Sunday, May. 19, 2024

Grand Canyon Earns Title On Western Hunt Challenge Tour

A young hunt impresses the judges with long runs.

An invitation to judge the Western Hunt Challenge Tour, a festival of hunting and travel held from March 20 to April 5, and learn how hunting is conducted in the Western states was too good an opportunity to miss. In the course of 17 days, we hunted with nine hunts and covered more than 2,000 miles.
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A young hunt impresses the judges with long runs.

An invitation to judge the Western Hunt Challenge Tour, a festival of hunting and travel held from March 20 to April 5, and learn how hunting is conducted in the Western states was too good an opportunity to miss. In the course of 17 days, we hunted with nine hunts and covered more than 2,000 miles.

Unfortunately, I missed the first day of hunting, with the Bridlespur Hunt (Ill.), thanks to Virgin Airlines. However my co-judge, Grosvenor Merle-Smith, reported that the Bridlespur enjoyed a busy day, and after I arrived later that evening we had the pleasure of discussing hounds and hunting with the Bridlespur’s lady huntsman, Eleanor Hartwell. The following morning we also visited her kennels before setting off on the long drive across Missouri and Iowa en route to our lodgings in Omaha.

That evening we met several of the North Hills Hunt (Neb.) members and supporters at a most enjoyable dinner hosted by MFH Jim Sophir and his wife, Penny.

The next day dawned cold and raw, and expectations of a good scent were high, but as it turned out we were destined to have a blank day behind MFH Steve Evans and his hounds. However, it was a pleasure to ride across this hunt’s inviting and well-maintained country of open farmland divided by creeks and scrubby valleys.

The next day we drove 600 miles across Nebraska to reach the small and snowbound town of Lusk in Wyoming, where MFH Joe Emily and Jennifer Phillips had arranged a convivial evening in the Silver Dollar Bar to meet members and friends of the Knoxville Hunt.

The following morning we reconvened at a lonely filling station and followed a convoy of trailers to the meet set amongst rolling plains, overlooked by a ridge of pine clad hills. At first the hounds found little to entertain us except jack rabbits, however they later settled on a coyote moving ahead of the pack to run well before marking their pilot to ground after a fast hunt.

The day finished with a second less conclusive run before we retired for refreshments, with Joe clearly delighted that his hounds had produced such a satisfactory day.

Westward Ho

Colorado was the next state on our agenda, which kicked off with a fun evening hosted by Arapahoe Jt.-MFH Lawrence Phipps and his French wife, Marie. Although the Arapahoe had not entered the Western Hunt Challenge, we were invited by the Jt.-MFH and huntsman, Dr. Marvin Beeman, for a day with this long established pack of modern English foxhounds.

Hounds met at 2 p.m., and despite temperatures nudging 70 degrees, followers were treated to three nice hunts on coyotes and the opportunity to watch the new president of the Masters of Fox Hounds Association handling his hounds quietly and sympathetically throughout a difficult scenting day.

While in Colorado we also enjoyed a night out with the Fort Carson Hunt, where the Jt.-MFH, Major Jaren Norrell, welcomed us warmly in his military fatigues, having recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq.

2008 Western Hunt Challenge Tour Schedule

March 20 – Bridlespur Hunt, Kane, Ill.
March 21 – travel day, 402 miles
March 22 – North Hills Hunt, Omaha, Neb.
March 23 – travel day, 500 miles
March 24 – Knoxville Hunt, Lusk, Wyo.
March 25 – travel day, 325 miles
March 26 – Arapahoe Hunt, Aurora, Colo.
March 27 – rest day
March 28 – Ft. Carson Hounds, Colorado Springs, Colo.
March 29 – travel day, 300 miles
March 30 – travel day, 300 miles
March 31 – Grand Canyon Hounds, Flagstaff, Ariz.
April 1 – Kingsbury Harriers/Paradise Valley Beagles, Flagstaff, Ariz.
April 2 – travel day, 200 miles
April 3 – travel day, 400 miles
April 4 – Blu Pine Hunt, Reno, Nev.
April 5 – Red Rock Hounds, Reno, Nev.

Hounds were hunted the next day in cold, bright and windy conditions by Jt.-MFH, Major Gary Worrall. His pack of industrious Walker hounds scarcely stopped speaking all day, however it was difficult to ascertain the exact nature of the cold lines they pursued with such vigor. The pack never got on proper terms with a coyote—hindered no doubt by a long and narrow draw that resulted in them having to be stopped on more than one occasion.

On To Arizona

Having driven thus far we were sorry to hand over our rental car the next day and board an airplane for the flight to Flagstaff in Arizona, where we were met by the Grand Canyon’s young professional huntsman, Peter Wilson, and driven to the hunt’s beautifully appointed new kennels.

The Grand Canyon Hounds were formed three years ago by Jt.-MFHs Paul Delaney and Stephania Williams, and this season hunt staff Peter and Amanda Wilson have been joined in kennels by consummate professional James Boyle, former whipper-in to one of my old hunts, the Quorn in Leicestershire.

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That evening we attended a hospitable party hosted by Steve and Laura Parker. The next day was designated for rest, but as Grosvenor liked to warn impending hosts, “Adrian and I don’t do
rest days.” Instead we spent an enjoyable day hiking and fishing in the Little Canyon River with Peter and James.

The Grand Canyon met for their WHC day inside a 55,000-acre paddock in the middle of nowhere, and it was apparent from the moment hounds moved off that this was a well-organized affair.

Grand Canyon Hounds’ Winning Day

The Grand Canyon Hounds met at one of their most productive fixtures, about 25 miles south of their namesake canyon. The country is rolling, high desert with beautiful views of the Canyon’s north rim far to the north and northern Arizona’s rim country equally far to the south.

Huntsman Peter Wilson hunted 14 couple of American hounds with whippers-in Jimmy Boyle and Amanda Wilson.

The field of 17 included visitors from the Caza Ladron (Ariz.) and Fort Carson (Colo.) hunts. Weather was warm and dry, and coats were waived for those wishing to keep cool, though a northerly breeze persisted through the day. Hounds cast at 9 a.m.

After working through some antelope, hounds arrived to drink at their first tank of the day, and there a coyote was viewed. Hounds maintained a line of vision for 11⁄2 miles across open country before the coyote ran up a bluff and broke the line of sight.

The pack then struggled to find, casting west then east. Finally, they opened as the quarry was seen running northwest, a minute or so ahead. The coyote was pushed, and the gap closed quickly, the coyote in view only 1⁄4 mile ahead of the pack.

After 3 fast miles, the front hounds picked a check as the coyote turned southwest. RoseTree Ox and Grand Canyon Quarter (both Penn MaryDel drafts from Rolling Rock Hunt [Pa.]) with Kryer and Angle pulled away from the rest of the pack, to the satisfaction of judge Grosvenor Merle-Smith, as these were from some of his favorite bloodlines.

Hounds, staff and judges galloped for several more miles before the coyote disappeared into juniper cover. Hounds checked and the horses were given a breather, the pack collected, and the field allowed to catch up. Hounds had run more than 7 miles in less than 50 minutes. The pack was gathered and taken to water.

Hounds then began casting, drawing through a few jackrabbits and up onto a ridgeline.

A coyote was spotted moving eastward, downwind, and hounds were brought on but were unable to maintain a line after more than half an hour of trailing northward. The decision was made to head to the Blanco Tank for more water. (Yes, hunting in Arizona has a lot to do with taking hounds to water!)

The hounds never drank, as yet another coyote was viewed. After some effort, the hounds locked on, as did judge Adrian Dangar, riding Peter’s favorite mount Pinky, who ran ahead of the pack right with the quarry.

Hounds were determined and ran the scent for 2 miles, before Jump and Goblin (a draft from Red Rock [Nev.]) closed the gap and ran the coyote’s heels another couple of miles. Both these first-season hounds, lacking the support from the pack, hesitated, relieving the pressure and giving the coyote some needed distance.

Adrian was not to be deterred and continued with the coyote for another mile where it took a break on a rocky ledge. Peter gathered the hot and thirsty pack for a last-ditch attempt. The coyote proved to have more gas in his tank than did the hounds, who had run to exhaustion. More water from the nearest tank and the hounds were hacked back to trailers after a productive day.   

Paul Delaney, MFH

The two professional whippers-in rode intelligently wide of the huntsman as he drew across open country with the north rim of the Grand Canyon as a constant backdrop to the day’s sport. Before long Amanda Wilson’s raised hat signalled a coyote away, and her husband laid hounds onto the line quietly and effectively, although it took them several hundred yards to settle.

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Once their quarry turned into the wind, hounds flew in his wake and with nothing to stop them ran fast for some 8 miles before checking amongst rocks and scrub, defeated by the arid heat of early spring.

This was the longest hunt we experienced during the competition, however hounds got somewhat strung-out during the run, with two couple undertaking most of the work.

The pack’s endeavours were compromised by the very dry conditions, nor should miracles be expected from a hunt just three years old. The way in which hounds hunt a coyote reminded me of the Staghounds hunting across the open but much better scenting terrain of Exmoor in England, as they also have a tendency to hunt in single file rather than “carrying a good head” as a level pack of foxhounds should do.
During the second hunt I was able to “go on with” the coyote, meaning I was able keep him in sight by riding several hundred yards to his flank in order to assist the huntsman with a view should hounds get a check.

After 4 miles I was surprised to observe the coyote stop once he had established a sufficient lead over the pack and curl up on some rocks to await their arrival—behavior quite unlike that of a red fox, which being a “toddling” animal always keeps moving on. This coyote lived to run another day, saved by the heat and lack of water, which clearly sapped the energy from his pursuers.

A Red Rock Finale

That evening we were entertained at a party given by Susie Stevenson, MH of Paradise Valley Beagles, who was joined for hunting the next morning by MH John Auborn and supporters of the Kingsbury Harriers (Calif.). It was evident from the way in which hounds struggled to own the line of the first jack hare that this was a difficult scenting day, but the combined Beagle and Harrier pack never stopped trying their utmost for a single minute of a long and dry morning.

I was delighted to see descendants of a Beagle from Stowe School in England out hunting this morning, as I hunted those Beagles as a schoolboy during the 1980-81 season.

Having bade goodbye to the hospitable folk of Arizona, we flew to Nevada for the final leg of the tour, and a rendezvous with the imitable Lynn Lloyd and her celebrated pack. It was a fascinating experience to watch Lynn feeding and attending to her hounds the evening of our arrival at her ranch, where all the water required for horses and some 75 couple of hounds is piped straight from a nearby spring.

Seeing as the next 48 hours were designated as rest, Grosvenor and I drove 250 miles and rose at 4 a.m. the following morning to spend 14 hours tramping to a height of 8,500 feet amongst snowy peaks surrounding Battle Mountain in pursuit of elusive mountain lion with Jace and Katherine Abatti, a dedicated husband and wife team who maintain three separate packs with which to hunt bear, coyote and lion.

It was back to coyote for our final day with Lynn and 331⁄2 couple of her Red Rock hounds—the field cheering a loud welcome to the judges was certainly a novel experience for someone used to English protocol.

We enjoyed a busy day in the most picturesque of all the hunting countries we had visited, although the rugged and steep landscape is as hard and unforgiving on hounds as it is on horses. After several
false starts a coyote was finally found and hunted by this fit-looking pack of hounds and their enthusiastic huntsman before being given best after a decent run.

That evening Grosvenor and I smartened ourselves up for the Red Rock hunt ball, held at the bewilderingly urbane (the West is certainly a land of contrasts) Silver Legacy Hotel in downtown Reno. After dinner we announced the Grand Canyon Hounds as winners of the 2008 Western Hunt Challenge for the best day’s hunting, with Joe Emily’s Knoxville as worthy runners-up.

The stalwart prize went to the irrepressible Betty Hollendorfer, who somehow contrived to attend every single hunt without once resorting to an airplane. Grosvenor and I took the opportunity to thank all our hosts for the duration of the competition, and I was sure to acknowledge and salute the endeavour, enterprise and determination of everyone—Masters, hunt staff, members and supporters—involved with hunting and hounds in the wild and uncompromising Western states. 

Adrian Dangar

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