Fox Hunting Life with Horse and Hound

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Pete Waxes Philosophical about Hunting

petes stories.blackFoxhunting Life readers may not recognize their old friend, Pete, in this story. We generally find him drunk, misguided, and irresponsible. On this timely subject, however, the author allows him a sober and a somber moment.

 

Pete settled himself in the chair, took a pull from his pint, wiped the froth from his mouth and belched. Outside the pub it was pitch black and a wind drove hail against the windows, but inside a fire burned in the hearth and its warmth filled the room.

“Job’s buggered,” he said. “Hunting isn’t coming back.”

I looked at him. “Bonner, Barney, and the Countryside Alliance to name but a few would disagree,” I said.

Pete took another pull on his pint and sat considering. Finally he spoke.

“What would happen if it did?” he asked. “T’ hunt monitors will go back to being sabs. Never be like it was in our day.”

Drag Hunting Today

w-dup.carneyWayne-DuPage drag hounds head to covert. / Chris Carney photo

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.

Whipper-In: What's In the Name?

booli selmayr.kirsten edlundBooli Selmayr, professional whipper-in, Millbrook Hunt (NY): “A good day whipping-in is not having to be told, but instead, allowing natural instinct to guide me: listening to the horn and hounds, reading the terrain, and quickly distinguishing whether fox or coyote.” / Kirsten Edlund-Tunkel photo

Professional or Honorary
The world of whipping-in is split into two camps—professional and honorary. The professional whipper-in often fills the position to gain experience and recognition on his or her road to becoming a huntsman. As the title suggests, it is a paid position. The honorary whipper-in is not paid, is generally recruited from the ranks of the hunt membership, and generally does not aspire to become a huntsman. He or she may be a riding member or one of the Masters.

Professional hunt staff in England go through a structured period of apprenticeship. Years there are spent just doing kennel work before even being allowed to walk hounds out on exercise and before even being allowed on a horse. If recommended, they will finally be taken on as second whipper-in to a hunt. After a few moves, they may be recommended to fill an opening for a first whipper-in somewhere else. Under the system, they purposely move every few years from one hunt to another, gaining experience and exposure to different huntsmen and different methods before finally being offered a huntsman’s post. Clearly a strong foundation is laid through such a rigorous system.

The Whipper-In Is the Huntsman's Right Hand

neil.amatt.kleckNeil Amatt, professional whipper-in, Piedmont Fox Hounds (VA): “Anticipation, punctuality, how you present yourself—all these things are drilled into you in the English system. You start in the kennels, and you have to really want it before you’re even allowed on a horse.” / Nancy Kleck photo

With the start of a new season just around the corner, we bring back this article, first published in 2013, not only for the benefit of all new and aspiring whippers-in, but also for those field members who wish to appreciate all that happens in the hunting field.

Last season, after forty-five years of hunting, I witnessed a simple act of sophisticated whipping-in that left me shaking my head in admiration. For a huntsman or an experienced whipper-in, it was perhaps no big deal.

My hunt fielded an all-new professional staff last season—huntsman and whipper-in—both of whom were learning the country on the fly. Hounds had checked in a thick covert, and we in the field could see them, heads down, trying to recover the line. The whipper-in came galloping by headed for the end of the covert.

“Over here,” called the Field Master, pointing to a concealed trail. “You can get in over here.”

The whipper-in came back, talked urgently to the Field Master, then turned his horse and continued in the direction he was originally going.

After the meet I asked him what that exchange was all about.