P.O. Box 278,
Dahlgren, Virginia 22448.
Flexibility paid off on Jan. 9, when the masters decided to take the pack out after having cancelled their meet the day before due to rain. After substantial rain on Friday night and Saturday morning, the skies over the Northern Neck of Virginia began to clear around mid-day on Saturday, allowing the footing to partially dry out.
Fortunately, the scheduled fixture, Ingleside Plantation in Oak Grove, affords excellent footing in most areas. The plethora of dirt and gravel roads around the winery and nursery operations gives horses and riders an easy way to get from one place to the next, and the network of trails through the woods that the landowners graciously maintain is a great help in following hounds.
With temperatures in the mid- to upper 30s at the time of the meet and a light frost just beginning to melt and evaporate, it felt like a good hunting day. An enthusiastic group of riders had come out, happy to be able to get in a day of hunting before heading back to work on Monday.
As the honorary co-huntsman, I was assisted by several honorary whippers-in: Ben Sanchez, Julie Mitchell and Kelsy Abell, a very capable junior member who also lends a hand in the kennels during the week. The staff was keenly interested to see how a few new hounds just drafted from Howard County-Iron Bridge (Md.) would mesh with the existing pack.
Howard County-Iron Bridge Panther and Parson were “old faithfuls” who had hunted well for Commonwealth the previous Wednesday, so the staff was curious to see what the addition of Howard County-Iron Bridge Vesper (another “old faithful”) and Bashful (a young hound in her first year of hunting) to the day’s complement would hold. The pack of Crossbred hounds was eager to set out for the first covert, the wooded area on the western side of Leedstown Rd. between the Flemer family cemetery and one of the employee houses.
After hounds cast themselves enthusiastically into the covert, they worked their way west toward a small pond with a cabin next to it. Bashful worked diligently, nose down like a pro.
After a few minutes, Quigley and Parson opened and were honored by the pack. They were able to run the line partway into the open field by the green farmhouse inhabited by employees, but came to a loss in the field.
Whipper-in Sanchez reported seeing at least two couples of hounds with their noses down along the wood line, so I gathered up the pack and attempted to re-find the line along the woods. The pack worked their way counter-clockwise around the small pond, and a couple of young hounds opened on a line and headed toward a property boundary where the hunt does not have permission to ride.
Abell retrieved the errant hounds, and they rejoined the pack at the dam across the small pond. After continuing to work around the small pond and up toward the cemetery, Footloose and another hound opened up on a cold line in the pine tree patch just west of the cemetery, but Charlie had been long gone. Hounds then found in the covert southeast of the employees’ dormitory near the head of a big pond.
After several minutes of trying to work the line out, up and down the hillside, the pack figured out which way Charlie had gone and ran down the hillside and across a creek in full cry. The quarry had at least a five-minute lead, but hounds quickly gained, judging by the urgency and volume of their voices.
The fox was heading toward the property boundary between Ingleside land and forbidden territory, so Abell went ahead to try to turn the quarry back so hounds could con-tinue the pursuit.
This plan worked quite well, and the fox then ran back toward where it started. But, rather than going to ground, it continued running along the west side of the big pond and followed Troy Creek, a large, very swampy area, toward Rappahannock Rd. Sanchez was stationed on the road where the creek crossed underneath, and the fox turned back and ran north along the eastern side of the big pond, heading just about due north with the pack still in full cry.
Several times, Charlie tried to give the hounds the slip, but the pack diligently worked out the line, flanked the whole way by whipper-in Mitchell. At the critical property boundary, Abell viewed the gray fox and the pack coming through the woods and breaking out into the open into the field northwest of a lovely historical house called Wirtland, owned by the Flemer family. She noted that Russell, Quigley, Bashful, and one of the CFH-bred “F puppies” were in hot pursuit, and the rest of the pack was just seconds behind them.
Since the fox had run onto land over which the hunt is not permitted to ride, Abell exercised excellent judgment in calling the pack off. Hounds responded to their daily caretaker and left the line reluctantly but obediently.
Staff was quite pleased with the manner in which the pack was able to hold to the line throughout the chase, in spite of his multiple twists and turns through creeks and swamps. The rest of the pack was gathered up, and horses, hounds and humans went in to enjoy a bountiful breakfast.