Returning to our Tell-Me-a-Story series, we’ve already covered “How I Came to Foxhunting” and “My First Foxhunt,” and we’ve received some good stories from our readers in return. For the next subject, let’s tackle “A Most Memorable Hunt.” There has to be at least one day, among all the days in all the seasons past, that remains as clear in your memory as the day it happened. There are probably several such days. I’m going to pick one that has remained for me a constant joy to recall. I’ll tell you my story. Please tell us yours.
My memorable hunt doesn’t equate to the best, the fastest, or the most exciting. Many of the most thrilling hunts I’ve experienced remain simply a blur. I recall such days with hounds roaring, hooves pounding, fences disappearing below the girth, and no thought but to keep up. However, there was never time for my mind’s shutter to capture and freeze those images with clarity for a lifetime.
Rather, I recall one slow, bluebird day, when scent was less than ideal, hounds had to work for every inch of the line, and the pace was never brisker than a trot. After twenty-five years at least, the images are still vivid. What made that day so memorable would be a fair question to ask.
It was one of the best hound hunts I ever saw. Perhaps it was the first I ever saw from start to finish! The country was open, and I was witness to every inch of progress. Hounds were clearly on a good line. Their heads were down, and they worked assiduously to follow it. The hound music never reached the spine-tingling stage. It remained tentative and sporadic.
Hounds would carry the line, then lose it. They spread out and cast themselves in circular patterns, covering every possible direction the fox might have taken. One hard-working hound would begin to feather its stern, speak questioningly, and carry the line forward. Other hounds would abandon their quest and come to help. When the lead hound faltered, another would recover the line and carry it on. The lead changed as many times as there were hounds in the field. This was a pack at work, each hound playing its role—hard-wired through hundreds of years of careful breeding—to support the larger effort, the team.
Blue Ridge huntsman Chris Howells knew hounds were doing their best and knew also there was little he could do to help them. I still remember his smile of resignation. He patiently allowed them to sort things out at their own pace.
We walked—sometimes trotted—watching hounds work, find, and lose, time and again, but never give up. I wish I could end the story by telling you that they finally unkennelled their fox and flew for another thirty minutes before putting it to ground, but it didn’t end that way. Temperatures kept rising, and the line just petered out.
The sky was blue, my horse was mellow, and I relished this opportunity to watch hounds hunt, always within sight and earshot. It was a rare day that I never forgot.
Posted August 12, 2011