Fox Hunting Life with Horse and Hound

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virfinia 2016.midland striker 15.gr ch.smallMidland Striker 2015 captures the William W. Brainard, Jr. Perpetual Cup on the lawn in front of the Morven Park mansion. Midland huntsman Ken George holds Striker's attention as three generations of Lamptons and Hardaways gather to accept the trophy from Virginia Foxhound Club President Joan Jones. Dr. John W.D. McDonald, MFH (lapel ribbon) judged this final class of the day.  /  Nancy Kleck photo

With six hundred foxhounds from thirty-seven hunts showing in five separate rings at the Virginia Foxhound Show at Morven Park on Sunday, May 29, 2016, the hour gets late before the four individual division champions—American, Crossbred, English, and Penn-Marydel foxhounds—finally get their chance to face off for the William W. Brainard Jr. Perpetual Cup designating the Grand Champion of Show.

The hour arrived, somewhere around six p.m., as four handsome champions came together before Dr. John W.D. McDonald, MFH, judge of this prestigious class. It had been a long, hot, and tiring day for everyone—spectators, judges, handlers, and hounds alike. But one foxhound looked like he was still ready and happy to run from one end of the field to the other, which he did when asked to show his movement. With long, powerful, yet graceful strides that looked like a slow-motion camera had been set up just for him, Midland Striker made his statement and would not be denied.

“He is one of the most beautiful movers anyone could expect to see,” said Judge McDonald in admiration. “And he has perfect conformation.”

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Martha wrote this story after studying The Life of an American Sportsman: Being Reminiscences by Harry Worcester Smith during the course of her 2016 John H. Daniels Fellowship at the National Sporting Library & Museum in Middleburg, Virginia.

harry w smith.writing desk.nslHarry Worcester Smith at his writing desk, possibly in Aiken, SC or Grafton, MA / Courtesy of NSL&M

I’m not sure that many people would have characterized Harry Worcester Smith as a good-for-nothing “cad.” On the other hand, neither might they have called him a gentleman. He was highly opinionated and he had a temper. He had a wicked sense of humor and he suffered no fool. He was a scalawag, a bit of a braggart, maybe a knave, possibly a scoundrel. It’s perhaps divine providence or poetic justice that his favorite horse, his horse-of-a-lifetime, was named “The Cad.”

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fox.lge.leesAre hounds right?  /  Douglas Lees photoAn experienced foxhunter has become Master of a pack of foxhounds and recognizes that he has a deer problem. His hunting country is thickly wooded and accessible via trails. His staff is composed of an experienced amateur huntsman and honorary whippers-in. He whips-in himself, and has experienced first-hand the problems posed by the very nature of the country.

deer.leesOr are they wrong? / Douglas Lees photoThere are no discreet coverts to draw that can be surrounded by staff to stop hounds if a deer goes out. In the event of riot, staff is unable to gallop through the thick woods to get ahead of hounds and rate them. Or to even see which hound led the miscreants astray. He understands that he must first teach puppies what the proper quarry is, but he has no access to fox pens to even help him establish good habits from the start.

Thinking outside the box, he came up with the idea of using commercially available deer scent and fox scent as a tool to train hounds.

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betsy smith.emma roweBetsy Smith in Virginia's Old Dominion Hunt country  /   Emma Rowe photoFoxhunting remained pure in much of rural Virginia even as the coyote population was increasing up and down the eastern coastal states. Why much of Virginia’s hunting country was ignored by coyotes is a question for another time, but there’s no doubt that canis latrans has discovered its earlier mistake and, for the last several years, has made substantial property acquisitions in the Old Dominion.

Virginia hunts are handling the situation in various ways—some considering coyote as riot, some adding the coyote to its list of bona fide quarry. For hunts in the latter category, with staff still relatively inexperienced in hunting the coyote, new questions arise for their hound breeding programs.

Betsy Smith asks whether a hound’s nose for coyote scenting should be any different than a hound’s nose for fox scenting. For a pack that hunts both coyote and fox, are there any breeding considerations when it comes to nose?

As a followup question, Betsy asks if there are other more important hound attributes than nose to consider and breed for.

We went to our Panel of Experts and asked two experienced huntsmen, C. Martin Wood, MFH, Live Oak Hounds (FL) and Marion Thorne, MFH, Genesee Valley Hunt (NY), to answer Betsy’s questions for the benefit of their less coyote-savvy friends in Virginia. Although Marty hunts in Florida, and Marion hunts in New York state, it’s uncanny how similarly they feel about what they need in their packs.

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The Genesee Valley Hunt (NY) can boast of two families still hunting in the fifth generation. It’s no surprise that the Wadsworth family is one. After all, it was Major W. Austin Wadsworth who established the hunt in 1876. Three generations of the Wadsworth family are hunting today—Martha Wadsworth, MFH, Marion Thorne, MFH, and Piper Wadsworth—sister, step-daughter, and granddaughter of current MFH, Austin Wadsworth.

The Chanler family of Geneseo is the second to attain this venerable state with the introduction of nine-year-old Mary Chanler to the hunting field this season. According to Sally Fox’s article in the Livingston Daily News, Mary is the daughter of Andrew and Alison Chanler. Mary's family has been hunting with Genesee Valley back to great-great-grandfather Winthrop Chanler, MFH in the 1920s.

I’ve been asking to hunt for years, said Mary!

Posted November 2, 2012