Friday, Apr. 19, 2024

The Waldingfield Beagles Hit The Road For A Western Hunt Challenge Tour Win

Since moving to Utah from Virginia in the mid-1990s, I don’t get many opportunities to go hunting, but I can’t yet bring myself to give up entirely and post my hunting kit on e-Bay.

I was lucky enough to enjoy the first Western Hunt Challenge Tour in 1999, and have continued to support it as much as possible. Its underlying premise of raising funds for a non-hunting-related charity, to show that foxhunters care about their communities, is a terrific idea, augmented by promoting camaraderie among the far-flung packs in the western United States.
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Since moving to Utah from Virginia in the mid-1990s, I don’t get many opportunities to go hunting, but I can’t yet bring myself to give up entirely and post my hunting kit on e-Bay.

I was lucky enough to enjoy the first Western Hunt Challenge Tour in 1999, and have continued to support it as much as possible. Its underlying premise of raising funds for a non-hunting-related charity, to show that foxhunters care about their communities, is a terrific idea, augmented by promoting camaraderie among the far-flung packs in the western United States.

Add to that the judged aspect of determining which pack shows the best day’s sport, a friendly dropping of the gauntlet that Masters just cannot resist, and you have the makings of a unique and fun hunting holiday, provided that you are willing to embrace Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again” as your theme song.

While pondering how much of the 2007 Tour I might be able to complete, I was asked by Waldingfield Beagles Master and huntsman Arie Rijke whether I might be able to fly east and help him drive out West so that his pack could compete this year, as they have in most years.

So far, Arie is the only Master east of the Mississippi who has taken advantage of the Challenge participation rules; it’s open to “any” pack of hounds, but if they aren’t based in the West, they have to make the commute. Western Challenge organizer Sue Slocum from Minnesota agreed to meet us in Missouri with her rig and three horses, and as her trailer is sufficiently roomy for a pack of Beagles, our plan was hatched.

What follows is a summary of my notes on my 19-day cross-country hunting adventure, in which the three of us undertook to complete the eastern half of this year’s Challenge Tour, from Colorado to Illinois.

March 20: I fly from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Charlottesville, Va., to meet Arie and his Beagles. The Western Challenge started March 16 in Reno, Nev., and before heading to the airport, I hear that the Woodbrook Hunt (Wash.) had a fair day, though considerably hampered by unseasonable heat, to start the Challenge.

Woodbrook MFH and huntsman Jean Brooks brought four couple of her American hounds from Washington State, and is much admired for doing this almost every year and hunting live in Nevada, though her pack normally follows a drag.

Red Rock (Nev.) celebrated St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 with a six-hour hunt in which 31 couple of hounds hunted two coyotes. Having won the Challenge five times out of eight, the question on everyone’s mind is, will somebody beat them this year?

March 21: We’re up early to load 27 Beagles in the trailer and head west. The plan is to change drivers every two hours, and let the Beagles out every four hours. On the road, the Beagles are quite an attraction. Semis toot as they pass; car travelers smile and wave, crowds gather at rest stops and gas stations.

Thirteen hours, 756 miles and five states later, we arrive at Pontoon Beach, Ill. By now, the Challenge Tour has moved from Nevada to Arizona, and today was the Grand Canyon Hounds’ (Ariz.) scheduled meet.

March 22: We leave for the Bridlespur Hunt kennels 85 miles away in Eolia, Mo. We offload the Beagles and store the beagle trailer in an old barn. We’ll be consolidating into Sue’s truck and trailer for the better part of the next two weeks.

After lunch and a bit of unpacking, we reconvene at the kennels for an hour and 15 minutes of beagling that includes two nice runs. One Beagle has made the trip to be drafted to a local pack, and her new owners take possession, leaving an even 13 couple for the Challenge Tour.

March 23: Up early, we head to the kennels to pack for our multi-state, 12-day adventure. The horses will travel in the back of the trailer, the luggage goes in the loft in the trailer tack room, and the Beagles go in the tack room as well, along with assorted dog and horse feed and water. We are on the road at 11 a.m. headed for Salina, Kan., 397 miles west. As we drive, the Kingsbury Harriers (Calif.) are having their Challenge day in Flagstaff.

We arrive at the E Bar Z stables in Salina in the evening. We take care of horses and Beagles, obtain permission from the barn owners to do a bit of beagling in the morning, and then find a hotel and a restaurant.

March 24: In the morning, we have a nice hunt for an hour or so with a couple of good runs on cottontails and a number of views.

After beagling, we load up and head toward Colorado. That afternoon, 451 miles later, we arrive at our stable in Castle Rock, our home for the next five days. We put the horses in their stalls and are cautioned by the barn owner that there is a strict “no dogs” rule and so we must not let the Beagles out while on the premises!

So, off we go to my sister’s house nearby, to say our hellos and feed the Beagles. Our first order of business is to move the Beagles from the tack compartment around to the horse compartment so that they have more room overnight.

The sight of 26 Beagles streaming from one end of a horse trailer to the other causes quite a reaction, and the neighbors seem unanimously to find the Beagles to be “very cool.” We feed and tuck them in for the night.

Arie obtains permission from the Arapahoe Hunt (Colo.) to hunt the Beagles there the next day, following Arapahoe’s scheduled meet.

March 25: Today we meet up with the Western Challenge participants arriving from Arizona. We arrive at Arapahoe’s kennels to find the hunt returning and their breakfast getting underway. We greet MFH and
huntsman Dr. Marvin Beeman, who along with kennel huntsman Bob Knox recounts what has been a spectacular day for Arapahoe, a 22-mile run in two hours.

We head out at 2 p.m.; the Beagles soon find a jackrabbit and are away to the west. We enjoy a nice run for 35 minutes, a big loop that takes us back nearly to where we started, where the pack comes to a loss and Arie decides to call it day and head for home.

We spent the evening visiting with Fort Carson Hounds members and the two Challenge judges, Kathy Kornacki (jt.-MFH, Fort Leavenworth Hunt [Kan.]) and Jim Beisel (MB, Settler’s Acre Beagles [Mo.]).

We learn from those who hunted in Flagstaff that all three of those hunts went well. The Grand Canyon Hounds drew a pack of 12 couple and had a slow start, but their determination to stay out as long as Red Rock had paid off, as in the fifth hour of their day they found and had a nice run on a coyote in their spectacular new country near the Grand Canyon.

The Paradise Valley Beagles (Ariz.) had a super day—the buzz is that they might just have outscored Red Rock! Six couple of Kingsbury Harriers found six rabbits of which one produced a good long run. We all secretly envy MH John Auborn’s ability to simply head out from his home in the California desert to hunt his pack whenever he wishes.

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March 26: The Fort Carson Hounds’ 10 a.m. meet is at Camp Red Devil on Fort Carson, south of Colorado Springs. It’s a warm, dry day, moderated only slightly by a light wind and cloud cover. We enjoy largely unobstructed views of the hounds at work in this wide-open country. Despite their best efforts for the better part of three hours, the pack can find only a few coyote lines worth pursuing, but are thwarted by poor scent or a need to avoid entering specific parts of the base.

We next proceed to nearby Penrose House for a hunt breakfast. After recharging our batteries with much needed food and drink, and joined by two Fort Carson members, we take the Beagles out for an hour’s hunting, taking care to stay within previously defined boundaries so as to avoid straying into an artillery range. We have a couple of short runs on cottontails.

March 27: Today is the Waldingfield Beagles’ judged day at the Arapahoe kennels, and Arie has drawn a pack of 12 couple of Beagles. Sue, Kathy Tourney and I are whipping in.

After our nice run here two days ago, hopes are high! It’s pretty windy, but not so cold as to be miserable. Hounds move off at 10:00 a.m., accompanied by Challenge judges Jim Beisel and Kathy Kornacki and a field of about eight. Less than 10 minutes into the day, I tally-ho a jack at the same moment that hounds find the line, and away we go. For the next hour and 40 minutes, we are on the move and the pack is in full cry save two or three checks of a minute or less. This is hunting heaven for a whipper-in—nothing to do but enjoy the hound work!

After an hour, Arie and I simultaneously view a jackrabbit heading east as the pack heads south. I think it’s a new hare, but Arie believes it is our quarry that has been overrun by the pack. Sue, Kathy and I quickly urge the pack to Arie’s horn and we are away for another 40 minutes that included the pleasure of watching our quarry all the way up a hillside and along a ridgetop—a sustained view of more than half a mile, with hounds stuck to the line every step of the way.

At 11:45 a.m. the pack comes to a loss on a windy hillside. We are down to seven couple as older hounds and puppies have dropped back due to fatigue, so Arie elects to give best and head for home. GPS measurements show that the pack has covered 11 miles, besting their previous long distance record of 8.5 miles, an impressive showing for 13-inch Beagles accustomed to Virginia cottontails!

March 28: The Arapahoe Hunt hosts a special meet for Challenge participants and donates the collected capping fees to the MFHA Hunt Staff Benefit Foundation. It’s even windier than yesterday, but still relatively warm, and we enjoy a two-hour day behind Arapahoe’s English foxhounds, with Bob Knox carrying the horn, numerous views and one nice long run of 4 or 5 miles.

March 29: We push on to the Omaha, Neb., area today, an estimated 10-hour and 572-mile trip. Overnight the weather has changed, and we find that a good six inches of snow needs to be cleared from the truck. After a detour to recover two Beagles from Tuesday’s hunt, we are on the road at about noon. The weather doesn’t prove to be too bad for driving, but we have a long way to go and pull in to our Omaha area stable (courtesy of North Hills members Larry and Carine Stava) at 10:15 p.m.

March 30: A rare opportunity to sleep in! Beagling is first on our agenda today. We have two runs along a creek that runs through the farm, and then turn our attention to a section of woods that proves to be chock-full of cottontails, so we are kept quite busy stopping splits until Arie calls it a day.

March 31: North Hills’ meet has been cancelled in deference to landowner concerns. We pack up bags, Beagles and horses, and head to the North Hills kennels where we enjoy a breakfast in lieu of hunting.
Arie takes the Beagles out for the enjoyment of any and all who might be interested. We enjoy four good runs interrupted by a brief gathering in a Quonset hut while a thunderstorm rolls through.

Then we head east 135 miles to Des Moines, Iowa. We arrive at jt.-MFH Dixon Appel’s farm to get the horses and Beagles settled in and fed, and then enjoy the good company of about 20 Moingona Hunt
members at a restaurant. Thankfully, the party doesn’t last too late into the evening, as we have a morning meet 72 miles south in Grand River, Iowa.

April 1: We arrive at the meet in good order. It’s a cold, windy day but lovely country. After a slow start, Moingona huntsman Ken George gets his pack into gear and they produce one very good run, giving that coyote best when she is found to be in her den with nine pups, feverishly digging to block the hole as hounds are digging toward her.

A second run rounds out a good day. Moingona figures to be in the hunt for top Challenge honors…would the judges dare put Beagles ahead of foxhounds?

Our plans for afternoon beagling are stymied when Sue’s truck ceases to move. The fuel filter is the apparent culprit—once fixed, we are on the road back to the Bridlespur kennels, where we started a week and a half ago. We arrive at our destination 286 miles and 41⁄2 hours later; it’s been a full day!

April 2: We’ll be hunting tomorrow in Bridlespur’s Illinois country. Today, after tending to the horses and ensuring tack is clean, we go beagling, then grab lunch on the road as we make the 72-mile trip to Hill n’ Hound Farms between Carrollton and Kane, Ill.. Arie takes his SUV and beagle trailer, as Sue will be returning directly to her home in Minnesota after tomorrow’s hunting.

After feeding horses and Beagles, we check into our nearby motel and then walk next door for dinner with Masters, staff and members of the Bridlespur Hunt. The weather forecast for tomorrow is not good, but we’ll hope for the best.

April 3: Our hosts serve a nice continental breakfast at the meet. We assemble to hunt at 10 a.m. while watching the dark clouds on the horizon. Bridlespur huntsman Eleanor Hartwell moves off with nine couple of hounds, and within about 15 minutes, the skies open up. Before long, lightning is getting too close for the comfort of some, myself included, who scamper back to the barn, seeking to stay under safe cover until the lightning subsides.

Most of the rest have continued on, but we learn that they too have sought refuge, hounds and all, in an old barn. When the lightning subsides, we head back out and enjoy watching huntsman and hounds working a section of woods surrounded by cropland.

Alas, it seems that the coyotes are not going to run in this weather, and some of us head back to the barn when a second wave of lightning moves in. At noon, MFH Mary Hensel gives the weather best and we retire to the farmhouse, once a stagecoach stop between St. Louis and Springfield, Ill., for breakfast. To enter the house, we have to negotiate splintered pieces of a gingko tree that was hit by lightning during the storms.

The breakfast culminates in the judges’ announcements of the winners of the Western Challenge awards. The Waldingfield Beagles are named the winner of the Challenge, and so the Epilepsy Foundation of Virginia will receive the $3,500 collected along the Tour.

Red Rock, Moingona and the Paradise Valley Beagles round out the top four from the 10 packs judged. The Stalwart Award, presented to the individual who attends the most Challenge meets, goes for a second time to Betty Hollendorfer of the Fort Carson Hounds, the only person this year to complete the entire Tour other than the judges. The Red Rock Hounds capture the Hunt for the Future award for the largest number of junior riders in attendance. The Bridlespur Hunt takes the Challenger Trophy as the hunt that raised the most funds for charity this year.

After breakfast, we load up and say our goodbyes to our hunting friends and to our traveling partner Sue before Arie and I headed back to Missouri.

April 4: Arie and I are on the road bright and early, aiming to make it all the way to Virginia today. We stop three times to let the Beagles out and arrive in Charlottesville after a 151⁄2-hour drive. After my flight home a
couple of days later, I’ve logged 3,726 driving miles and about 4,200 air miles, almost 8,000 total miles for this madcap adventure that included 13 outings with hounds in 19 days. Length constraints prevent my sharing many more details and tall tales…suffice it to say, you should have been there!

Monmouth County Hunt
44 Hill Rd.,
Allentown,
New Jersey 08501-0512.
Established: 1885.
Recognized 1903.

Monmouth County Ends Season With A Bang

Spoiled by a warm January, which gave way to a late winter lasting through February and early March, it seemed that the best of hunting was over. Temperatures took a nosedive, light snows turned to ice, horses were captive in their stalls while we walked out hounds dressed for the Iditarod!

Then there was a break and we thought we might just have the chance to hunt again. The first days were dicey, with ice still prevalent on the north side of paths, but we got out and had some good hunts, although the runs were not too long.

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Then just when we were in the final stretch, things got better! We started out on March 21 around the kennels with hounds working well through our kennel covert, yielding nothing impressive but good hound work. Hounds continued to hunt out and down toward the Stone Tavern Lake then looped back toward the kennel.

Just as hounds checked, Justin Segal viewed the hunted fox heading back into the kennel covert. Hounds recast in the woods and were back on, as the fox had doubled back on them. They were out across the line of the view and back to the covert working well and put the fox to ground in the kennel woods.

After a second cast behind the kennels, Bill Baehr viewed the fox away out of the covert. Hounds were on and away, and Merri Musso viewed the fox across East Branch Road and into the Black Forest. Merri viewed again—a fox headed toward the New Jersey Horse Park—but this was not the hunted fox. Justin and Brooke Heitzmann viewed the hunted fox across East Branch Road headed toward the Hickory Ridge Swamp.

Only after the hunt did I realize, as Brooke was still sputtering that it was her best view ever, how close the hounds were to their fox. Fiddler was right behind the fox and gaining—he had him in his sights—but the fox managed to get to the thick covert in the nick of time.

I was rounding the corner of East Branch Road in time to see hounds crossing together back across the road, packed up at the edge of the woods vying for one of the first slots into the covert. Bill Baehr viewed the fox again, not far from where he had his first view on the FAA Road, and hounds hunted perfectly back to the rear of the kennels, not far from where they had started their fox and checked.

I found the hounds recasting themselves and looked to my right, to an opening in the hedgerow. As most hounds were casting in the field, there was Indigo, an old wise soul, standing in the gap in the hedgerow. He spoke, looked back at me, spoke once more, and ducked into the hedgerow.

I called hounds on to him and they were on again. They continued to hunt behind the kennels with Patty working diligently in the thicket to bring the hunt to a conclusion. The fox was put to ground in the hedge field near the kennels and the day was called. All in all there were 10 views by the whips—all hounds on.

Lots Of Loops

The next Sunday was at the Dey fixture and the day started auspiciously with a view on the way to the first draw. Hounds were put on the line, off to quick start circling back to Dr. Dey’s pastures, running brilliantly in the open and the coverts. Hounds circled through the pastures and out into the open nursery towards Provinceline Road.

They hunted the fox into the ditch along the road, and were away again through the Princeton Nursery and across Hill Road. The fox was put to ground after an hour hunt. Indigo, Glossy and Revere were not anxious to leave the hole, with Revere showing remarkable tenacity at the hole for a first-year hound.

We continued to hunt, casting along the Crosswicks Creek back to the Mill when hounds found in short order, although it was not easy work for them along the creek, which is impas-sable on horseback but suited perfectly for quarry to test hounds’ skill.

They worked through the bottom toward the Mill Bridge and came up from the creek bottom. Bill Baehr held up lead hounds to get the pack together as they came up from the bottom and they were off and back across Hill Road, twice through the Heritage Hill, and then into Hill and Dale Farm and back toward the Crosswick Creek.

This is on the edge of the country, where it is difficult to stay right with hounds for the creek is irregular and with ill-defined banks blending into swamps, so we were hoping our fox would soon loop back. Brooke and Justin radioed that they could hear hounds heading for Holmes Road, which is due east and beyond the edge of our usual hunted country.

Hounds were ahead of them but were looping back by the time they got there. They continued back to the Mill behind Fair Winds Farm and looped back again but did not cross Holmes Road on the second pass. Justin was in a housing development at the edge of the woods keeping an eye for hounds and explaining to one of the families that this was not a wild pack of dogs that had just flashed through their back yard (these explanations were continued later in the week under calmer circumstances).

All in all, hounds ran a 3-mile point and did six loops in the woods, running the fox for 21⁄2 hours. Bill Baehr viewed the fox after about 11⁄2 hours at the edge of the woods running with deer. Hounds stayed true.

It was a beautiful spring day and we were able to involve both the rangers and visitors to the Walnford Mill Park in the day’s sport. Hounds were running behind the Mill and staff were passing through as visitors toured the Mill, which is a preserved farmhouse and mill from the 1700’s. As we passed through after gathering hounds up for the hack home, the ranger reported to us that he had viewed the soggy fox running out from behind the Mill ducking under the corncrib behind the house!

Him Again

The following Wednesday, we were back at the kennels, hunting the Wright Farm. It was a tough start, especially for young hounds, with foxes in the covert but also plenty of deer. Hounds found their fox and ran back toward the kennels, doubling back toward Imlaystown Road and then back to the Wright Farm.

Merri Musso viewed the fox around the edge of the ponds on his way back followed by the hounds. Hounds looped around the Wrights’ woods and then back towards the kennels where they put the fox to ground.

Since it was only noon, I cast hounds in the hedgerow in front of the kennels. Hounds opened right away but seemed to be behind their fox. There was a view on the hill behind the kennels, and hounds hunted slowly to the view but then hit it off and headed down the FAA road through the open field and across East Branch Road.

I viewed a small fox headed at top speed back to the road, but it was soon evident that this was not the hunted fox as hounds continued to go away. It did not take too long to guess that this might be the same fox we hunted the week before, and sure enough, he made the same loop through the Hickory Ridge Swamp and back to the kennels.

This time his loop was a little smaller and he followed the thick covert behind the kennel back toward the road. Hounds checked in the field in front of the kennels at the hedge row and pushed their way into the thick brush. Hounds worked in hedgerow and I alerted Justin Segal, who was on the road at the end of the hedgerow, that the fox might come out.

Well, come out he did—right over the hounds, who were spilling out at the edge of thicket as they painstakingly pursued their quarry. Away he went across the road and through the next big field. Hounds were off and he went to ground on the edge of that field, probably recalling how close Fiddler had been the previous week! Gone to ground, all hounds on—it doesn’t get much better than that.    Meg Valnoski, MFH

Misty River Hounds
1369 Madison 1335,
Huntsville, Arkansas 72740.
Established 1989.
Recognized 1992.

Almost Closing Hunt

Misty River Hounds closed its formal hunt season on March 30 with riders from Cloudline Hounds (Texas), Harvard Fox Hounds (Okla.) and Coal Valley Hounds (Kan.) visiting. It was a warm day with good companions, fine hound work and fit hunters, ending with a rowdy Croppers’ End of Season party in the hay meadow.

But it was March 24, the next-to-last hunt that really “closed” the season for Misty River regulars.
It was also a warm day, with MFH and huntsman Dina Del Guercio proclaiming “coats optional” to the handful of riders hacking out. Huntsman cast the hounds and allowed them to pull through the river and along the cane bottom, where they gave up a few squeaks.

The wind kicked up occasionally, causing the tin roofing on the red barn to flap as if talking to the hounds and hunters with a “he went thata’ way” racket. At one point, hounds opened full-throated. Riders kicked horses into a gallop around the rock wall and back through the river bottom only to have the line fade.
Finally, with heat taking its toll, the huntsman hacked to Tracy’s Pond to allow hounds to wallow and refresh. The day was fast spinning down.

“One more pull this time through the Strawberry Patch,” said Del Guercio. And there it happened. Hounds found in the trappy, wooded draw and went screaming through the brush.

Huntsman, whips, and field master stayed with the hounds, who created a din like no other as they moved through the thicket toward the Big Eddy, on the western edge of the hunt territory. The hounds left the
territory in full cry, with whips powerless to do anything but try to keep up.

Hound voices faded as they raced further out of territory and into adjacent semi-cleared construction sites. Second field circled through the pastures to the boundary of the Big Eddy where they had to hold hard. The wind and thick woods muffled any sound from the hounds and hunters until a hawk-eyed rider spotted one, then another and another of the hounds and finally a whip.

Del Guercio could be heard blowing and bringing up the stragglers. It was not that anyone had gotten much of a viewing. Rather it was the hounds that told the tale, with tongues lolling out and muzzles flecked with pink foam. Riders with faces scratched from their charge through vines and tree limbs and horses exhibiting nicks and scrapes from scrambling over rock also spoke volumes. No ceremony here—just hard riding and tenacious hound work.    Nancy Hartney

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