Fox Hunting Life with Horse and Hound

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A Christmas Hunt in the Cumbrian Fells

dove crag 1

The path wound its way up the fell side, twisting and turning as it sought the line of least resistance in its quest for the ridge and finally the trig point that marked the actual summit. Several hundred feet below the track and above the valley where the track began, a buzzard circled on a thermal originating from the big crag.

The path like the crag had over the centuries seen many things, Stone Age man had used the track to get to the veins of slate on an adjoining fell. Viking and Roman feet had followed the track to and from the nearby coast. Long pony trains carried produce over the track to the coast and its sea port. Finally, endless hordes of garishly dressed tourists added to the general erosion of the track. It began in the valley bottom, passed through an area of bog, soon left it behind, and that is where the erosion started. The higher up the fell, the thinner the soil, the greater the erosion. At the time all these thoughts passed me by, but looking back I can ascend the track from start to finish in my mind’s eye. I remember it so well because on one Christmas holiday morning, I saw a hunt which will long remain in my memory.

The Galway Blazers at Cawley’s Bar in Craughwell

John DenisJohn Denis became the first huntsman of the County Galway Hunt (the Blazers) when it was organised in 1839  /  Courtesy of Noel Mullins

The Castleboy Hunt Club, established in 1803, hunted the Galway foxes until 1839. At that time a new hunt committee founded the County Galway Hunt, better known today as the Galway Blazers. John Denis, a direct ancestor of the only lady huntsman of the Blazers, Molly O’Rourke, was appointed the first huntsman.
In years past, top Hollywood stars were often seen in Galway visiting the late film director and actor John Huston, a Joint-Master of the Blazers at the time. I have great personal memories of hunting with the Blazers over the years, starting as a child over sixty years ago. In later years I had the pleasure also of serving on the Blazers hunt committee. Few had transport in those early days, so we hacked to meets sometime five and often up to twenty miles from our hometown Loughrea, especially if the meet was Athenry or Turloughmore.

The Kilkenny Foxhounds at Mount Juliet

kilkenny.cropKilkenny huntsman Peter Cahill and foxhounds move off from Mount Juliet, the spiritual home of the Kilkenny. / Noel Mullins photo

The Kilkenny Foxhounds were founded by John Power in 1797, and the founder was succeeded by his son Sir John Power in 1844. Hounds have been kennelled since 1921 at Mount Juliet when Major Dermot McCalmont, MFH built the kennels. His son Major Victor McCalmont (Master from 1949-1993) continued the hunting tradition until he passed away while in office.

Stepping into the kennels one can feel the sense of history. Although I have reported on the Kilkenny Foxhounds many times in the past, it has been more than thirty years since I attended a meet at Mount Juliet—the spiritual home of the Kilkennys. At the time, Major Victor McCalmont who hunted the pack for thirty-four seasons was Master. Peter Thomas was hunting hounds and Paddy McDonald was whipping-in. I recall the second horsemen dressed in charcoal grey livery and grey bowler hats arriving to exchange horses with Major Victor and the huntsman in the early afternoon.

The Kilkenny, by the way, is seeking new Joint-Masters.

Coyote In the Tunnel

We enjoy publishing hunt reports. The emphasis may be on humor, a unique hunting country, the horse, or the substance of venery, but rarely all that in one package. Epp’s report covers every base, especially substance. In the course of one exciting hunt, the reader is there as the huntsman conjures the best place for the first draw; reads his hounds as individuals; reaps the fruits of hot summer work in the country; assists the Field Master; uses his road whips to advantage when chasing the wide-ranging coyote; makes quick but necessary decisions—right or wrong—to maintain the pace of his hunt and the safety of his hounds; all the while, tuned to the problems of his mount.

coyate3.smallDay's end. / Ed Maxwell photo

The drought in the U.S. Southeast made September, October and November hunting in Georgia some of the most challenging we and the hounds have had in many years. Dust everywhere. Most of the streams long dried up. In others, just pockets of water.

It has been so dry and dusty that the puppies and even some of last year’s entry were tempted to run deer and pigs. Long, boring days where hounds cannot find a coyote to run tempt all but the most deer-broke dogs. We had two days that scent was so bad they could not run a freshly viewed coyote—even when we got them to the view in less than a minute.