will actually hunt them someday.

“All that is important,” Michael said, “because they’re learning how to be a pack.”

The hunt and kennel staff have found it’s useful to start building the pack sense early with puppies.

“With the PA litter (including Panda, Parish, Parody, etc., born in 2005), Lilla and I would take them all through the area together,” Michael said. “By the time we incorporated them into the pack, they already had an idea what was going on, so they just blended right in.”

The puppies don’t yet have the attention span of the older hounds, but already they are focusing on people when they are out on walk, said Alan.

Baffle's pups Nov. 14, 2009

Baffle's litter, shown here with Michael, seem all grown up at seven months of age, but their lessons are just beginning. "I'd say they're like teenagers now," kennel manager Michael Edwards says. "They're just kind of lanky, but they're getting well-balanced."

In the case of Baffle’s puppies, it helps that they are part of a nine-hound litter–a ready-made pack, in a way. For Driver, a singleton, it was especially important that he learn group dynamics as early as possible.

“He lets the little girls chew on his ears,” Alan said. “He’s just a big, goofy puppy. But he’s fit in really well. I agree with Michael that he’s a little passive in the group, but I think it’s because when we first mixed him in with the other puppies he was so much bigger than they were. Now, he’s not quite as much bigger. Barwick and Backfire are getting pretty close to him in size. I think he knew he was bigger and couldn’t play as rough.”

“That all started when they were all at the lower kennel,” Michael said. “He was so much bigger at first that I monitored him closely. If he would be rough, I’d kind of get on him about it and growl at him.”

That lesson seems to have stuck. As Driver romped around with Baffle’s puppies, he was a perfect gentleman with his smaller playmates.

“One of the reasons we wanted to get him in with a group early was because an only child can sometimes have some trouble integrating,” Michael said. “When they’re on their own too long, I think they don’t get socialized with the pack. They don’t learn pack manners and how to respect other hounds. That’s why it was important to get Driver in with the other puppies as soon as we could, especially as big as he is. The longer we waited, the harder it would have been for him to understand that he is part of a pack.”

Baffle's wee pups April 2009

Baffle's litter in April.

“They learn how to be hounds from each other,” Alan said.

The next step, Michael said, is to start occasionally introducing older hounds to the puppies. Paper was one candidate, but evidently he felt pretty strongly that, having moved up with the big dogs in the pack, he was now too important to deal with the little kids anymore.

“He didn’t want any part of those puppies,” Michael said. “He jumped up on top of a bench and growled about it. I thought, being as young as he was, he’d adjust to it pretty quickly, but no, thank you. On the other hand, Panda went out there with them and loved it.”

“She educated them,” Alan said. “She didn’t get aggressive with them, but she let them know when they went too far and she let them know she didn’t want all of them piling on her at once. If they did that, she’d run away and hop up on the bench, and they couldn’t get up there with her. Then she’d wait until they scattered. Then she’d jump down again and play with one or two of them until all of them would pile on her again. She trained them in her way, which was very gentle.”

“Introducing older hounds to them out in that paddock is where I think they really start to learn about having manners toward other hounds,” said Michael. “I think they learn a lot out here in this field with each other, just about how to be a pack. Look at these guys out here right now. They’ve been running and playing for almost an hour. They’ll play to the point that somebody gets a little grumpy and growls, and then they’ll stop. These guys will say, ‘That’s enough,’ and it doesn’t escalate. Then they’ll play again.”

“Nobody knows more about being a hound dog than a hound dog,” Alan said. “We can let them know what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. But those hounds know even better how to tell each other what’s acceptable and what isn’t, and they know how to tell each other how far it can go before something becomes unacceptable. You’ll see them do it on houndwalk. A puppy will go off from the group and do something goofy, and when they come back, and older hound will growl at them to chastise them. Glog is really good at chastising the younger hounds on houndwalk when they do something wrong. He gives them a little scolding, like he’s saying, ‘That’s not how we act around here.'”

Paper at play 11-14-09

Paper (right) at play. Playing is an important part of learning.

While we were at the kennel, we checked in on the new English hounds, too. Cottesmore’s Samson, Strawberry, Structure, and Hawkeye arrived about three weeks ago and are adjusting well, Michael and Alan report. Like the puppies, they are having to learn their place in a new pack, and Michael and Alan are working to figure out which clique within the pack works best for them.

“I think a lot of their ability to adjust easily has to do with Neil,” Michael said, referring to the Cottesmore huntsman, Neil Coleman, who raised and hunted the four in England.

“Look at Samson over here,” Michael said, pointing to the group just turned out in the two-acre field. “He’s in there with all those males. They’re all at the age where they’re trying to show who’s top dog: Paper, Gaelic, Hailstone. But Samson’s the type you could probably stick him in any group and he’d adjust. Because he’s not aggressive. That has a lot to do with the way Neil has raised them. And the others are the same way.”

Samson and friends

Cottesmore Samson, the red-and-white hound closest to Michael here, has settled in well. Michael and Alan report that he is easygoing and adaptable.

Structure, Hawkeye, and Strawberry are kenneled in a run with the SA litter that includes Sassoon, Savvy, and Saracen. “They’re pretty easygoing, too,” Michael said.

One of the most important jobs Michael and Alan do is figure out which group of hounds should be kenneled together. Getting the mix right requires some experimentation, but it’s key to the hounds’ physical and mental wellbeing; getting it wrong could result in dangerous friction in the kennel.

“When I brought the English hounds up from the lower kennel (near Michael’s house, where they were quarantined before joining the rest of the pack at the upper kennel), I just started sticking them out in the field with different groups to see how they responded to each other. When they’re outside together with a lot of room, they’re more interested in what’s going on around them than they are in each other, and you can keep an eye on them. I stuck them in with the SAs and never had any issues with them, so that looks like a good fit.”

The process–the two-acre turnout paddock and essentially letting the hounds choose the clique they’re most comfortable with–is unusual, as the English imports let Michael and Alan know.

“When we first turned them out, they all just stood at the gate looking at us like, ‘What’s going on?'” Michael recalled. “But after a few minutes, they sort of went, ‘Hey, look at all this room! Let’s run!'”

Once the hounds have chosen their own group of friends, how do you get each set to merge comfortably with the pack? “We turn different groups out together,” Michael explained. “There are only a few groups that have a little trouble mixing closely, and you have to know all that, especially when you are loading them up in the trailer to take them to a meet. For instance, we can keep some hounds in the back of the hound truck instead of in the trailer if we need to.”

It’s also critical to know who the dominant dog is at any given time, Michael said. At the moment, it’s Alvin.

“Stalker was the big dog before we retired him,” Michael said. Stalker, one of our most beloved hounds, is now retired under the care of the Hound Welfare Fund. You can read his story here. But now that he’s retired, he spends more time in the kennel office, where he can relax and keep warm, and suddenly he’s a mellow retiree.

“Showing his dominance doesn’t seem to concern him so much now,” Michael said. “I guess he’s old enough to realize he’s got it made in there!”

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

Hound of the Day, Oct. 3: The Great Grundy

Grundy, shown here in October 2006 with joint-Master Jerry Miller

Thank you, Grundy! The great hound himself, shown here in October 2006 with Iroquois joint-Master Jerry Miller

FOR most field members, the first hunt day is a beginning. But to the Masters and hunt staff it is, in many ways, a grand finale. If you take a sort of “journey to the center of the earth” look at what has occurred behind the scenes to make this day possible, you’ll see what I mean.  Case in point: our grand hound Iroquois Grundy ’98 died several years ago, but he had a tremendous impact on the Oct. 3 opening hunt. 

A great hunt can only become great if it has a great hound breeder behind it. Grundy is an excellent example of this. So much thought, care, and consultation go into mating hounds in order to produce the kind of hunters that can give outstanding sport. Iroquois makes its mating choices with special care, because we breeed relatively few hounds and have committed to keep them all from cradle to grave. For any hunt, Iroquois definitely included, the idea is to breed hounds that are great hunters themselves but who will also keep providing great sport through future generations. That is what Grundy, who was bred by North Cotswold huntsman Nigel Peel out of the Peterborough champion Grapefruit, has done for Iroquois: give great sport himself, then through his sons and daughters.

When breeding hounds, you pick what you want to add to the pack by looking at its breeding and considering what it will contribute once it is an experienced hound. For instance, we don’t expect anything from Paper this year, but his breeding suggests that, down the road, he should be a great cold-nosed hound that could be invaluable on bad scenting days.  

We had a lot of trouble with splits until Grundy, whom we imported from the North Cotswold in England, showed in his second season to be a non-switcher.  In other words, he always stayed on the line of the original hunted coyote.  So we, along with many other hunts, used him as a stallion hound. Thankfully, he passed that trait along to his offspring.  Ten of the hounds that hunted on opening day Oct. 3 are Grundy’s blood, and they reflected his immense contribution to our pack.  Rarely nowadays do we have splits.

With much anticipation, 40 field members and staff met at Brookfield Farm for the first cub-hunting morning.  The hounds we had out Oct. 3 were Finite, Finesse, Sassoon, Savvy, Salute, Saracen, Saba, Allie, Grindstone, Sayso, Latch, Flash, Sage, Stanway, Griffin, Stam, and Glog. Like the first day of school, there was nervous excitement in the air. It was a bright sunny morning with a temperature of about 45 degrees.  There had been a full moon and clear skies the night before.  I had woken up several times in the night supposing that all nocturnal animals would be busy hunting, and by morning would be tucked away to rest somewhere. 

We have not seen much game on houndwalks, not like in previous years. Common sense tells me they must still be out there, we just can’t see them, although only two landowners said they had seen a coyote this summer.  I opened my bedroom window to see if by chance I could hear that familiar coyote laughter, but the night was quiet.

Each season, the hunt country poses new and different challenges and limitations.  Some land gets closed off by development, some coverts get leveled for farming, and some years there is drought.  This year, there is thick vegetation from the unusually wet summer.  It’s going to be hard to see the hounds in the coverts as they draw–and even harder to see game.  At the landowners’ request, the first draw of the morning on Oct. 3 would be a large corn field in a corner bordered by two busy roads.  Consequently, we carefully chose hounds for the day who were experienced in the dangers of traffic. They also were ones  the hunt staff could stop if they ran something that would cross those roads, leading them into danger.  As always, the hunt staff and Masters’ primary concerns are respect for the landowners and the safety of the hounds and field members.

The first draw

The first draw was about a mile from where the hounds were unboxed, which was ideal for loosening them up and settling them down.  It is so funny to see how different they are on a hunt day than on houndwalk!  For instance, Finite and Finesse have been so ho-hum on houndwalk, expending the least amount of energy necessary and spending time at cow pies and trails of muck left by manure spreaders, smelling and smelling until they were forced by hunt staff  to catch up. They are sisters and do everything together to such an extent that we’ve long called them “two bodies, one brain.”

Sometimes on houndwalk, hounds will drift ahead of me, and, just to school them, I’ll call them back.  But Finite and Finesse will not volunteer to come back. Instead, they’ll stand still as though they don’t want to cross the same ground twice.  They know I’m going to walk forward to where they are, so why come back? Geeeeeeeeez.  But not on opening hunt day!  Once I blew the horn and left meet, there were the girls out front, tails wagging, purposefully moving forward, on a mission and focused.  I had to use my voice to steady them, and they responded without looking back at me – obedient but lost in concentration. The girls were switched on!

"Two bodies, one brain": Finesse and Finite are two sisters by Grundy. They did him proud at the Oct. 3 opening meet!

"Two bodies, one brain": Finesse and Finite are two sisters by Grundy. They did him proud at the Oct. 3 opening meet!

We held the hounds up as the field of 30-plus riders moved around the sides of the corn bordered by roads.  The hounds respected the hunt staff and impatiently waited as all the riders got in place.  I can’t tell you how proud we all were of them–all the summer training pays off.  It is little things like this, being able to hold the hounds up until all is ready for them to go in a covert, that are such great rewards.  Then being able to take them towards it, but requiring them to go in exactly where the huntsman wants instead of just rushing forward.  Those subtleties that put such polish on a pack also reflect great whips.  It makes you very proud, but you also smile as you remember all the mistakes hounds have made along the way and how much guidance and training they needed to reach this pinnacle.

Hounds spilled into the corn, drawing well considering there was no way to ride through the corn, and so I had to just stay outside.  They spoke some, a good start.  We left there and drew more coverts to the south: Davenport’s, Wee Young’s, Raymond’s Scrub.  It was pleasing to see such beautiful houndwork; they were very thorough in underbrush so thick you could only hear them moving through and only occasionally see the tips of their wagging tails. But I was getting anxious to find game.

A Lesson–and a View–at Little Kansas

Next we hacked to two smaller corn fields in Little Kansas.  The first was very long, but only about 15 rows wide.  I wanted to draw west to east. Hounds went in, and halfway down the field, most spilled out, moving towards the bigger corn to the north.  Early in the season, you really want hounds to stay in the covert they are drawing unless they find game or are called out by the huntsman.  If half the hounds are in one covert and half have drifted to the next, and then suddenly one group fires off after a coyote, the rest will be left behind.  That’s  especially detrimental to the puppies.  So I called to the hounds that had left the covert, turned my horse towards the little corn, and lieued them back in.  It was risky to try to do without a whip there to reinforce my command, but the intensive summer training stood hounds in good stead again. 

It occurred to me they might have been winding something in the bigger corn, but cub-hunting is as much about hound training as hunting, and I want the hounds to be disciplined in coverts. As soon as they got into the bigger corn, they erupted in full cry.  Fieldmembers were spread out on the west end as a way to discourage game from going across that fenceline out of the hunt country.  Round and round the hounds went.  A whip tally-hoed a coyote out of the corn south.  But hounds did not follow, indicating to me there were multiple coyotes in there, and the one the whip saw just got flushed out.

One of the hardest things about hunting coyotes is the fact that they often travel in groups, so if you find one you actually might have found four or five together.  Most of the time, they will each run a different direction, seemingly to deliberately split the pack of hounds.  It is a real muddle if three couple of hounds are running east another five couple running south, and the rest running north all after coyotes. This happened a lot in the early 1990s when coyotes first established themselves in our hunt country.  The correct way to handle that scenario is that the huntsman must choose which hounds to follow, blow the horn and hark hounds out of the covert. Any hounds following another coyote are a split: the whips must stop them and send them on to the huntsman with the main pack.  This is very difficult to do, as a whip only has a few seconds to stop hounds and divert their attention back to the horn.   Once hounds have gotten half a field away on a coyote, it’s almost impossible to turn them back, and by then the huntsman and sound of the horn is long gone.

Grundy died several years ago but is memorialized by this life-sized bronze at Miller Trust. It shows him doing what he was made to do: chase coyote without switching!

Grundy died several years ago but is memorialized by this life-sized bronze at Miller Trust. It shows him doing what he was made to do: chase coyote without switching!

Hounds were still full cry in the corn, and another coyote was viewed going south out of the covert. A few minutes later, a third very small coyote came barreling out the east end, followed closely by “two bodies one brain”–Finite and Finesse–with the rest of the pack in hot pursuit. 

I said under my breath, “Thank you, Grundy!”  The coyote slipped through a wire fence too tightly woven for the hounds to penetrate.  I galloped forward and opened two gates to let hounds through, they cast themselves east to no avail, then returned  to the fenceline where they last smelled the quarry, as they often do when they make a lose. 

Grundy’s Bloodlines Win the Day

I cast them into the bean field that was on the other side of the fence.  Finite erupted again, running hard north. Hounds honored her, and the little coyote was viewed again.  It ran through another tight fenceline and turned west, only to be turned back into the beans by fieldmembers going in early.    Hounds were delayed getting through the fence and made a lose.  The Masters had seen the coyote get turned and go back into the beans.  But it’s amazing how coyotes seem to just vanish when they lie down and hide!  The beans were not that tall, but he had disappeared into thin air.

I took the hounds and began making a half moon cast in the field.  Long minutes went by, hounds were tying but could only find a very angry skunk! I noticed Finite, Finesse, and Grindstone trotting off to the north end of the field, though most of the hounds were in the center.  The hounds spoke, and tally ho! The coyote was viewed going east out of the north end of the beans.  He  ran several fields through cattle, and the hounds eventually lost the scent.  It was getting hot so we called it a day.  And what a day to begin with!

Grundy would have been proud of his pups, and his spirit shone in them through their honesty as a pack.

One other note of honor: the award for Last Field Member Out. This one goes to Cheri Clark, who graciously led Master Jerry Miller’s horse back to the meet, as he prefers to dismount wherever hounds are loaded–and it was a long hack back to the meet!

Lilla Mason