Fox Hunting Life with Horse and Hound

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Belle Meade Hunt

bellemeade

The Belle Meade Hunt was whelped by a group of horsemen who had been meeting for regular trail rides. Their usual route from Stagecoach Road took them to the Rock Dam and finally to the Boy Scout Cabin, where they often stayed for a cookout and sometimes an overnight and homeward ride in the morning. These are familiar landmarks to anyone who has visited and enjoyed the hunting at Belle Meade.

The organizational meeting to establish the hunt was held in August of 1966 at the home of James E. Wilson, Jr in Thomson, Georgia at the behest of William Preston Smith. Mr. Smith suggested the name Belle Meade after his family home in Virginia and suggested that Confederate Cavalry yellow be adopted as the hunt’s colors. Mr. Smith also designed the Hunt’s emblem. Mr. Wilson was elected president.

Website: http://bellemeadehounds.com/

On December 14, 2020, members of the Belle Meade Hunt (GA) enjoyed their best hunting day of the season—up to that point! Master and huntsman Epp Wilson has allowed Foxhunting Life to publish an account of the day’s sport from his informal, after-hunt notes. For the benefit of our readers who love to better understand how the top huntsmen of our times produce sport with hounds, Epp has expanded on a few of the Belle Meade methods and protocols that may surprise some traditionalists. Your editor has only to say, however, that the proof is in the pudding, and that he knows of no other hunt that draws more enthusiastic hunting visitors, year after year, from hunts all across North America, than does Belle Meade.

epp and maidenMaster and huntsman Epp Wilson and Belle Meade's Midland Maiden 2013.

We met at 3 PM from the kennels. Fifty-six degrees: good. Dew point 46 degrees: not so good. Wind from the west at 7 mph: good. Game table* was low at 14 percent average for the day: not good.

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Hunt Report

On December 14, 2020, members of the Belle Meade Hunt (GA) enjoyed their best hunting day of the season—up to that point! Master and huntsman Epp Wilson has allowed Foxhunting Life to publish an account of the day’s sport from his informal, after-hunt notes. For the benefit of our readers who love to better understand how the top huntsmen of our times produce sport with hounds, Epp has expanded on a few of the Belle Meade methods and protocols that may surprise some traditionalists. Your editor has only to say, however, that the proof is in the pudding, and that he knows of no other hunt that draws more enthusiastic hunting visitors, year after year, from hunts all across North America, than does Belle Meade.

epp and maidenMaster and huntsman Epp Wilson and Belle Meade's Midland Maiden 2013.

We met at 3 PM from the kennels. Fifty-six degrees: good. Dew point 46 degrees: not so good. Wind from the west at 7 mph: good. Game table* was low at 14 percent average for the day: not good.

Even worse, we were hunting during the lull, after a minor in the game table activity. That told us we would probably have to wake up the quarry and get it moving. The quarry wouldn’t be out foraging and leaving a line for hounds to find easily. No worries. The game table gives us useful information. Simply adjust strategy and hunt. “You don’t know until you go,” Bill Smith always said.

We had a slow start. After drawing blank for over an hour, Maiden (fresh out of the hot pen) found what we think was a grey fox near Five-Points. It was run/walk, hot and cold, boo-hooing for several minutes.

Nearby, at Quaker Road and Kenny Palmer’s Bridge Road, whipper-in Barbara Lee’s horse was startled by...and turned suddenly toward...something Barbara didn’t see. A moment later Dahlia came by speaking on the line. Barbara called it in, knowing Dahlia to be honest and assuming it had been a coyote. That earlier run/walk line had fizzled out, and we harked toward Barbara’s view.

The pack hit the line well before we got to Barbara. It was the same line, the same coyote. The pack went screaming by Barbara on the exact line Dahlia had taken.

Either the scenting had improved or the coyote was putting off more scent than the previous critter. Or both. Didn’t matter. We were off and running. Hounds were in full cry. This is what we saddle up for, folks. This is also why I like to hunt a Thoroughbred or TB cross. They have a higher likelihood of keeping up with hounds and being there at the end. My good TB gelding, Stoli, was on cruise control. Fit and ready, he loves a good gallop.

Fort Wrightsboro Trail, big tree down, “Traffic Reverse!” Back to the clear cut behind Victoria’s, Gloria Palmer’s, Wendi’s Bridge, Bullfrog Pond, left across the newly timbered and more open “Forty Acres.” The Coyote was viewed across Foxboro driveway by the first pasture, headed toward Ridge Road, our northern territory limit today due to deer season. Hounds were struggling with the line at this point. “All road whips to Ridge Road, please,” rang out on the radio.

We could hear the distinctive rumble of Laura hauling butt toward Ridge Road. (Laura’s truck rumbling, not Laura). Dang, she is a great road whip. We actually paused and waited a few moments for the road whips to get nearer to Ridge Road before harking hounds forward to the view on Foxboro driveway. Ridge Road is so curvy that it is difficult to keep hounds from crossing because of the limited visibility in either direction. If the coyote got any closer to Ridge Road, we would have the road whips blow their truck horns to try to keep him from crossing. Hounds were screaming once again as we passed the Hunt Box owned by Bull Run MFH, Rosie Campbell and her husband Chris Allen.

Several of the field are dropping out now. This run was fast and furious.

On toward Ridge Road, then thankfully turning left in Jon McCorkle’s place and running parallel to Ridge Road toward Wrightsboro Church. Miles of good country straight ahead now At the big Culvert on Vinnie Williams Road, hounds turned straight toward Ridge again. Whippers-in Dick and Erin and Nicole apparently turned him back. Well done Much better to keep the run going by turning the quarry than
to let him cross and have to stop hounds. They turned toward Wrightsboro Church again, then left again through the Goat Pasture. Master Gary, Dr. Jim Moncrief, and Lee Ann Carson viewed him across Foxboro driveway. On across Wrightsboro (Middle) Creek toward Hickman’s, Chastise Hill, Miles Tutt House, New York Meadow, Turner South Coop. Across Hawes Hill Road just north of Cattle Pens, left, looping back across Hawes Hill Road toward Big Buck.

“Sounds like they are going toward Charles Montgomery’s Crossing,” rang out on the radio. Road whip Robbi Gilmore confirmed the direction and landmark. Robbi is a GPS tracking collar whiz. And she has the advantage of knowing the country like the back of her hand, having whipped-in on horseback for many years. Timely information from the trackers helps all the staff keep flying along. And even more important, in the right direction. Trying to get a large field to hold hard and be quiet enough for us to hear hounds can take valuable moments and leave us behind. The timely input from Robbi and the other trackers helps us stay with the pack and better able to keep them out of harm’s way. The pack is looping back right now across the top of Hawes Hill toward the Boy Scout Cabin.

“East Flank. Please stop hounds if they get to Maddocks Creek. We don’t want them to go to US 78 Highway.”

“Good idea,” Barbara replied. She and Anna were east flank.

“Hold Hard, Field!” We almost overran the line at the Gravel Pile. The pack had made a hard right turn and came flying by. Horses getting tired, including my Stoli, and glad for a moment to catch a few breaths. Most of the field had dropped back or turned for home. For a while it was only Judith, Jean, and Chris Defilipis still with me. Three Thoroughbreds and one TB cross.

Flying now down the main road to Glenn’s Rocky Crossing. Straight up the main trail to the clear cut. Hounds checked a moment in the clear cut. Because they were so close to Maddocks Creek, this offered probably our best opportunity to try to stop them and call them up. A handful of hounds found the line again, however, and kept going. Nothing to do but let the rest of them go and do what we bred and trained them to do.

Thank goodness this coyote turned right and followed the creek past December and November Crossings. Then back southwesterly to Robbi’s Crossing, then more westerly and straight through the Kudzu Woods, Twin Coops, up the valley toward Dewberry Crossing.

“Y’all stop them if they try to cross Stagecoach Road.” We had miles of great country ahead, but it was nearing dark and we were out of horsepower. This was the best opportunity to stop them.

The pack turned more westerly toward Champagne Hill. Whipper-in Dick Dozier wisely asked if I was ready to stop them. He added that he had some other whips there, letting me know (with a minimum of words—important in radio transmissions) that he had enough of the cavalry there to get all hounds stopped.

“Yes! Y’all stop them!” Which Dick did, by the book. He jumped off his horse, ran toward the hounds, and blew his horn, communicating to hounds in two ways—off his horse and using the horn—that it was time to stop.

We rode up a moment later. Dick was on foot, still blowing the horn to bring up stragglers and loving on the hounds he had—telling them they were brilliant, which they were. Erin and Terry and Nicole were there in their usual roles as whips, stopping hounds and keeping the pack contained. Of course, Paisley and brother Pilgrim didn’t stop. She kept on until road whip Tyler jumped out of Laura’s truck and literally tackled her (Paisley, not Laura) on the shoulder of Wrightsboro Road. Well done, Tyler

Roll call at Champagne Hill: all on except for Pilgrim and Bismark, the latter having given out just before the run ended. Pilgrim slipped by and went on to Lake Lawrence, still running the line of the coyote. He was caught a few minutes later and put into the truck near the Puppy Crossing. The coyote had circled back into the main country again. All on by the time we hacked back to the kennel.

Not only was it a Rough Rider Run—having lasted for the qualifying forty minutes or more—it was sixty-five minutes in all. The longest run of the season so far. And right in the best country. Plenty of trails so that we could stay well up with hounds.

And speaking of hounds, Midland Maiden 2013 (see lead photo), drafted to Belle Meade by our friends at the Midland Fox Hounds (GA), was the outstanding hound in her work this day. We have welcomed many Midland drafts over the years, and Maiden is one of the very best of them. Suffice to say that Maiden and her kennel mates at Belle Meade are another story for another time. [That story is scheduled for our next issue. –Ed.]

Well Done, Team. Thank You, Lord, for another wonderful day in Your Most Wondrous Cathedral.

____

Epp’s Skull Session
Old, stale lines
Often on days that start slow, if we can trail around on something for a while, even if the scent is too old or stale for hounds to turn it into a run, that activity and noise often stirs up the woods and gets other critters moving.

My point: Don’t disparage a few minutes spent boo-booing around on a cold line. Even if you are convinced that it is too cold to ever turn into a real run, be patient with hounds and staff. Let the process play out. Sometimes hounds can work a line like that and get closer and closer to the quarry where the scent is fresher and fresher. Then we get the run we were after.

Just as often, in my experience, these boo-booing few minutes stir up the woods and we end up running a fresh line of a different critter. And we get our good run that way.

Letting hounds work a line like that also teaches the young ones a work ethic and improves their skills. If all they’re allowed to do is hit a fresh line of a coyote each time, they don’t learn how to persevere and stick with a weak line until it gets better.

Even when a newly-entered puppy runs a deer for a minute or two before he can be stopped, that can get the real quarry up and moving. I certainly don’t advocate letting any hound run a deer. But we often find a good coyote right after we stop an errant puppy. And running the correct scent very soon thereafter provides another learning experience for the puppy.

Lose a Shoe? You Can Still Be Useful.
Whipper-in Terry Cooper’s horse lost a front shoe early in yesterday’s run. Terry let us know that he was not able to keep up, so that another whip could take his flank. Some people would have gone on in. Instead, Terry simply floated along as best he could at a walk and a trot, and hounds that got separated from the pack came right back to him twice. The second time he was right there to help Dick and the others get a good clean stop of the whole pack (except for the two hard-headed hounds that slipped by). Dick might not have gotten a good clean stop had Terry not been there.

My point: as a whipper-in, never give up. Unless your horse is injured, stay out there and float along as best you can. Most of the coyotes circle.

On Stopping Hounds
Hounds need something/someone to go to when being asked to stop. If all the whippers-in are hollering and cracking whips, and hounds have no one to go to, they are much less likely to stop. They need a haven.

Our Standard Operating Procedure in stopping hounds when the huntsman isn’t there is for one whip of the pair (more on that below) to dismounts and acts as huntsman—a haven—and blows the horn to call hounds to him. The other(s) remain mounted and whip-in as usual, try to stop hounds with minimal necessary force. No guns unless hounds are in danger of crossing a major road like US 78 or the interstate.

Whippers-in Ride in Pairs
Stopping hounds is one reason for whippers-in to work in pairs. It is nearly impossible to stop our hounds with only one whip and no one to act as huntsman. If a whip is the only whip around and needs to stop hounds, it is fine to get someone from the field—any field member of any field—to get off their horse and act as huntsman. Of course, it is best if it is someone the hounds know and like. When it comes to hound safety, deputize the entire field if necessary.

Another reason for whips riding in pairs is, of course, for their own safety. All Belle Meade whips are honorary, and at the end of the day need to get home safely to their families.

Posted February 21, 2021

* A Game table, also known as a Solunar table, is a calendar for sportsmen and anglers that seeks to predict the best times for experiencing wildlife activity for each day of the year, based on the times of sunrise, sunset, and tides.

miss rodeo and truckA celebrity in the hunting field, Miss Rodeo USA 2020

In any sport, there are many terms that might be unfamiliar to anyone outside the circle. In rodeo, for example, not everyone might know the term bufford, dog fall, or union animal.* It was the same for me stepping out of my comfort zone to learn new terms in the foxhunting community. I rightfully earned the title of cropper within the first five minutes of the hunt. This is how it went.

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File0055Orange County Hounds Field Master John Coles, MFH, leads a field of 60 visiting foxhunting ladies on the Vixen's Meet . /  Joanne Maisano photo

When the COVID pandemic and executive orders from the Governor of Virginia forced cancellation of Orange County Hounds’ primary annual fund raising event—the barn party held at Board President Jaqueline Mars’ legendary home—OCH Board leaders Jane Bishop and Emily Hannum put their heads together and scheduled instead a Vixen’s Meet. Given the strong showing October 15, 2020 at Stonehedge in The Plains, Virginia, the ladies like it.

Ladies from a dozen hunts turned out in support of Orange County: Belle Meade Hunt (GA), Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds (PA), Cloudline Hounds (TX), and De La Brooke Foxhounds (MD). From Virginia were ladies of the Blue Ridge Hunt, Casanova Hunt, Loudoun Fairfax Hunt, Middleburg Hunt, Piedmont Fox Hounds, Rappahannock Hunt, and Snickersville Hounds.

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File0201Joanne Maisano photo

We’ve had hot weather hunting reports from many quarters across the Mid-Atlantic and southward. The West Coast as well. Hot weather hunting can be devastating to hounds because... bless them... they will try to keep up with the pack even when overheated and failing. Some hounds will be more susceptible to heat exhaustion than others, and the result can be fatal if neglected.

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