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April 3, 2009

Bijou Springs Hunt Has Weathered Many Changes In 25 Years

The Colorado hunt calls some of the country’s most spectacular scenery home.

The word “bijou” means jewel in French, and the Bijou Basin east of Colorado Springs on Colorado’s high plains is certainly a jewel, with lush pastures and rolling, pine-covered hills. There are ponds and streams and abundant wildlife. Pikes Peak, called “America’s mountain,” towers on the western horizon.

In the 1970s, one of Colorado’s three recognized foxhunts began calling the Bijou Basin home. Bob and Sandy Platts formed the Rivers Divide Hunt with a pack of mainly American hounds that they brought with them from northern New Mexico. The pack hunted primarily on the 20,000-acre Killian ranch near Calhan. The quarry was coyote—faster than the fox and more elusive.

In 1983, the Platts decided to disband the hunt and drafted their hounds to other hunts. A group of Rivers Divide members, who had become avid foxhunters, decided to continue hunting in the Bijou Basin, and so the Bijou Springs Hunt was formed.

The Arapahoe (Colo.), North Hills (Neb.), Mission Valley (Kan.) and Roaring Forks (Colo.) hunts generously contributed hounds from their packs, and the members—led by MFH Rich Fortmann, MFH Martha Love and her husband Jerry, and several others—set about getting permission to continue to use the Killian ranch.

Big Changes

The Bijou Springs Hunt was registered in 1984 and recognized in 1993, and the hunt continued to grow and prosper. Local businessman and aviator, Harry Combs, bought the ranch. The hunt leased 10 acres from him and converted a ranch building into a kennel and a garage into a clubhouse. In addition to hunting on the ranch, hunter pace events and trail rides were held.
   
Then, in April of 1999, the hunt received the devastating news that the ranch had been sold to ITT mogul John Malone. Malone informed the hunt members that they could no longer hunt the property, but they could continue to rent the kennels for the hounds.
   
For the next few years, the hunt hunted various fixtures up and down the front range. Mostly the tracts were small—none over 3,000 acres—which was frustrating for huntsmen and hounds. One fixture bordered on a major interstate which posed great danger to the hounds. Also, the hounds had to be hauled from kennels to hunt country which, in many cases, amounted to 50 miles each way. The trailering added to the difficulty, especially on the icy winter roads.
   
The year 2005 marked a huge turning point in Bijou’s history. First, only a month before the opening meet, Huntsman Gary Worrall resigned, having accepted the post of huntsman for a new hunt in Colorado. The hunt went through a major reorganization. Nancy Mitchell, who had frequently hunted the hounds on Wednesdays and served as a long-time whipper-in, took up the horn. Many hunt members pitched in to keep the hunt running. It was a crash course in running a foxhunt.

Learning Quickly

With only a few weeks of experience hunting the pack, which included several first-year entry, Mitchell took them to the Arapahoe Hunt’s Rendezvous, a joint meet with hunts from all over the Rocky Mountain Region. Mitchell was the first female huntsman ever to hunt the Arapahoe territory. But from beginning to end, the hunt was a rousing success, with the Bijou pack accounting for a coyote to cap the day.
   
In the spring of 2006, Mitchell again took her pack to Arapahoe, this time to participate in a region-wide hound trials, held in anticipation of the following year’s MFHA Centennial Trials. Not only did the Bijou hounds bring home the blue ribbon, but Huntsman Marvin Beeman also named Bijou Springs Robert as his favorite hound of the trials.
   
At the end of the 2006 season, new Bijou Springs MFH Nancy King and her husband Paul made the exciting announcement that they had purchased a ranch at the north end of the Bijou Basin. This was to be the hunt’s new home.
   
Bijou’s first winter at the Lazy K 11, as the Kings named their ranch, was not auspicious.  Only a few weeks after opening hunt, winter set in with a vengeance. With record snows and bone-chilling cold, there was no hope of hunting on the new ranch for nearly two months.
   
Finally, late in February, hunting began again, but the footing was treacherous and only part of the hunt country was accessible. When the Arapahoe Hunt held its hound trials to decide which hounds would represent the region in the Centennial Hound Trials, Bijou’s hounds were woefully out of condition, but Mitchell decided to give it a try.
   
To her shock, Bijou Springs Mavis, a first-year hound, was named a Centennial Hound. Mitchell, her daughter, Meridith Hatterman, whose horse had qualified as a Centennial Foxhunter, and a contingent from Colorado trekked 3,000 miles to Leesburg, Va., in May 2007 for the Centennial celebrations. The experience for everyone who went was memorable, and they were thrilled to be part of such a grand occasion.

Looking Forward And Back

The next order of business for the Hunt was to build a new kennel. The Kings travelled to several Eastern hunts to look at kennels, and Mitchell also looked at several facilities during her trip to Virginia. Hunt members formed a committee, drew up plans, and hired a contractor.
   
Groundbreaking for the kennels took place in August of 2007 and the building began to take shape.  Finally, in February of 2008 the great day came—the hounds were transferred to their new “digs” complete with concrete runs, beautiful chain link fencing and more. A major beneficiary of the new location was the huntsman, who no longer faced long hours trailering the hounds each week from the kennels to the hunt country.
   
When summer came, the Bijou Masters began planning for the silver anniversary year—the Bijou Springs Hunt was turning 25.
   
The silver anniversary opening hunt was spectacular.  It was a perfect fall day, such as only Colorado can offer, with the Rocky Mountains silhouetted against a vivid blue sky. Along the creek banks, the cottonwoods gleamed gold.
   
A beautiful commemorative medal was given to all the riders, and toasts to the new season were raised. The traditional Blessing of the Hounds took place. The 25th season of the Bijou Springs Hunt was under way.
   
Mitchell and her staff headed south into the Bijou Basin, with 16 1⁄2 couple of hounds and a field of more than 40 riders, plus car followers. Although the weather was warm and dry and the wind tended to snatch the scent away, the hounds worked tenaciously, finding in the southwest corner of the Lazy K 11. This run went directly east, and young entry overran the line as it headed into the original homestead of the ranch.
   
After a stop for water, the pack was recast toward the north but were unable to regain that line in the increasingly dry winds. Hunting toward the pine trees that mark the “crystal mine,” a large gypsum deposit that glitters at the head of a huge treed arroyo and a favorite area for resident coyotes, the hounds found and gave tongue. After a terrific run through the trees and ravines, this coyote flushed into the open where the warm winds obliterated his scent, and Mitchell stopped and praised the hard-working hounds.
   
Despite rising temperatures and dry conditions, several more short runs ensued. Finally after three hours of good sport, Mitchell blew “End of Hunt,” and everyone adjourned to the shady lawn of the Kings’ lovely ranch house for one of the abundant feasts for which Bijou is famous. Never outdone, the social committee had tables decorated with beautiful fall centerpieces, and guests lingered and visited as this wonderful day drew to a close, resplendent with the promise of a spectacular silver anniversary season.
   
Nature seems to have cooperated and the season has been spectacular, with consistently good weather and plentiful quarry. The Kings have added to their holdings so that the hunt country is now nearly 60,000 acres. The 2008-2009 new entry have proven to be everything that Mitchell hoped for with good hunting instincts and good voices.
   
Both our good neighbors, the Arapahoe Hunt and the Knoxville Hunt from Wyoming, have been guests of the Bijou Springs Hunt and enjoyed Bijou’s hospitality and the wonderful country. Bijou’s 25th anniversary has been a celebration from beginning to end—one to remember. 

 
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