For most hunts, late summer announces the highly anticipated arrival of cubbing season (or “cub hunting”), a time when fledgling hounds officially begin their careers. They’ve moved beyond basic hound walks and are now allowed to start hunting. This can be an exciting time for huntsmen to watch young hounds from their breeding program get their first taste of the sport. Aside from teaching young foxes to run, “cub hunting gives young hounds a good base for the future,” says Donald Philhower, who served as huntsman for the Millbrook Hunt for 15 seasons in New York. “It teaches them to go in and draw and run with the older hounds. Ashley Hubbard, huntsman for the Maryland-based Green Spring Valley Hounds, agrees: “It’s their time to learn the ropes and to learn what hunting is all about. Plus, it’s also a time for older hounds to fix any issues from the previous season and make sure everyone’s behaving and remembering what it’s all about.”

Mentally and Physically Ready

Most hounds begin cubbing when they’re around 15 to 18 months old. “They need to be mature enough mentally to be able to handle the hunting but also physically strong enough to handle the hardships,” explains Hubbard. “When I was hunting hounds, you’d start walking them out in the spring, and as soon as they’re mature enough, they can walk out with the main pack,” says Philhower. “It teaches them to be pack-minded and pack-broke. “When I walked out, I’d carry a horn with me and teach the hounds the various calls,” he adds. When walking out, the hounds might also come across deer or rabbits. For a young hound, learning what not to hunt can be just as important as getting familiar with acceptable quarry.

Besides learning pack mentality, hounds also need to become well-versed in the terrain and obstacles they will encounter in the coming season. “Some territories have a lot of wire and fencing,” says Hubbard. “The old hounds get through or go over it, but the younger hounds can have a harder time.” To teach hounds about jumping, Hubbard recalls a trick he used to do before hunting season. “We put little jumps up inside the doorways of the kennel. We’d start really low, go out to the grass yard and teach them to jump over and then each day bring it up a little bit. Before long, they’d figure it out and it became easier for them out hunting.”

Green Spring Valley’s hounds poised and eager to begin their day. Photo by Anne Litz Photo

What Members Can Expect

Many hunts will start off with just the staff and the Masters for the first few weeks of cub hunting. Once the huntsman is confident that the hounds have had a good start, then they will invite members to join them.

If you plan to hunt during this time, many huntsmen recommend coming on hound walks ahead of time and making sure your horse is used to the hounds. Be aware of the hounds and all around you, especially when hunting in cornfields or heavy brush, advises Hubbard. “Be conscious that hounds are going to come out from any direction. They’re concentrating on doing their job and not necessarily watching out for the horses,” he says. “Have your horse face the direction you think the hounds are going to come from, so they don’t get startled. If you’ve got a good field master, they’re normally doing their job of keeping the field back and helping you stay you’re in a place where you won’t be in the way.” During these hunts, the focus is all about the hounds, giving them time and space to do the job. Sometimes that means the field might stand still for long periods of time. To a newcomer, it might seem not a lot is going on, but it’s a good learning time for hounds.

Following in Their Ancestor’s Pawprints

For a huntsman, there can be no prouder moment than watching a young hound blossom during its early years and learn to hunt and be a part of the pack. “Especially if you’ve got hounds that you’ve bred because of certain traits, such as voice or something like that, and seeing their offspring carry that same voice or do something special like hunting a fox down a road,” says Hubbard. “Seeing a puppy learning how to do that is one of the neatest things. hounds.

“Last year,” he remembers, “we went out with the dog hounds and we ran a fox for them to ground. And the first hound marking was a first-season hound called Razor. And he just started marking from his very first day and is now one of the best marking hounds. That was just pure instinct. He’d never run a fox before—it was the first time he’d smelled a fox. And he’s there, marking away. That to me was very special.” Philhower has a keen idea of what tendencies he likes to see in young hounds during this season. “I keep an eye out for fox sense and brains,” he says. “I want to see a hound that will go in and hunt the way you want it to. I put a lot of emphasis on nose and voice.” So, as parents proudly watch their children trot off back to school this fall, their eyes filled with endless optimism of what they’ll become, huntsmen like Hubbard and Philhower will see their young hounds off into the field, perhaps with a similar sense of pride. Members fortunate enough to witness such enlightening moments happening in the field with the hounds can have a deeper appreciation of the people, animals and sport itself.