What follows is an excerpt from the author’s excellent book, Letters to a Young Huntsman.
We would start roading (mounted hound exercise) around the middle of July. I really wanted the youngsters off couples by this time as a couple wrapped around a horse’s leg can be an ugly thing. Once puppies are used to going out with the horses, then it’s time to start introducing them to things like sheep, deer, cattle, etc.
This should be done as low key as possible; the worst thing you can do is make a big deal of it. If you have staff swinging whips and speaking loudly to the hounds, it’s only going to jazz them up. If you stay relaxed and cool, the hounds will pick up on that and remain cool themselves. Theses are things that they will see every day out hunting and everyone has to act accordingly.
When you are out, look for deer, walk the line, and quietly say, “ware deer.” If need be, send a whip ahead to move the deer so hounds don’t see them, as the temptation to run by sight might be too much for some. After they are accustomed to the scent of deer, then, when they do see them, they will not be as tempted to run them. At that point, it’s great if they can see one.
As you go around the countryside make sure you cross streams and jump the occasional fence to teach the puppies how to negotiate those obstacles. They will learn from the older hounds. Hack down roads and work on keeping your hounds on the right side of your horse so cars can get around you. Do this by you and your staff putting their whips in the left hand and using your voice to move hounds over. I would just say, “car,” and they soon learned what I meant. Again, stay as calm as possible; if you get too excited it will scare the timid hounds and they will do everything but what you are trying to accomplish.
As time goes on and hounds need more work and fitness, you should pick up the speed and start using the horn (sparingly) so the young entry will realize that the noise is coming from you. If you use it too much, the older hounds tend to get a little keen and vocal. I would usually double the horn as we started a hard trot or gallop and then blow a long note as I pulled up. This gave the puppies an idea that doubling means fast and long means come to me.
By the end of three weeks of roading, the older hounds are getting bored and want to hunt. Try to get through the fourth week, but if the older hounds are getting too hard to manage then it’s time to start putting hounds in covert. I was very lucky to get a couple of weeks of cubbing in before we officially opened our cubhunting season.
Be careful those first few days that you do not take too many puppies. If you are entering a lot, then sort them into two or three different groups. Try to cubhunt as often as possible. We would start off doing six days a week, then, after two or three weeks, we’d cut back to four days. Hounds learn nothing in the kennels, so as long as the days are short and the ground not too hard as to hurt hounds, then more is better.
I always liked starting in the corn fields as I felt that the corn held plenty of foxes and is inviting for young hounds to go into. Be careful the cornfield isn’t too big and have whips stationed around the field to prevent any splits from getting away. Whips should also be able to anticipate any riot that might be coming out and keep puppies from running it. I never worried too much about a split so long as they all stayed in the corn. Usually, as one or more foxes go to ground, the pack will fall in together. You just need good help to keep any splits from getting away. With luck, hounds will run around in the corn and eventually put one to ground all together. Take plenty of time at the earth encouraging hounds to really mark. Make a huge fuss over the puppies and encourage them to get their noses into the earth and get a good snootful of fox. This may well be the first time that they really smell a fox and that will certainly reinforce the desired scent.
You will find that, thanks to the good older hounds, it will take no time for you to start noticing your puppies doing well. They will be running up with the older guys and really look like they have figured it out. It is at this time that you must be most careful. I used to liken it to a sixteen-year-old boy who has been driving for four or five months and is starting to think he’s pretty hot. This is when the mistakes happen. Both the puppy and the boy tend to go too fast, overrun the turns, and sometimes chase things they shouldn’t! The unfortunate thing about this stage (with the puppy) is that it often comes at the same time as the deer rut. During the rut, the deer put out a lot of extra smells that are different from the normal scent. The puppy who has never thought about deer will get this intoxicating whiff and just won’t be able to help himself. The next thing you know, he will open and start running.
Watch your older hounds; you will have one or if you’re lucky several that will come right up to your horse as if to say, “It’s not me, boss.” Then use the horn to blow the note you use for riot, get your whips to stop them, or if you are closest stop them yourself. As soon as this is done, regain your composure and find a fox. If this is done right, and you can find the right game before the day is done and have a good run, and hopefully account for it, it won’t take long to have them broke. One of the good things about hunting on frozen ground is that the scent is usually poor. This is when your puppies will be brought back to their noses and will have to really think about what they are smelling. I found it fascinating to see young hounds that were running fast and hard suddenly have to think and work hard. You can almost see the light bulb turn on. It is often in these months that puppies really become foxhounds.
As for finishing the work of getting your puppies entered, it is all about having the good older hounds to learn from. They will get your puppies entered. All you need to do is hunt as often as possible, keep them out of trouble, and watch them learn every hunt.
Posted September 3, 2020
Andrew Barclay is Director of Hunting for the Masters of Foxhounds Association.