Drag hunting, according to conventional wisdom, is what a hunt does when its country is constricted by suburban development. Sometimes that’s true, but, more often, hunts follow a dragged line of man-laid scent because the Masters want to. And a few hunts have been doing it for more than a century.
Each type of hunting—live or drag—has its pluses and minuses, depending on the needs and priorities of the participants. Drag hunting offers a controlled hunting experience to the benefit of hounds, riders and landowners. With a judicious laying of the drag, hounds are safer because roads and other hazards can be avoided; farmer’s crops are protected from horse’s hooves; homeowners’ lawns and yards are not trampled; and small pets are safe from the attention of hounds (all assuming that hounds don’t riot).
For riders who seek a gallop over fences, drag hunting offers a more efficient use of time, with no standing on a windy hillside while hounds search a covert for a fox (which may or may not be found). Thus the drag-hunting day typically lasts about two to three hours, with guaranteed galloping and jumping, better suiting those with a busy schedule, rather than the three- to five-hour day usually consumed by the ebb and flow of live hunting.
At the time that Mac and I started our pack, I had never before drag hunted. The territory I was able to secure, however, was public land, and the regulations stated, "taking of fox is strictly forbidden." While that has since changed, we have such a steady pack on the drag at this point that I hesitate to send it live. Also, we hunt on several small, privately owned fixtures that are extremely popular with the members because of the interesting terrain and abundance of jumps, and in those fixtures it would be impossible to hunt live because of the size.
In the beginning, since I knew nothing about the sport, I read everything I could get my hands on about drag hunting. I experimented with various scents and scent combinations, but the pack was light on cry, so I sought help. The hounds, which had been drafted from the Middlebury Hunt (CT) when they disbanded, were live hunters, so we had a double challenge—the blind leading the blind.
Hounds were screaming, and the huntsman was cooking. A cattle guard loomed ahead—a coop to the left and a gate to the right. The huntsman veered left.
"Melvin," someone yelled, "the gate’s on the right!"
"Melvin just kept kicking on, right over the coop," recalled Joe Conner, shaking his head and grinning in wonder.
Conner, who has whipped-in to Melvin for years at Bath County (VA), didn’t resurrect that story out of a distant past. It had happened only weeks before Melvin Poe’s ninetieth birthday celebration.
A month or so earlier, I had recognized the same notes of awe and wonder as I stood chatting with Brian Smith, my farrier, about Melvin’s upcoming ninetieth birthday.
Anytime I see Melvin Poe, I always make a point to speak to him and show him his Florida strain of the Orange County red ring-neck foxhounds. He’s always so approachable and friendly and, of course, always interested in the red rings. In fact, last year at the Virginia Foxhound Show, I nearly missed one of our classes because I was talking to him just outside the ring. Luckily, Mac came running over and told me to get in there!
Our association with Orange County began in 1996, during our first season, when Kerry Glass, former Master and huntsman of the Norfolk Hunt (MA), contacted Melvin and arranged for us the draft of Orange County Boots, Bundles, and Britches. After our very first breeding to Boots, we instantly shifted our previously tri-color pack to red. Whenever we come to Virginia, we visit the Orange County kennels. It’s a ritual.
The young lady was waiting in line—a long line, all the way outside the building—at the Virginia Foxhound Show when a soft-spoken, older man started a casual conversation. Where are you from? What hunt? Did you bring hounds to the show? How are they bred? What is your country like? He was interested in all she had to tell him about her hounds and her hunt. Then he strolled off.
"Do you know who you were talking to?" gushed a friend nearby.