Just think of it: 13 different hunts pick their top five hounds, and those 65 hounds are put together to form a Super Pack, and then you get to ride your horse to witness their awesome hunting prowess and incredible music. It’s the stuff foxhunting dreams are made of, and that’s the Sedgefield Hunt (NC) Carolinas Foxhound Performance Trial, held for the past 11 years in Hoffman, NC, just south of Southern Pines. Over the years just about all the foxhunters return every season, so that many have become fast friends and call the weekend the Foxhunters Annual Family Reunion.
The venue for the trial is the J. Robert Gordon Field Trial Area, a 9,000 acre parcel created to be the premier facility for bird dog field trials. Featuring a clubhouse, kennels, stable, many sand roads and firelanes amidst open piney woods and bird dog courses, it’s a natural location for a mounted foxhunting performance trial. Sedgefield Master and huntsman Fred Berry is also Master of Ceremonies, and the voice and humor for the weekend. Secretary and whipper-in Jan Sorrells is in charge of the trial and all the planning, food and registration. Our other two Masters, Rich Weintraub and Martin Schlaeppi, were backed up by our wonderful hardworking members, with four of our social members doing an amazing job in the kitchen. Our whippers-in Elaine Berry and Chris Moll were invaluable help with all the hounds.
Huntsman Lincoln Sadler takes out the combined pack on Day One. Jan Sorrells photo.
Participating hunts were Camden Hunt (SC), Goshen Hounds (MD), Green Creek Hounds (NC), Last Chance Hounds, Lowcountry Hunt (SC), Mecklenburg Hounds (NC), New Market-Middletown Valley Hounds (MD), Red Mountain Foxhounds (NC), Red Oak Foxhounds (VA), Rockbridge Hunt (VA), Sedgefield Hunt, Stonewall Hounds (VA) and Wiggins Hounds (SC). As the trailers pull up and horses and hounds are settled in, the task turns to hound numbering with hair dye. It’s more of a “paint party” and the sound of laughter echoes across the grounds—to be heard all weekend. Claudia Coleman of Moore County Hounds (NC), brought her great bluegrass band to kick off the cocktail party, followed by the judges meeting. Next we moved on to the Calcutta and dinner. Elaine Berry had procured logos for all participating hunts and had banners made of them which were hanging throughout the clubhouse, and they were a hit with everyone.
The hounds are judged on hunting, trailing, full cry and marking. The numbers collected by the judges are put into a computerized scoring system provided through the MFHA, and capably entered by our Chris Moll. It gives the results for each day and tabulates the overall winners for the trial. Also, based on the time of day scores were entered, it selects the top hounds for endurance, those who were hard at it late in the time period.
This year the very knowledgeable Lincoln Sadler, Moore County huntsman and master of his own beagle pack, returned as huntsman. For 25 years, Lincoln worked for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and was in charge of the field trial grounds, so to have him hunting the lands he knows so well is a huge bonus. This is the fourth time Lincoln has hunted the hounds for the trial, and we surely were not disappointed. Every other year an independent huntsman is selected from another hunt.
It is always so amazing how all these hounds (a duke’s mixture of Penn-Marydels, American, English and Crossbred hounds) from separate hunts pack up together and move off as one pack, but they do. The first day it takes a bit longer for hounds to settle in and Lincoln headed down the sand road a bit to get all together and give the judges time to get into place. The very capable Cameron Sadler, joint Master of Moore County Hounds and North American Field Hunter Champion, was the head trial judge, and she rode up hard accordingly. Also judging were Greg Thompson, Mitzi Cabeen, Larry Pitts, Barbara Lee, Allison Howard and Buck Wiseman.
Lincoln Sadler and hounds from 13 different hunts. Tara Clark photo.
After a steady start, hounds were moved away from a paved road. In Lincoln’s words, “Hounds began trailing again and a short time later Red Mountain road whips get a view. There is an art to laying hounds on to a view and when it is done correctly it is a thing of beauty..... The line goes straight into a prescribed burn area. The 60,000 Sandhills Game Land, of which the J. Robert Gordon Field Trial Area is part, conducts about 15,000 acres of prescribed burns a year beginning in January.... This particular burn has had some rain on it and the hounds are able to pick their way through and when they hit an unburned area, the wheels fell off the wagon. Freed of scenting constraints and a nose full of coyote they leapt ahead, leaving huntsman, judges and the field far behind. Struggling to catch up I hear road whips calling that 24 couple had passed in a knot over roads two miles ahead. Consulting judges, they call it a day and I make my way back to the fieldhouse.” The trucks went to pick up hounds.
After everyone put away their horses, a hearty breakfast was served in the clubhouse, and most went to take a rest before the evening’s festivities. We were so pleased to have with us this year our new MFHA Executive Director David Twiggs and his lovely daughter Salem. David spoke with us at the cocktail party about his vision for the future of foxhunting and the MFHA, and told us about the new home for the MFHA. He and his daughter ably rode and we got him to pitch in judging hounds.
The Saturday night festivities included the ever popular “Cutest Huntsman Award.” It’s been fun to watch over the years, as very shy huntsmen who really didn’t want to play, have now really “gotten into it” and have no compunction about getting up and giving us all a great laugh. Last year’s winner was Robert Taylor of Goshen Hounds, who won with his dance and a pink feather boa. It was his turn to prescribe what was to be done. He said they were to cross dress and recite a six-line poem. Tot Goodwin of Green Creek Hounds is still quite reticent about all this, and when he wasn’t really dressed for the part, foxhunters jumped on him with jeweled earrings, lipstick and the like. So, much to his chagrin, Tot was declared “Cutest Huntsman” for this year. Laura Lindamood of Moore County Hounds won the whip-cracking contest. Our friends to the North said they were really pleased to have our own Carolina barbecue and homemade fruit cobblers for dinner.
Fred Berry congratulates Tot Goodwin on winning "Cutest Huntsman." Jan Sorrells photo.
It is worth noting that with the open spaces and open piney woods, even with big fields everyone gets in on the action and gets to see hound work. With the gentle slopes above the drains where the hounds are working, the Huntsman’s and the Master’s Fields are close to the judges, followed closely by first flight. But instead of one long line, 2nd and 3rd flight can come across above them on the hillside, so everyone gets to see. Even though I was in charge of the trial, I took off my organizer’s hat and had a blast being an apprentice judge, riding up and scoring hounds myself. However, Lincoln, knowing that I am a whipper-in, several times asked me to bring hounds to him when he decided to change direction. These top hounds are such pros, that even though they don’t know me and I wasn’t carrying a whip (what with my radio, recorder and camera) when I rode over to them, told them to “Leave it,” and to “Get back to him,” they all lifted and came with me back to Lincoln—several times. What a kick that was—but I had to remember that these are the best of the best from each pack and they know their business.
On Sunday, Lincoln picks it up. “The hounds are different this morning—the edge is gone from Saturday’s run and they are packing in nicely. I sent the Sedgefield Ninja Whipper-In [Elaine Berry] off to the far side of the first cover as she had been there before and always puts herself in the right place. More times than I can count I have looked at a spot and thought, ‘Now right there is where I need a whipper-in’ and sure enough she is already there. The hounds open once again and judges race in to get scores and find themselves in a bottleneck with hounds racing away.... The Ninja turns her head for a split second and when she looks back she sees that judge Allison Howard has had a quick view. That is all this gray fox allows as it hangs tight to the cover til it crosses a dirt road with hounds in full cry. I coerce three judges with me and we slip through the woods and get right with the hounds and rack up some solid full cry points. The fox then leads up into the piney wiregrass uplands where the field and the rest of the judges join us and more scores are added. In this upland area the “Huntsman’s Choice” designee came to me easy. Dropping out of the upland to the greenery of the wetlands the hounds hit a loss. Searching for some way to assist I anxiously watch hounds for some indicator. Sure enough, Sedgefield Mailbox, my Huntsman’s Choice from three years ago, ranges forward and says, ‘Hey bro, try this way!’ I rally the hounds and they seize the line again and surge forward in full cry.”
After another big breakfast, awards were presented with lots of ribbons to give out for superlative efforts. Best overall hound was again Sedgefield Mailbox, our dream hound which was bred by Red Mountain and drafted to us as a one-year-old. Fred said, “Mailbox is a once-in-a-lifetime hound. I am honored to have been able to hunt him for eight seasons.” He’s now travelled up and down the east coast to other hunts, making “little Mailboxes.” The big prize for Overall Best Pack, the “Sedgefield Cup” went to Lili Wykle’s Stonewall Hounds. As Master and huntsman for Stonewall, Lili has carefully bred, raised and trained all of these five beautiful American hounds. Per Lili, “The whole weekend was the best of times from the excellent hunting to the most outstanding group of people I’ve ever met or had the pleasure to be associated with. The extra activities and awards were fun, fun, fun.”
We’ll see you all again for the next Reunion in 2018.