The red ring-neck hounds

WHILE we were in Virginia earlier this fall, the houndbloggers got a chance to meet the Orange County Hunt’s pack of red ring-neck hounds. Alas, the hunt’s Mastership preferred that we not take any video, so we couldn’t give you a view of these interesting American hounds.

Since then, though, we’ve come across this short video online. It’s a preview for a documentary made some time ago about the former Orange County huntsman, Melvin Poe, who more recently hunted the hounds at the Bath County Hunt’s private pack and is the subject of the book Foxhunting with Melvin Poe, by the late Peter Winants.

In the documentary preview above, you’ll get a great view of these distinctive hounds. It’s easy to see how they got the name “red ring-neck”! I’m no expert on this strain of American hound, but I believe they were developed by William Skinker, who hunted the Orange County Hounds in the early part of the 20th century.

The Skinkers are an old Virginia family, and near where the Orange County hounds met the morning we saw them is an area called Skinkertown. William Skinker appears in MFH Henry Higginson’s book, The Hunts of the United States and Canada: Their Masters, Hounds, and Histories, which also has this interesting note about the Orange County Hunt of the time (Higginson’s book was published in 1908, just after the Great Hound Match of 1905):

It will be seen that the Orange County Hunt practically maintains three packs: the English pack at Goshen, N.Y., an American pack at The Plains (Va.), and a third pack of English and American mixed. The American pack is hunted by Mr. William Skinker, Jr., while Claude Hatcher, at Middleburg, has shown excellent sport with the mixed pack …

The mixed pack Higginson refers to here is, in fact, the Middleburg Hunt. The Middleburg Hunt has a close connection to the Orange County hounds; it was County MFH John Townsend who established the Middleburg pack in 1906.

The horn is one way to communicate with hounds. Voice is another.

But back to Mr. Poe. In addition to the red ring-necks you’ll see in this video, it’s also interesting to note the sounds Poe makes when communicating with his hounds. A huntsman’s language with his or her hounds is fascinating and traditionally has as much to do with tone and octave as it does with actual words. But it most certainly does have meaning to its intended audience, the hounds.

In Winants’s book, Poe put it this way: “It doesn’t make a damned bit of difference what you’re saying, just so you’re communicating with hounds, and I sometimes whistle  softly when trying to sneak up on a fox.”

The hounds have their own sounds, of course. Back in the 1600s, George Tubervile described them thusly: “Hounds do cal on, bawle, bable, crie, yearne, lapise, plodde, baye, and such other noyses.” But that’s a story for another day!