Geoffrey Hyde, Huntsman and Bennett Barclay, Whipper-in, Elkridge-Harford Hunt. Photo by Michael Finney.
By Andrew Barclay, Director of Hunting
It is August again and for many of us this means the new season has begun and for others it means that the start is right around the corner.
As a school child, autumn meant the end of the carefree days of summer vacation and a return to the classroom. I never really liked autumn, until I discovered foxhunting and then my feelings toward this time of year did a complete turnaround! Autumn hunting means different things depending on if you are staff, a master, or a member of the field. For me, in my days of being staff, it meant early mornings, exhausting days and sore muscles. I loved it!
Most packs start with a period of staff hunting which is a chance to hunt without a field.
This is an important for the following reasons:
- Time to get the hounds tuned up for the upcoming season.
- Time for staff to evaluate the pack; to see who has matured or probably more importantly, who has not.
- Time when staff and masters see if their thoughts on breeding worked.
- Time for the first year’s entry gets their first exposure to game, both acceptable and not acceptable.
- Time to get to watch the second season hounds finish the process of becoming seasoned foxhounds.
- Time to see who might need a bit more work on riot. It would not be unusual at all to stand around on a deer line, or where they were bedded down over night, just to show the young ones that there is nothing to get excited about. The more exposure staff can give them to riot and to stock the better. While the young hounds were introduced to livestock while roading, they now are running through stock, and any hounds misbehaving will be corrected quickly by the staff. Anyone who hunts in livestock country will attest to the fact that game will run through them to foil scent, so hounds must be steady to all types of stock, or your welcome on that land will be in jeopardy.
Autumn hunting sets the tone for the season, getting a good start on the young entry really does make a difference for the rest of the season. The time and patience spent in autumn will show for the rest of the season.
For the field, there is a lot of time spent standing around corn fields and listening to hounds run. This can be difficult for the horses, but it is a good time to get your young horses accustomed to hounds, and the excitement of hunting.
As I say above, it’s a good time to get your young prospects out with hounds. If you are coming out on a green horse, it is always best to start them in the back if the field. If there is even the remotest possibility that it’s a kicker, put a red ribbon in the horse’s tail. If kicking is confirmed, then please find another job for the horse. A kicker can hurt hounds, people, or other horses.
As a huntsman, one of the biggest problems with having a field out in autumn is the noise; people having not seen each other since the end of last season and have a lot to catch up on. Remember, your conversations can distract hounds, staff, and masters!
Landowner relationships is a year-round job for masters and staff, but autumn is a great time for masters to reacquaint themselves with the landowners. A call to say that hounds will be over their way is a wonderful way to check in on them. It’s always good to give a heads up that first day after a few months off. Many landowners will have been seen during the months of hound exercise, now as hounds cover more ground there are more folks that need attention. This is a great time for someone knowledgeable to car follow with any new landowners to show them what hunting is all about.
Autumn hunting is one of the most beautiful times of year. Any day out with hounds you will see beautiful scenes, but to be out on those cool, crisp mornings with beautiful sunrises, add in a pack of well-behaved hounds in full cry and you are witnessing one of the most wonderful sights there is!