Fox Hunting Life with Horse and Hound
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FHL WEEK, Feb. 18, 2023

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An Education in Hunting Zig Zag Coyotes

Hunt Reports

Belle Meade ZigZag coyote and high viz vests Photo by Allison HowellBelle Meade Hunt after the Zig Zag Coyote run. Notice the high viz vests worn during deer season. Photo by Allison Howell.

“Do you know how to make sure you hunt on the best day of the season? It’s easy, you just have to hunt every hunt.”

Below is Epp Wilson’s hunt report of last week’s day of sport in Thomson, Georgia. Epp loves to check the weather data and game tables before each hunt. He has been studying what conditions effects scenting for decades, but he admits that he still hasn’t decoded it yet. Located in the deep south, Belle Meade is legendary for its coyote sport, and this day of hunting didn’t disappoint. They have a tradition of awarding Rough Rider points to all members who stay out for any run that lasts over 40 minutes. This hunt was an epic Rough Rider day. Continue to read for one of the best hunt reports you will ever read, and gain some pointers from one of the best huntsmen in North America. ***I have added a map from the GPS collars of their lead hounds at end.***

The Good Lord and Santa were both good to us Wednesday on the last hunt before Christmas.  Very good.

BMH 16BMH 322kBelle Meade Hunt hacking through the woods on a logging road. Photo by Gretchen Pelham.

Scenting Science

The conditions were overcast all day with the weather basically stable. The ground was wet from the 6/10” of rain that fell in the last 24 hours. More rain was forecasted until well after dark. The temperature was 46 degrees and was expected to hold steady. The wind chill was around 39 degrees, and the wind was coming from the southwest at around 8 mph. The sky cover was around 81% with the dew point around 35. The Game Table (on the app “Fishing and Hunting Solunar Time”) for the day was rated as high all day, with a “major” around 4 PM (Belle Meade usually has a meet time of 3 PM instead of the usual 10 AM for most hunt clubs).

Conditions appeared to make for good scenting conditions. Good scenting conditions are great as long as you find good game to run. If you can’t find the game, well, it almost doesn’t matter about the scenting conditions. I say almost – because it does matter in one way. Good scenting conditions make the hounds more interested in looking and trying to find good game.

How can you tell if conditions are good? Well, I don’t know of any guarantee. The problem is that you won’t know how good the scenting is until the run is over, not before the hunt. You know you have good scenting conditions when hounds can find and run good game – as in run ‘em hard and fast and long. Otherwise, it is all just speculation.

“You don’t know until you go.” That is what our good friend, Bill Smith, always said. In fact, the complete statement was, “You don’t know until you go. So, you just have to go.”

Hunting is a lot like fishing. Sometimes they are biting, and sometimes they ain’t.

Sometimes when scenting conditions appear to us humans to be good, they are actually bad. And sometimes when we think scenting will be bad (like on hot, dry days mid-summer during a drought) scenting turns out to be great. This keeps us humble and ever hopeful for that best day of the season.

Do you know how to make sure you hunt on the best day of the season? It’s easy, you just have to hunt every hunt.

Patience for the First Cast

As I left the kennels last Wednesday, we trotted across Race Track Field to the big pecan tree. I let the hounds play for a bit, then we went on to Peach Barn Woods for the first cast.

On the radio, I said, “Peach Barn Woods, then Palmetto Hill, then Clearcut behind Victoria’s, and we will play it by ear from there.”

We like to make our first cast or two in a place with open fields on both sides. This way we can hopefully get a view of what they are running quickly. We want to catch the hounds doing something right, of course. But, if the puppies are running a deer, then we want to stop them immediately.

The Peach Barn Woods covert is good, but we don’t find there enough to call it a true honey hole. So, I figured that by casting there, we would get the initial puppy exuberance out of the way and get down to some serious hunting as we drew on toward Palmetto Hill.

I was wrong. And I was glad to be wrong.

Hounds found within a minute of the cast. Well, one hound found. It was a voice unfamiliar to me; I couldn’t tell who it was. It wasn’t the familiar voice of our regular strike hounds: Colleen or Laramie – or even Paisley. 

Ten, or twenty seconds went by. No one else spoke. I figured it might be a puppy on trash. The voice was high. It could have been any one of a dozen hounds. Some puppies; some older. 

I looked for any old hounds to see what they were doing. If the good, old, honest hounds were honoring, then I would know that it was right. Good, acceptable game. All the hounds know all the other hounds’ voices, but I don’t. Wish I did, but I only know a few.

It was so thick I could only see one hound, Phideaux. He was honoring at a canter. Alert and focused. He was heading straight into the underbrush toward the speaking hound. That was a good sign, but he is only a second-season hound, so that was no guarantee that the line was good. He might have just been going to investigate.

The hound that was speaking was not speaking constantly. There was no, “La, la, la, la,” announcing to the world that he knew it was right and hot.  It was like he was saying, “I think I have something good. Not completely sure. Y’all hounds come to help me figure it out.” 

Thirty seconds had gone by. I still didn’t hear or see any old hounds honoring.

If an old hound smells it and doesn’t like it because it is trash – or if they know the voice to belong to a lying s.o.b. - that old hound will come to me and look me in the eye. That look that says, “Boss, that ain’t right. And I ain’t running it. I am being a good soldier. Don’t get mad at me, because I know you are about to get mad with that hound. And I am not part of that.”

The old hounds don’t lie to me.

That look – Sort of like, well, a lot like the look one’s spouse gives you when you are starting to tell a story they don’t want you to tell…

You know the look.

At that point, I always holler at the hound that is speaking, telling him to stop. If, on the other hand, I am hearing something suspicious – and I haven’t had any old hounds tell me one thing or the other, I will holler, “Gently! Gently, boys. Gently, now.” And continue to observe. Giving them the benefit of the doubt until further evidence proves them right or wrong.

Forty seconds had gone by, and still, no additional hounds are speaking.

But at 45 seconds, a second hound spoke. It was a deep voice. Ah, that’s better. I let out a long breath. I hadn’t realized that I had been holding my breath.

Then another deep voice. And another.

At about 60 seconds the rest of the pack was chiming in. This was definitely a good line. Now I could cheer them on with confidence.

Whipper-In Terry Cooper was on the north flank as usual and called over the radio, “Trash coming out of those woods headed toward Larry Knox’s house.” It is not unusual to flush deer when we are running good game. It is the duty of the whips to report it. Especially when the pack has not been settled on the line very long.

I responded, “These are the old dogs. I don’t think they are running the trash.”

After a few seconds, Terry radioed, “Hounds are not on the trash line. They are headed west. The trash went north.”

Then Nicole radioed, “Tally Ho coyote heading west across the trail from Orange Gap to the crossing. Big, fluffy, brown-grey coyote.”


Coyote Zig Zags

OK boys and girls, this is what we saddle up for: a good running coyote on a good scenting day; in some of our best country; our fine pack of hounds; a Field full of family and friends; and a full contingent of staff consisting of road whips and horse-mounted whips. Yep, this should be good.

Hounds were in full cry and continuing west. But that direction didn’t last for long. Then it was north toward Palmetto Hill. Road whips were watching for the coyote to cross Wrightsboro Road. A clockwise circle was beginning to take shape, then the coyote continued east just south of Palmetto Deer Camp and toward Larry Knox’s house. Then south again to Lake Lawrence, to cross Major Kindersley’s Road toward the Brick Crossing. Continuing the clockwise circle, our coyote turned west across the Rhododendron trail to the clear-cut hill above Grand Canyon.

We expected the coyote to head on west as usual. Not today. He doubled back and came southeast toward Brick Crossing. Apparently, First Field and I turned him at the PSK corner marker. We didn’t see him, but the hounds checked hard there. Then picked their way back to the top of the hill above Grand Canyon. We were wondering if they were working the line heal as it wasn’t as hot as before. 

Huntsman’s Classroom

Nothing will teach you to delegate better than a pack of hounds. As a huntsman, I have to delegate. Try as I might, I can’t smell the coyote or fox. I must depend upon the hounds. In fact, most of the time my most important job is to stay out of their way and try hard not to mess them up. When they lose completely, the pack will circle on their own to look and try all over where they last spoke on it. The old hounds know to do this. The young ones watch and wait for the older hounds to do the more deliberate work.

Once the old ones find it and get going again, the young ones race to the front and lead – until the quarry does another trick. Then it’s another pause. The youngsters let the older ones catch up and sort it out. Once sorted out, they are all off again.

Jeb Blount calls this area at the top of Grand Canyon the Bermuda Triangle for Coyotes. We cannot count how many times we have lost the line there. Usually, it is a good, hot line, then, POOF! The line vanishes. There is or was a huge pile of logging debris there, and more than once we figured the coyote went to ground in the pile. But we have never actually been able to find the den or hole and get the hounds to “mark” at the hole. They “mark” the den when they can smell him inside. They dig and howl and some will crawl in as far as they can or as far as they dare.

No digging or howling this day. Just deliberate hound work.  

Master Ed on the radio, “We have a few hounds working back northeast across the Rhododendron Trail.” Ed has hunted these woods since he was a child hunting turkey and deer with his father. He has an incredible feel for the land and the hunt. I think he is part Indian, as he certainly has the skill set.

Terry Cooper on the radio, “Tally Ho coyote just south of Major Kindersley’s – heading north.” Hounds appeared to be working his line. We tried to hark them to the view, but most of them hit a line on the way and went due east toward the Dove Field.

BMH 17 BM 1183kEpp Wilson, MFH and Huntsman for Belle Meade Hunt. Photo by Gretchen Pelham.

More from the Huntsman’s Classroom

Four hounds were working toward Terry and his view, but they weren’t very hot – surprising since the view was so fresh. When they heard the others speaking loudly heading east, they harked to those hounds. We did, too. No sooner than we caught up with them the line played out. So, we harked them quickly back toward Terry’s view. This was a challenge as First and Second Field had been right behind me on the narrow trail. Now they were blocking the trail where I needed to go.

Traffic reverses are fine when there are only hounds that need to change direction, but this trail was only one bush hog wide. There wasn’t enough room for me to pass the Fields with the hounds. It is too likely for a hound to get kicked or stepped on.


When I do a reverse on a trail with the hounds, I want and need the whole road. Not just one rut. Not 10 feet in width, or 16 feet, or 25 feet. I want the whole road.

We as a hunt could use some practice on this maneuver. Everyone needed to reverse in place and trot out of the way. No pokey pokey…

The field members naturally get “in the zone” to follow and hold hard when needed. We don’t often need them to reverse and completely clear the trail. So – after a bit of “confusement” among some of the members of the Field – they reversed in place and got out of the way. Then I brought the hounds forward.

Terry was doing what I ALWAYS ask the person viewing to do. He “took my hand and put it in the footprint of the coyote.”

Don’t point vaguely and say, “He went thataway” – and then canter away. Stay put, wait for me to get there with the hounds. Stand on the heel way of the line so that you can stop them if they pick it up going heel. Heel is in the wrong direction. Hounds understand getting stopped and turned around if they are going the wrong way. It is amazing how rarely they hit the line and try to take it heel. But it does happen. And we should ALWAYS be prepared for that.

There are more mistakes at views than anywhere else on the hunting day. Getting the hounds going in the right direction can make all the difference. A lost minute or 5 or 10, which is what it sometimes takes to get them turned around, can give the quarry a big head start. Those few short minutes can be enough for the game to elude the hounds completely or certainly make the hounds have to work more slowly and deliberately to follow the line. As the line has faded so much by then.

If the quarry is running and the hounds are walking the line, the quarry is getting further and further ahead – and the line is getting staler and staler – until the hounds can’t even follow it. What could have been a great run can turn into a blah, boo boo day. Where hounds boo a little here and boo a little there and never really get going.

Terry had us in the perfect position. Hounds picked up the line and worked it north over the top of Joe Cassidy Hill. Going down the north side of the hill they really got hot and roared across the stream and up into the Palmetto Hill young pines. The coyote continued to circle. Clockwise circles. Seemed like nearly all the circles were clockwise. Maybe he is right-handed and prefers the right lead…

The Sweet Spot

The coyote circled in the planted pines east of Palmetto Hill Trail and just south of Palmetto Deer Camp. John Lemmon described the circles well. “They were about the size of a round pen.” Maybe they were twice that size, but still very small, tight circles. The circles were so tight that I didn’t see how he never ran into the back of the pack.

We stood at the trail intersection, listening and watching. Alex was looking north up that trail. Wendell was looking east in the woods. And I was watching the trail to our west, the Palmetto Hill Connector trail. We didn’t see the coyote.

Hounds went east toward Larry Knox’s house. On the north flank, Terry was right with them. I held the Field back so we wouldn’t turn the coyote. The coyote was circling so much, we didn’t want to turn him or cross the line with the Field before the hounds go to it. The scent of 30 steaming horses and riders can make it hard for the hounds to follow a line.

We were hot and sweating despite the 46-degree temperature. I had unzipped my blaze orange vest and unbuttoned my hacking jacket. Glad to be sweating on a fine cold day on a good day behind fine hounds. There is nowhere else I would rather be.

The hound music was incredible. We sat still for several minutes with hounds in full cry and that most beautiful music this side of heaven echoing off every hill.

It reminded me of the good old days, hunting in Hardaway’s pocket. Amazed that any pack of hounds could do what they were doing.

It reminded me of other good old days – the days we ran grey foxes round and round at Sammy’s Stretch on Ridge Road. With John McNeill on Calhoun and Julie Dickson driving the old hunt truck like Mario Andretti.

These are good old days, too. We are so blessed to do this. To do it routinely. And to do it in the same country we have hunted for over 50 years!

Coyotes Aplenty

The coyote and hounds made at least two complete circles centered on Kindersley Road. When they headed toward Peach Barn Woods, I figured we had better go on with them since it appeared the coyote was moving on out of this section of the territory. Dr. Wilkes called on the radio, “Tally ho coyote crossing Wrightsboro Road from the Peach Barn Woods into Andy’s Pecan Grove.”

I asked, “Is it the hunted coyote?” A few seconds of silence passed while Gary listened to see if the pack was coming on the line. Then I heard, “Well, no. Must not be.”

Just then Terry viewed him crossing Kindersley Road heading back southwest. Again. All in all, Terry viewed the coyote six times.

No sooner than we got to the top of that long steep rocky hill and Major Kindersley’s Coop, the coyote was coming right toward us. He came southwest by Orange Gap and toward Brick Crossing. Continuing his pattern of clockwise circles, he turned west then northwest, right by Kindersley’s Coop.

Sharp-eyed Field Master Mike McCarthy held back hoping for a view. Hounds were getting closer and closer to his field of riders. Then, sure enough, Mike called Tally Ho on the coyote as he and others viewed him heading northwest. Hounds were in hot pursuit. The Field did a traffic reverse down the steep hill to the second crossing downstream of Lake Lawrence.

“Low Bridge” was called as we ducked under the tree hanging low across the creek crossing. Left toward Kenny’s Bridge, then left again toward Valley of the Spleen. Left again toward Larry Knox’s house. Then southeast up the long hill to the top of Joe Cassidy Hill.

Master Ed, Robert Alan, and Molly were at the fork of the trail. The coyote was going toward Valley of the Spleen. We laughed and said, “You go that way, and I will go this way. One of us will end up with the hounds.” Master Ed ended up with the hounds as he had guessed better than I did.

The rest of us caught back up with the pack shortly. Nicole was with the hounds at Galded Hill, aka Rougall Mountain. We figured they were going all the way to Quaker Road, so we galloped by the old mill site on Little Creek and up the long hill to the top of Wyatt’s Hill. We stopped to listen. I posted folks up and down Quaker Road to watch for the coyote to cross.

But we had overshot the line. Hounds had doubled back east, still running hard. They went past Brick Crossing again, running east toward Dove Field. Then northeast toward Orange Gap then into Peach Barn Woods, where we had originally found him.

Double Rough Rider

Hounds were starting to slow down and get scattered. We had been running for over an hour. It was already a Rough Rider Run, having lasted 40 minutes or longer. Twelve more minutes and it would be a Double Rough Rider. Surely, we could keep going for another 12 minutes.

I turned to Bob Fugate and asked him if he had his GPS going so we could see the track and pattern of the run. He smiled and said yes. Then I realized we had not been nearly as far as the hounds. I needed the map from the GPS collars to get the real story. I would get that from Robbi. And the band played on.

Leonard Loudermilk, “Tally ho coyote at Orange Gap heading southwest. And he is looking tired.” Hounds were working in two places nearby. We did not hark them to the view.

That coyote had given us a glorious day of sport. The best run of the season. As much as I wanted the hounds to catch him, for the good of the puppies – I wanted to run him another day. Many other days. Imagine the good scoring we would get if we found him on one of our Performance Trial days.

Hounds trailed and hit and missed for a little longer.

I asked, “Wendell is it time? Double RR yet?” No, we needed three more minutes.

A few hounds were still trying to figure out the line, and several drifted out to us in the corner of the field by Orange Gap.

I began to use my horn, just a little. Just enough to call in the hounds who were ready to quit, but not enough to try to stop those who were still working and trying. We were trying to squeeze the last ounce of sport out of the day – to make the 80 minutes and be a gosh for real Double Rough Rider.

Wendell and Jeb conferred looking very serious. “Time! 80 minutes.” 

“WOOHOO!!” Rose from the Fields. There were probably 25 riders standing there listening, enjoying, and waiting. Ready for that announcement.

We did roll call. Three hounds in the truck. The rest of the pack was with us. All on.

The hounds’ GPS collars showed the pack had traveled 12 miles in a zig zag pattern. And it was all done on about 150 acres, which is very unusual for our hunt. This small area was very fun for the Fields as nearly everyone in every Field could hear most of it. This was the most like a grey fox run that I ever remember a coyote doing. 

BMH 16BMH 205kBelle Meade Hunt's awarded medals with an extra stirrup leather across the shoulder. Photo by Gretchen Pelham.

What an incredible day! What an incredible pack of hounds! What an incredible coyote.

Zig Zag CoyoteBelle Meade's hound track from chasing the Zig Zag Coyote.

Now that, my friends, is the story of Belle Meade’s Zig Zag Coyote.

Merry Christmas to All and To All a Good Night!

Master Epp

Mollie Hall took a video of the Belle Meade hounds in full cry, running through the woods of Thomson, Georgia. Volume up!

Originally posted on December 26, 2022.

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