Well, we had a FABULOUS day yesterday, probably because of the mist/rain/drizzle that began the second we arrived at the delayed meet at 11AM - delayed due to the unrelenting rain that morning at began at 2AM and continued until 9AM that was just another in a long, long line of rainstorms that have drenched us this entire cubbing season.
The last few Wednesday hunts had been postposted and/or cancelled due to the rain, but this time we were promised a reprieve as the storm moved north, clearing the skies. Even the radar promised 'no more rain.' So it was with great anticipation that about 12 of our die-hard weekday-going members pulled into the fixture meet, ready for a day of well-deserved hunting.
But no sooner did we arrive, but the clear skies abruptly disappeared under a sudden surge of lowering gray fog and the start of a heavy misty drizzle. We all looked up in disbelief, then looked at one another. "But the radar was CLEAR!" we all cried to one another, including our Huntsman! It was just too hilarious for words. Ratcatcher had been excused for raincoats, but the only ones wearing raingear were the staff (whipper-in Erin looked smashing in her hot neon pink raincoat which embarassed her no end as it had been the only thing in her truck that morning and would make it impossible for her to "hide" anywhere - that coat was like a blinking beacon! And yes, you COULD see her easily from a mile away!) - the rest of us in the field (except Jan, our Field Master who was also smart enough to wear a raincoat) were in ratcatcher. It was a surefire way to encourage the rain to come down.
But we were all as keen to hunt as our lovely pack of PMD hounds, so...off we went in search of our local fox to see if one or more might be enticed to give us some sport this very Irish-like morning.
For the first 1/2 hour we did a walk-about through the open fields...and mist...and drizzle...and light rain...waiting for the hounds to pick out something worthy of their voices. Anytime we could stop near the trees, we'd each select a tree wide enough to protect from the rain. Finally the hounds found a decent line, and away we went, through the mud, up and down slopes, across fields. It would appear our fox didn't seem too inclined to run very far, and tended to make small light circles, so we were a bit back and forth at first - one time having to reverse field on a narrow woodland path and gallop back the way we'd just come, mud flying every which way from galloping hooves. Once up in the high fields we could spread out, but there wasn't one person unscathed - we were all mud splattered! I was sorry then that I hadn't worn my rain jacket - I'd taken a couple of high-flung big mud balls right to the front and arms of my formerly perfectly clean jacket that left muddy splotches for the rest of the hunt. Ah, well - what's the price of a bit of mud to enjoy such music as this?
Our first fox went rather quickly to ground - perhaps the drizzle and rain wasn't to its liking - but we had only warmed up, so the hounds were gathered and recast in another promising spot to see what they could find.
After a few fits and starts, a few half hearted voices but nothing of substance, with the rain getting heavier and the trees dripping fretfully over our heads, - the hounds finally found a hot line worthy of their best voices. Once again, we were off in pursuit, over fields, through woods, in a race to keep up.
I have to admit - the music was incredible. I'm not sure if it was the soft rain and mist that made the sound coming up out of the lower woods to the fields above just intensify and roar around and past us with breathtaking clarity, but it was truly magical! Our fox was determined to keep to its home base, which included theless assessable (to us, at least) depths of the woods in and around the old (abandoned) home site of our fixture. While we kept up as well as we could, at times we were forced to halt and just listen as the hound melody dimmed and swelled, swung away and then reversed to come back at breathtaking volume. We viewed the pack several times, all working hard, the formation tight and in unison as they raced in full voice up and back and up and back the length of the fields and woods. It was quite the run for them, and for us as we negotiated the muddy trails, often at full bore - trails that had been soaked with rain for days all the way up to that morning, with only a brief moment of sunshine before the clouds and rain came back with a glower. We ducked, at a racing trot and canter and gallop, under trees that showered us with water droplets, past close-in bushes that soaked our britches and boots, and through heavy going that threatened to suck off any shoe that dared to have loose nails.
The hounds, however, were in their glory, offering us one of the most beautiful melodies in one of the longest close-in runs I can remember for this cubbing season. At the very end, when the fox had decided enough was enough, the Field had come to a halt near the old homestead only yards away from where the fox managed to finally throw the pack off his trail in a dense cropping of impenetrable brush, then raced out of the brush to about 50 feet away to duck in a shallow hole partly obscured by the old remains of a long abandoned rusty bicycle - a fact we didn't know until later when we were all gathered right around that unsuspecting hiddy-hole.
As the music faded to an end and the hounds dribbled out of the underbrush in twos and threes, they barely appeared winded, even after that long and wild run. One or two were still determined to puzzle out the scent, all eventually finding and being very interested in the depression where the old bike rested.
But it was time to rest and refresh, so Todd gathered the pack and led them down the slope below the house, down to the pond so they could cool off and drink. We were happy to stand on the top of the slope, chatting away, little knowing that our fox was hiding right in our midst! This fixture is LOADED with foxes since the several hundred acres is being left pretty much undisturbed and wild.
As it was now over 2 hours, and with two excellent runs under our belts and two worthy foxes gone to ground, and our Field down to only 5 or so members, it was time to call it a day.
A short hack later we were back at the trailers and stood in the drizzle and rain for the next 2 1/2 hours - heck, we were wet already! - eating and chatting and enjoying rehashing the day's events.
Yes, there is a fine art to hunting in the rain, although I will have to practice dodging the flying mud balls next time. Next time I will also have a raincoat stashed in my trailer, just in case. Any other color but hot neon pink!
I do worry about catching a mudball to the face while wearing spectacles. Would ski goggles be proper attire for muddy meets?
^^A friend of mine does wear safety goggles for this purpose!
A short, funny story from last season: I was hunting 2nd field with some friends, one of which had a daughter that started college that fall. I think the week before I was trailering with this woman when said daughter called to inform her that she got a "Monroe" piercing (think beauty mark area of face), much to her mother's disdain. So we've pulled out after a great run, not wanting to tire the horses before Hunt Weekend, splattered with mud. My friend pulls up beside me and has a mud splat on her cheek and goes "Hey, Helio, do I have a Monroe?" To which I responded, "No, more like a DeNiro!"
GTD! You rock my dear! And your writing talents are many! We are not worthy and bow down low to you in admiration!
And I agree....hounds sound extra hollow or echo-ey in the mist or fog or dampness especially if it's still. Gives me the goosebumps just thinkin' about it!
Thank you for a wonderful depiction of a glorious day. As I sit in my sterile office in front of my computer, I could feel the mist, and hear the hounds and the hoofbeats. I love the picture of the puzzled hounds circling the old abandoned bicycle!
And those mud stains on your coat will provide you with an opportunity to tell the story again
We have had no rain to speak of and our ground is like cement. Our hounds are from the west and use to dry conditions so our pace hasn't been slow at all during cubbing in spite of the hot, dry conditions. We had our first frost last night and Opening Hunt is this Saturday. So excited!
We had "Junior Hunt Day" today with a boatload of kids on smartly turned out and wonderfully mannerly ponies in both 1st and 2nd flight. I think we had about 70 out today in both fields. I and another member volunteered to be "gate closers" for 2nd Flight so that our Field Master didn't have to worry about forgotten gates. It was rather fun - my pony worked those gates like a Western Trail Champion - there were only 2 that I had to get off to close and latch due to the way they were situated. We were out for 3 hours, and put 5 foxes to ground after some terrific runs AND stellar music!!!! All the whips were kids (with adult whips as their backup), and our Huntsman Todd handed over his horn and hounds to another junior, Alex, who is aging out this year (I believe) to an adult member! She did a great job blowing the horn - at first I didn't know that and kept listening thinking "hmmmm, why is Todd blowing his horn kinda funny? That doesn't sound like him." Well, no wonder! However, Alex did super well for someone who "only played the piano and not a wind instrument" (she said), and I could even recognize the calls, particularly "gone to ground" since she was getting great practice at that tune! Kudos to her!!
Todd had several hounds wearing GPS collars, and he showed me the tracks on his Garmin afterwards. I'm going to start wearing my GPS so I can upload the tracks now that formal season has begun (and the leaves are mostly off the trees - a big problem for GPS units)
BTW - I do keep a hunting blog - I will be posting to that during the season, so just save the link and enjoy the stories...and the GPS uploads.
Opening Meet next Sunday, so we clip on Tuesday, and reshoe on Wednesday, and braid Saturday night. Hopefully I will have my colors sewn on my jacket by then as I was awarded them today! Woo hoo!!