Mounted hunting with hounds has existed in America since colonial days. The development of the sport kept pace with the progress of the United States as it extended its influence across the Appalachians to the West Coast. Hounds of various types were brought from Europe by the early settlers. By 1900, the American Foxhound was the product of breeding their descendants with hounds that continued to be imported, mainly from England, Ireland and France.
The earliest record of the importation of hounds to this country was June 30, 1650, when Robert Brooke arrived in Maryland with his family, 28 servants and his hounds. By the early 1700s, mounted hunting with hounds mushroomed in Maryland and Virginia. In addition, hounds were used for other forms of hunting.
George Washington was an avid foxhunter. His diaries make it evident that in adulthood, mounted hunting with hounds was his favorite sport and he often hunted with his good friend Lord Fairfax. Both Washington and Thomas Jefferson had packs of foxhounds. There were several packs of hounds in the Washington D.C. area and on one occasion, while Congress was in session, hounds ran near the capital. It is said that many Congress members ran outside to watch hounds, and some jumped on their horses and joined the chase.
The earliest established foxhound club was the Montreal Hunt in Canada in 1826. In the United States, the Piedmont Foxhounds were established in Virginia in 1840. Both packs continue successfully to this day.
In North American mounted hunting with hounds, the emphasis is on the chase. From conservation efforts and natural selection, fox populations in hunt country are exceptionally healthy. Since the 1980s, the coyote has increased in numbers throughout the United States and Canada. Many hunts now hunt coyotes, producing some wonderful hunts. Some hunts prefer to drag hunt (use an artificial scent) to provide sport where open land is unavailable. The course of the day’s hunt is choreographed through hunting country.
In October 1906, a letter was sent to Masters of the existing hunts, polling them to gauge their willingness to come together as a group. In February 1907, six masters met at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. They formed the Masters of Foxhounds Association, with their primary purpose to settle disputes over hunting country. Over the course of more than 100 years, the MFHA evolved into the governing body for mounted hunting with hounds for Canada and the United States. While it is still involved in settling hunt country disputes, it also maintains the “Foxhound Stud Book,” the official registrar of foxhounds in North America. The MFHA lists approximately 70,000 hounds in the database and publishes an annual printed and online stud book. The MFHA sets the policies, rules and guidelines that govern the sport of mounted hunting with hounds. The MFHA holds seminars and other events to educate Masters and hunt staff.
There are 135 hunts in 35 states and three Canadian provinces. Accepted quarry is red and gray fox, coyote, bobcat and boar.
In 1938, the Hunt Staff Benefit & Development Foundation was formed to help professional hunt staff in financial need. In 2006 the MFHA launched the Professional Development Program, a year-long program to supplement the education of existing hunt staff.