Fox Hunting Life with Horse and Hound

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Close Encounters with My Vulpine Friends

 barclay.signWith over two hundred years of involvement with various different types of hounds under our belt, you will understand it was and always will be the number one rule in the Barclay family to have the greatest respect for our quarry species, be it the fox, deer, or hare. The pleasure they give us is immense, and this comes from not only close observation on a hunting day but during the summer months when they are all, in their own distinctive ways, equally fascinating.

It is the fox, however, that has taken up a very large part of my life, and hardly a day passes when he doesn’t enter my mind in one way or another. And more than likely he will be discussed at some point, especially when he is being blamed for eating someone’s prime poultry! Whenever foxes are talked about, however, it is generally with a large degree of affection, except of course on the day a heinous crime has been committed in his role as the ruthless killer!

My pleasure in writing this has come from looking back and remembering moments when my vulpine friends have behaved in ways that remains etched on my mind. In the past I have recollected their somewhat strange habits after the death of a particularly well-loved character. This enters another realm, although there are places where both realms meet and it is then when it really does become all the more fascinating!

How Long Can a Red Fox Live?

fox.mary marksMary Marks photo

I believe that the ripest old age a tame fox might achieve is twelve. A wild, country fox could reach about eight. The governing factor, of course, apart from predators, is the fox’s teeth. No teeth, no food, no energy, and the end will be near, perhaps by scavenging dog or internal parasite—a death neither quick nor noble, and without Nature’s own equivalent of the National Health Service.

When I was hunting the Tiverton in Devon, the oldest fox caught by my hounds was aged six, according to that great naturalist Sir Newton Rycroft. It was the Tiverton’s first hunt in the New Forest, in 1975, and the fox’s incisors were long, very curved, and extremely dark—which prompted the discussion. The longer and more curved the teeth, the older the fox. Bob Street, who had disappeared into a bog during the excitement of the run, said that in forty years’ hunting it was one of the oldest he had seen hounds catch.

Naturalist's Notebook: The Red Fox

cathysummers5Cathy Summers photo

As a followup to our recent piece on the coyote, here’s that same naturalist’s description of the red fox. As before, I’m unable to provide a reference, book title, author, publisher, or date for this excellent bit of wood lore. If any reader recognizes it and can identify the source, we will publish that information in a future issue.

The red fox (Vulpes fulva) is one of the best-known characters in history and legend, widely spread over the temperate and northern regions of the world. For its combination of beauty and grace and intelligence it has had the attention of artists, poets, and naturalists, and merits the attention of those who would read the signs of the out-of-doors.

Naturalist's Notebook: The Coyote

coyote.jim dugganJim Duggan photoAs a followup to Mark Twain’s rollicking description of the coyote and Susan Walker’s report on the Longreen Foxhound’s recent coyote chase, here’s further information about that secretive animal that provides so many North American hunts with their sport. I’m unable to provide a source reference for this excellent bit of wood lore, but if any reader recognizes it and can identify the source, we will publish that information in a future issue.

The coyote, Canis latrans, with its many varieties, known also as brush wolf and prairie wolf, is widespread and well known.

I sometimes think that the most conspicuous coyote sign is his night song. Certainly a camp on the plains in the Southwest or in the western mountains is cozier when enhanced by the serenade of coyote in the moonlight. He who would follow the mammals in the wilds should know something of the significance of this. Unaccustomed ears, trained by traditional journalism, might interpret the coyote voice as something doleful, a sad requiem that makes one crowd closer to the campfire. Or a flippant tongue might speak of the "yapping" of the coyotes.

But if the coyote could reflect and speak he would say this is his song, simply that. However it may appear to human ears, to the coyote it satisfies the universal impulse for expression of emotion, simple as that may sometimes be among furred animals.

The Coyote: An Allegory of "Want"

coyote.jim dugganJim Duggan photo

Here is the funniest, most perceptive and penetrating description of the coyote that I have ever read! Excerpted from Roughing It, a collection of Mark Twain's experiences while prospecting and reporting in the Wild West between 1861 and 1867.

Another night of alternate tranquility and turmoil. But morning came, by and by. It was another glad awakening to fresh breezes, vast expanses of level greensward, bright sunlight, and impressive solitude utterly without human beings or human habitations, and an atmosphere of such amazing properties that trees that seemed close at hand were more than three miles away.

We resumed undress uniform, climbed atop of the flying coach, dangled our legs over the side, shouted occasionally at our frantic mules, merely to see them lay their ears back and scamper faster, tied our hats on to keep our hair from blowing away, and leveled an outlook over the world-wide carpet about us for things new and strange to gaze at. Even at this day it thrills me through and through to think of the life, the gladness, and the wild sense of freedom that used to make the blood dance in my veins on those fine overland mornings!

Along about an hour after breakfast we saw the first prairie-dog villages, the first antelope, and the first wolf. If I remember rightly, this latter was the regular coyote (pronounced ky-o-te) of the farther deserts. And if it was, he was not a pretty creature or respectable either, for I got well acquainted with his race afterward, and can speak with confidence.