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January 15, 2010

A Day To Remember

Patti Hopkins, Old Chatham huntsman, appreciates a day of good hound work and team work. Photo by Donna Ross.

Longtime huntsmen recall their most memorable days in the field.

No day of foxhunting is complete without a round of good stories told at the hunt breakfast. And the old adage, “there are no bad days hunting,” is one of the reasons that foxhunters keep going back for more. But some days stand out, even to those who live their lives in the hunt field.

Brazos Valley Hunt (Texas) MFH and huntsman Sandy Dixon, who hunts primarily American hounds, readily recalled a day last year that was filled with quarry.

“It was in the spring, late February, at Rocky Creek Ranch. As I pulled in I noticed that there were a lot of new calves with the mother cows at jt.-MFH Rhonda Pool’s home,” Dixon said.

New calves attract coyotes.

“I let the hounds out of the trailer, crossed the road and within just a few yards Singer ’04 and Remington ’04 opened, with the entire pack immediately screaming after two coyotes that were viewed heading across the field side by side. I had to slow to cross a paved road and got a bit behind the pack as they got to the ridge that drops off into a hay field,” Dixon said.

“I arrived at the ridge just in time to see the pack about halfway down the ridge, chasing three coyotes across the hay field toward the creek. My horse was confident enough to follow hounds over this 40-foot drop to the bottom. When I got down the ridge, the pack was along the creek but evidently at a loss.

“I waited quietly as hounds searched the creek bank to find where the coyotes crossed. Within a couple of minutes, Catfish ’06 spoke, but he was heading back to the hay field. Since we can’t cross the creek due to the depth, I encouraged hounds to honor him.

“They turned back, not fully convinced he was correct. But, after we’d crossed the hay field and were going up the ridge, I heard the coyotes bark. I looked up to see two coyotes standing side-by-side barking at the hounds! Hounds stopped and looked at them as if a bit uncertain of what looked like a challenge,” Dixon said.

“My big Crossbred hound Nuisance ’03 lunged forward, honored by the others, and they chased those coyotes, which surprisingly stayed together all the way across the open field. Hounds lost them when they went under the fence crossing a highway,” Dixon concluded.

“I’ve been hunting coyotes since 1989, and never have I had coyotes stand and bark at me and my hounds. It was the coolest experience I’ve encountered hunting hounds,” Dixon said.

When You’re All In Full Cry

Patti Hopkins, huntsman for Old Chatham Hunt (N.Y.), who has been hunting mostly Crossbreds for 20 years, likes to see the hard work pay off.

“Hunts where hounds have been picking at a cold line and it feels like forever but everyone stays focused are my favorites,” she said. “And then suddenly the cry swells, and we’re in business.

“My whips intuitively clap forward to the danger zones, my quarry obligingly stays within the country, my staff and the field all have multiple views, every rider steps up to the cracking pace, the young entry are right in there and all hounds are on in the end,” Hopkins said.

“Last November, Eager ’03 opened on a coyote in a swamp south of one of the masters’ properties and ran it for 11⁄2 hours before we bayed it up in a thicket on a long-time member’s property,” Hopkins said.

“We scorched through the northwest quadrant of our hunt country many times,” Hopkins added. “Several juniors who were out that day were thrilled by the level of participation they experienced and by wading into the underbrush to call off hounds, holding my mount and congratulating the pack.

“In George Washington’s time, huntsman Billy Lee [1750-1828] had but one order—to keep with hounds. By contrast, things are so much more complex today—encroachment by development, including highways, increased road traffic, landowners who are unfamiliar with the country way of life, introduction of coyotes, less paid staff—to name a few,” she added.

Hopkins’ favorite hunts are the ones where everyone works for a successful result.

“While it’s thrilling to immediately be on a run at the first cast, it’s the venery that’s rewarding,” she continued. “The team work is especially gratifying for me—when timing and telepathy are tuned in, and there’s ‘collective thought,’ so to speak.”

Geoffrey Hyde, who has been in hunt service for 31 years, is the huntsman for Elkridge-Harford Hunt (Md.). He hunts Crossbred hounds, rotating between a bitch pack and a dog pack. One of his most memorable days in the field was six years ago while cubbing.

“We have lots of corn here, and it was in this corn that my bitch pack locked onto a fox. It ran the corn, the briars and the woods for about 45 minutes,” he said. “They ran so fast and the cry was so intense it was like they were possessed.

“Early on, I try to hunt most of my hounds as often as I can. It was kind of a warm day, and hounds had been going six weeks already and were quite fit. The corn was heavy and thick, and the hounds needed a lot of drive to keep things going,” Hyde said.

There was something about the cry in the corn that Hyde really liked.

“It wasn’t any great point [number of miles], but the intensity of the cry and the relentless pressure were inspiring,” he noted. “The hounds never checked—they were just locked onto this big old dog fox.”

One That Took A Different Path

West Hills Hounds (Calif.) jt.-MFH Mitchell Jacobs related a standout memory from his 17 years of hunting that combines it all. West Hills’ territory is 300,000 acres between Los Angeles and the “grapevine,” comprised of wide-open flat grasslands rolling to steep mountains with arroyos to cross.

Five years ago, West Hills hosted its second performance trial, where Tony Leahy (jt.-MFH of Fox River Valley Hunt [Ill.]) hunted a mixed pack of the top hounds from West Hills, Santa Fe Hunt (Calif.), Los Altos Hounds (Calif.), Santa Ynez Valley Hounds (Calif.) and Red Rock Hounds (Nev.).

“We started in flat country, where hounds worked a coyote in the valley for between 45 minutes and an hour. It was slow, almost like a fox, but hounds worked very hard on an old line and eventually they checked. We checked and, thinking that we needed to find again, were drinking from our flasks when huntsman Martin Blackmore saw the coyote walk out from behind a bush,” Jacobs said.

“What was unique was that we ran across the mountain from east to west, whereas most coyotes run up or down. I’ve hunted this country 100 times and had never seen them run that way,” he continued.

He recalled that the coyote then ran west to east across the top of the arroyo, and then he ran down.

“When he got down, he went back across through the valley,” Jacobs continued. “Hounds were settled on him and the field right behind, and we all ran for 5 or 6 miles this way and we all got to view this run. Hounds didn’t get closer, and then they all ran to the end of the corner right back to where we had started and the coyote went straight back up.’’

Jacobs noted the run encompassed a 20-mile square, with a six-mile point across the top of the arroyos, for 11⁄2 hours.

“At that point, we had to stop because we had no horses left. Tony Leahy was on his third horse, and other people were hunting multiple mounts,” he said.

“It was probably the most exciting hunt I’ve been on without accounting for the quarry. Hounds worked brilliantly that day. You have to have a lot of admiration for the game you’re hunting. There was only that one check in the beginning, and then we saw that coyote the whole way,” Jacobs concluded.


He Hid Where?

One day in Nevada, Red Rock Hounds MFH and huntsman Lynn Lloyd was out with a pack of 70 hounds. The hounds struck on a bobcat and ended up pinning him up on a ledge, with Lloyd on her horse looking up at him.

“Then, the hounds knocked bobcat off the ledge, and there was a huge scuffle, with dust everywhere so you couldn’t see a thing,” Lloyd said. “When the dust cleared, that bobcat was nowhere to be found. But I noticed all the hounds staring at me, it seemed. I slowly leaned over and realized that the bobcat was under my horse.

“It was like the stand-off at the OK corral. That bobcat stayed there, quiet as can be right under my horse’s belly, with all 70 hounds staring back at him. I didn’t really know what to do. My horse stood rock still, and we all just sat there for about half an hour.”

Lloyd called everyone—whips, staff, field—on her radio so they could come look at the situation. “Eventually, I had one of my whips get between the hounds and my horse, and I quickly rode forward, got off, and called the hounds to me,” she said. “They were so good—they came right to me without a second thought, and as I rolled around with them, telling them how good they were, the bobcat ran off up the hill.

“A trapper friend told me I was very lucky, since bobcats usually try to climb to the highest ground. Which, in that scenario, would have been right up there with me on my horse’s back. Wouldn’t that have been a pickle!”

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. "A Day To Remember" ran in the January 15, 2010 issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.

 
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