Friday, January 02, 2009

Maryland Fox Pack

Down the farm road!

It's a bit strange to shave a horse!

A quick pee before the start.

Chris and I went out hunting yesterday, and as we came back to where we had parked the trucks, a load of horses and about 20 hounds were unloading for a day of fox hunting over the same land we had just walked.

The horses were a mixed lot: a huge Percheron, a couple of Warmbloods, a Paint, a couple of ponies, and a few other horses of varying quality, including one with ears like a mule. All were clearly loved and well taken care of, though I think shaving a horse in winter (so it does not over-heat while riding) is a bit strange. But what do I know? Nothing about horses!

The hounds were an even-looking lot and seemed very well taken care of, and packed up rather nicely considering they went from road vehicle to trail without more than 30 seconds to pee.

I gave the Master of the Hunt my card, noting that the next time they located a fox, they could call me on my cell phone, and I would walk over from where I was parked in order to bolt it out for another run.

That's a bit of an inside joke, of course: In the U.S., mounted fox hunting is mostly chasing after the hounds, and the fox is never dug to, and can generally get to ground any time it wants. There's certainly no shortage of groundhog holes for a fox to escape to!

I suspect most of these American riders had never seen working terriers, and we certainly had a bobbery pack for them to take a look at: an ancient Border Terrier, a Jack Russell Terrier, and a pair of Patterdale Terriers that looked like a matched set of salt and pepper shakers.

We also had a little game with us -- a 16.5 pound raccoon that had lost its tail sometime in its life, and whose teeth were now worn down to almost its gums.

We had been looking for fox of course (perfect weather for it), but had drawn a blank on Mr. Reynard. We were happy to come across the raccoon though, and it was good experience for Moxie who found it as we were coming back to the truck, and who worked it sensibly the whole time. Excellent!
Did I mention we had a fun time in the field? True! The dogs did too, of course.

Jethro Tull :: Heavy Horses - Lyrics


Anonymous said...

This type of fox hunting is the exact opposite of how they do it in West Virginia. My grandfathers on both sides were "fox chasers." One still continues the tradition, even using a hunting horn that was originally brought to West Virginia in the early 1800's. The horn is made from an ox's horn.

The hunts happen at night. The dogs are released into the woodlands. The dogs have been trained to chase only red foxes. They are trained with shocking collars so they won't chase deer, raccoons, opossums, and grey foxes, so they known their job. The dogs chase the red fox all through the night, while some of the chasers drink a little whiskey. Because its so remote, they go home when everyone is tired.

The hounds run the fox for miles. Some wander home, while others are picked up by local farmers. (Although my paternal grandfather had his dogs trained to return to his jacket, which he threw on the ground. All of his dogs returned, save one bitch who always ran home after the hunt, often traveling 20 miles in just a few days to get home.)

The foxes are only killed in traps. No one would ever kill a fox with a hound, but it sometimes happens.

I remember stories of great hunts held by the local hunt clubs, where all the small farmers brought their hounds to make a pack fo 50 or 60 dogs. These dogs would be released and judged on their staying power after the fox. These hunts very often developed into something like the conflicts that appear in the old song "The Ballad of Chevy Chase." Hounds ran through the fields and farms, often causing minor stampedes of sheep and cows.

Very often these hunts went wrong, when poorly trained hounds locked onto white-tailed deer. In the 1950's and 1960's, these hunts were licensed by the DNR. However, if one hound locked onto a deer, they all would. Packs of ten to 15 hounds would often split off the main fox pack to chase down deer. Yes, these hounds actually killed deer and had to be pulled off of them. It is because of this that these great hunts are no longer licensed in WV, where you cannot hunt deer with dogs.

Today, the old time fox chasers keep hounds, but they have bought acreages, which they have had fenced in. There, they release red foxes for the hounds to chase. The old days of hounds running across three or four counties is over.

The poor "Cohees" of the Mountains (from the eighteenth Scots-Irish term "Quoth thee") have a different hunting culture than the "Tuckahoes" of Virginia and Maryland proper.

Anonymous said...

that is called a trace clip, and you're right it is to help the horse dry out a bit quicker after riding hard. horses that have stopped work and are cooled down can get chilled when their heavy winter coat is left wet, this way they dry much faster in the areas that sweat a lot, armpit,neck, groin, etc... a full hunt clip would be the entire horse with just a small square left in the saddle area.

Anonymous said...

retrieverman, here is SC they call those "FOX PENS". they will release fox, coon and possom into the large fenced areas and work dogs there.

they also "dog drive" which deer hunters will run deer to them with the dogs, the lazy way.

PBurns said...

Fox hunting at night is for gray fox which will tree, same as bear or raccoon. Red fox will not tree and will go to ground pretty quickly if a hound comes too close. There is red fox in West Virginia, but not as many in other states due to the forested and mountainous nature of the state, which is more amenable to gray fox.

Fox pens are used for training fox hounds, and the same fox are generally used again and again as escape areas are set up for them. Other situations, however, are nothing more than canned hunts and are, in my opinin, the ugly and dishonorable (and lazy) part of sportsmanship. We have a several fox pen set ups here in Virginia (see ), and I have no problem with them if they are for traing hounds, but those that are canned hunts almost brought down the house about two years ago as far as hunting with dogs in the state is concerned. Bottom line: the single greatest threat to hunting in American remains unethical sportsmen who can too easily give us all a bad name. Hunting ethics are not a "nicety," they are a necessity. If the only hunting you can do is a canned hunt, then give it up. Ditto for 'pay and pull" fishing and "pay and pull" bird hunting.


PBurns said...

A Nnew York Times article on the fox pen busts is attached -- quite a number were done in Virginia too as I recall.

For more on ethical hunting see here

:: Balancing Hawks & Doves in Wildlife Management >>

and here

:: Hunting and Fishing Like Adults >>

New York Times article on fox pens follows

:: 18 Are Arrested in Illegal Twist on Fox Hunts

Published: November 13, 2007

BIRMINGHAM, Ala., Nov. 12 (AP) — The authorities seized dozens of animals and charged 18 men from four states in what they described Monday as a new twist on the old sport of fox hunting: releasing trapped animals into fenced pens so they can be chased down by dogs.

The men, 15 from Alabama and one each from Florida, North Carolina and Wisconsin, face jail time and fines of up to $225,000, said Allan Andress, chief of enforcement for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

All 18 of the accused trapped, transported, bought or sold a prohibited animal, Mr. Andress said.

The arrests capped a two-year undercover investigation and resulted in the seizure of 55 foxes, 25 coyotes and 2 bobcats, he said.

Agents also seized a moonshine still and 33 cardinals that were apparently used as bait.

The men are accused of participating in an operation that traps animals and transports them to Alabama to be placed into “fox pens,” Mr. Andress said.

Pen operators charge dog owners about $25 to release a dog into the pen, where it chases down an animal for sport.

“It’s simply for the pleasure of the hunter to have his hounds do well,” Mr. Andress said.

Operating a fox pen is not illegal if the prey gets inside on its own and has a reasonable chance to escape, Mr. Andress said. But trapping animals and placing them inside the pen to be hunted is illegal.

One of the men charged with illegally importing animals to Alabama, Harold Widder of Antigo, Wis., denied the accusations.

“Everything got out of hand,” Mr. Widder said. “These were not wild animals or anything; these are ranch-raised animals. I just made a wrong turn and wound up in the wrong state.”

Mr. Widder was charged with 45 counts of illegal importation of animals, officials said.
_ _ _

Source >>

Anonymous said...

These fenced pens I'm talking about are huge-- hundreds of acres. And they are licensed with the state. It's not a canned hunt. The foxes aren't going to be killed. It's nothing like the big packs that are used. It's usually only a brace or two. The foxes are run only once or twice a week. This isn't "hunting"-- this is "chasing." It's very different.

I'm going to say that this is actually better than the original system, because the hounds would up killing dozens of deer.

I should point out that we have lots of gray foxes (which aren't really foxes but an ancient canid that can still climb trees). If fox hounds go after a gray fox, the dogs will run it a bit, but then darn thing will take to the trees. And there is no chase. We used to have lots of red foxes, but as the fields have returned to forest, the gray foxes have returned as well.

I had no idea that this mention of fenced fox acreages would create this sort of response.

I think a lot of this is class nonsense that we always get from the Tuckahoes who hunt foxes with horses. We don't. You'd have to have a horse with the feet of a mountain goat to do this here.

This is a chase. It is not a hunt. My paternal grandfather told me that he knew of only one case in which a dog ever caught a fox (and then he didn't know what to do with it). A red fox can outrun virtually any hound, and he's got far more tricks and shortcuts than any hound can figure out. Jack Russells are not used on these chases, because the foxes go to ground and it's over. The red fox is gold in these mountains, why would anyone run it to down and kill it?

PBurns said...

I know what the pens are -- I have seen them, and they range from 100 to perhaps 500 acres. Most are simple hound training operations of the type you describe, and I have no real problem with them, but let's admit that not 100% of them are above board, and that's a fact. We all know how it goes in the real world, eh?

See >> where they note that "Howard Glen Blevins, 68, of Asheville, N.C., pleaded guilty in March to five counts of trafficking in wild animals. A statement from U.S. Attorney Julia Dudley said Blevins had bought animals for several years from trappers in different states and brought them to Virginia to sell to the owners of 'fox pens.' Hunters would then pay to hunt in the pens. He was caught after a yearlong investigation by Virginia game officials that included the undercover purchases of 54 red foxes and 47 coyotes from Blevins.
The animals were transported in the closed bed of a pickup truck, sometimes with two dozen or more animals crowded together. Often they were injured."

Not only does this kind of interstate wildlife traffic move disease around, but it also speaks to a population of pen fox that are not sustaining due the fact that some of folks are willing to operate their places, for an additional fee, as a canned hunt.

As to the notion that this is class bias, that is nonsense. Let's face it: red fox and gray fox are pretty common on the East Coast, and if you are only running a few hounds you should have no trouble at all in managing them without putting a tame fox in a pen. Of course, people are lazy and want guaranteed action for themselves and their dogs -- the very reason the Red Coats used to stock fox in the UK and release them from a bag on a blank day. Laziness and expediency are not class distinctions, are they?

The U.S. is a country that has millions of acres of national forest land, state forest land, BLM land, DNR land, Pittman-Robertson land, and has 2,000-acre farms back-to-back for miles at a time. If you can't find land to run your dogs on, you are not trying very hard in my opinion. A place to train young hounds? Sure. A place to actually hunt the dogs? No. I would not call any situation that has guaranteed results hunting.


Anonymous said...

Now, now, don't think that horse people, especially those that fox hunt, don't know a working terrier when they see one. They might not have been able to identify your other guys, but they knew your Jacks. How do you think Jack Russells got so popular in the U.S.? Long before Wishbone and Eddie, any decent horse show would have Jack puppies in play pens looking for new homes. The adult Jacks would be yapping around on the show grounds like lunatics, too, long before most "regular" folks had ever heard of Jack Russells. Most of those were short-leggeds, but ours were not. Our first Jacks came from Wales, straight out of a working pack there in a horse fox hunting club. Back then (has it really been pushing 30 years ago???), long-leggeds were few and far between. A local Maryland tack shop owner was fox hunting in Wales, saw this little working terrier and bought him for breeding here. He was a very nice dog, and threw a lot better than himself. Outside of the horse world people would stop us and ask us what our dogs were, and when we told them they were Jack Russells, they'd invariably say, "I've never heard of a Jack Daniels Terrier." Yeah, well, me neither, but it was nice y'all stopped and showed some interest, LOL.


PBurns said...

Oh absoutely they knew what all the terriers were! What I meant is that they had probably never seen terriers that actually worked, and almost certainly not in America. We are a rare breed (the people, not the dogs). The mounted folks had two Russells with them (I am giving the benefit of the doubt to one of the dogs) and a very nice-looking collie X greyhound lurcher as well.


Anonymous said...

That fox hunting(chasing/training) with hounds is almost exclusively done in large fenced acreages is, alas, because it is just unsafe to cast hounds in these modern times. Not just out of "laziness"! The automobile and highways have purty much made it too dangerous for trail hounds to hunt abroad over great distances as they were developed to do. And when I was growing up and historically before, it was an unwritten rule in the South that you NEVER shot someone's hound--people fed themselves with their hunting dogs during the Great Depression and before, back to pioneer days. The change of cultures and influx of "foriegners"--especially the hyper territorial deer lease type hunters, who will shoot any dog they see on their properties, has curtailed much hunting with hounds as well(which the antis dearly love--divide and conquer, you know...)I presently have two trail hounds that I allow to trail fox--red or gray, any time they want, but I rarely take them out because it is just too dangerous for them, and when they pass away, I will likely not get any more trail hound type dogs. I always love my dogs dearly, and it is too depressing to have them hit on the highway, or shot by some thug with no appreciation for a good hound. Fox pen chases are too fake for my liking, but if you want to continue running hounds and hearing their "music", then this has become about the only safe way to do it for much of the country.....L.B.

PBurns said...

For the record, the fox hounds in this post were hunting on over 2,500 acres of unfenced public (Pitttman-Robertson) land. Most people, as far as I can tell, are hunting their dogs (including houndsmen) in areas that are not fenced.

I am not sure how many folks are aware of how many HUGE tracts of public land are available for hunting all over the U.S. if you just look for them. Look up Wildlife Management Areas and Pittman-Robertson lands in your area, for example. In Maryland, you can generally hunt somewhere big within an hour's drive, no matter where you live in the state. Ditto for Virginia See >> and click on the maps for a partial list of acreage in Maryland for example.

And then, of course, there is the Masters of Foxhounds Association of America (see >> There are 27 hunts in Virginia, and another 9 in Maryland, all of them riding over vast acreage, much of it private. On top of all this, of course, we also have National Forest and state forest lands which are generally amenable to hunting. Hounds are routinely run on both bear and (in Virginia) deer as well.


Anonymous said...

Hopefully there will always be some die-hards that will keep hunting with hounds going, but in most of the country(except some vast tracts out West), you cannot go anywhere that there isn't a road or someone's house within a few miles. Good trail hounds range for miles and miles, and they almost certainly will cross a few roads on any outing, and if you run hounds enough, you will have some tradgedies. Of course, there is an element of risk to anything, but whenever I take my hounds out for a run, I am on pins-and-needles the whole time worrying about them--not much fun for me. I suppose with fox hunting on horseback, where the hounds are kept close in a tight pack, the accident rate may not be as high, but fox hunting where the "hunters"(really more like concert attendees, actually!)sit around a fire while the hounds range out on their own, have lots of casulties these days(unless of course, they are running their dogs in the aforementioned pens). I also lived for many years in an isolated(for the Eastern states) place on the N.C./Tenn. border, deep in the Appalachian mountains, and I felt a bit safer there running my hounds, but not much more....I knew lots of bear hunters that had dogs hit on highways there, too, including one unfortunate fellow that had just bought an already trained bearhound(a nice Redbone)for $2000. dollars, and it got hit and killed by an automobile the FIRST time he took it hunting! Some hunters don't get emotionally attached to their hounds--they are just tools, and if the tool breaks, they just get another one. Not me, it tears me up to lose a dog, so in the future I plan to just aquire dogs that are quiet and stick close, so I can better protect them on our outings....L.B.