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Fox Hunting In America
Riding to hounds has been as much of a sport among well-to-do Americans as among the British gentry
October 1973 | Volume 24, Issue 6
Once the chase begins, the hounds are in front, baying loudly if they have a scent, and the Master and held follow at a respectable distance. When a fox has been viewed up ahead, a view halloo (such as “Tallyho”) is called by the rider who spots the animal, and this person is supposed to point his horse in the direction of the fox and hold out his hat. The huntsman sounds “gone away,” a series of long and short notes in rapid sequence. Most times the fox will temporarily be able to lose the hounds, in which case the hunt must stop. The huntsman then blows a few long mournful notes to tell the field of the missing quarry, and everyone waits till the hounds have picked up the scent once more, or “made a hit.”
After this has gone on for anywhere from a half-hour to an entire dav, the hunt sometimes losing one fox entirely and having to start all over again, the chase ends when the hounds either catch the fox or, more commonly, the fox “goes to earth,” disappearing down his hole where he cannot be reached. The hounds then “mark to ground,” or stand and bay in frustration. The huntsman dismounts and calls off the dogs.
Contrary to popular belief, the purpose of the hunt is not necessarily to kill the fox, although in colonial days this was often the case. It is now the exception rather than the rule. If the fox is caught, the dogs soon make short work of the hapless creature, and the huntsman sounds the “whoohoop” to announce the death of the fox—a series of long and short notes with a tremolo at the end. Those members of the hunt who have never seen a fox killed will then be blooded, that is, their foreheads will be marked with the blood of the dead quarry. But foxes are so scarce in the United States today that it is more desirable not to kill one if at all possible; besides, the chase is much more enjoyable if the quarry is a veteran of two or three seasons and is thus able to make more of a sport of it.
Another misconception is that the fox is a terrified and confused creature—somewhat like a deer—frantically trying to escape from the pack of baying hounds. Not so. He is an extremely clever, calculating animal who knows exactly how good or bad the scenting conditions are and who frequently controls the entire chase by various ruses and deceptions. He seemingly enjoys the sport of it, then goes home when finally tired. An exMaster reports that on one hunting day in 1926, during a four-and-a-half hour period, a fox deliberately led the pack over “every bad scenting spot he could pick out; he walked on rocks for a half mile; he traversed over three miles of stone walls, and in one place walked a rail fence for three hundred yards, retracing his own steps to add to the fun.”
In colonial days there was no problem as far as fences were concerned, as the use of wire was unknown. Now, however, it is often necessary to obtain a farmer’s permission to employ “panelling,” since it is unwise to attempt to jump a horse over a wire fence, which he cannot see. Panelling entails the erection of jumpable posts or boards over the wire; one such structure is the chicken-coop jump, which forms a sort of pyramid of boards over the wire fence.
What about the hounds? The pack, of course, is an integral part of a successful chase, and many hunting clubs hold an annual ceremony at which the hounds are blessed by a clergyman. If the hounds are unable to scent the fox or if they pick up the scent and then lose it, there will be no run. A good pack of hounds has always been an asset and a valuable piece of property to any man, and hounds are carefully bred to incorporate certain qualities. Two of the most important are the cry and the nose. The cry must be loud and clear in order to be heard over and across the rolling woodlands. The nose must be very keen indeed, for the fox is tracked solely by the scent he leaves behind, and scenting conditions can vary greatly. The fox’s scent comes from a gland just under his brush and from others in the pads of his feet; a fine, oily substance is left behind on anything he touches.
Costume has also assumed importance for a proper hunt. A “rat-
catcher”—someone who is informally dressed—would be frowned upon in most good hunting circles.