“You’re seriously going to hunt tomorrow?” my mom’s jaw nearly dropped to the floor when I told her my plan to rise well before dawn the next day and make the 2-hour drive out to the Long Creek territory.
“Yeah! I don’t have class until 2:00 on Tuesday, so I figured I can hunt tomorrow, stay at home tomorrow night, and just drive back to school Tuesday morning.” I was home for the long weekend, and since Shakerag Hounds would be heading out to hunt on Martin Luther King Day and my academic schedule sort of allowed for it, I figured I might as well go, too.
My mom gave me a confused sort of smile and simply responded, “Um. Okay dear, just be quiet when you get up in the morning,” and returned to her dinner.
Fast forward a little over twelve hours and hounds were absolutely flying after a coyote at Long Creek. I was in my CRV, and although recent rains had done some incredible damage to the dirt roads, so far the little car was doing just fine. At one point, tire tracks were running about a foot and a half deep down a significantly long stretch of road, leaving me and the other road whips with a rather narrow section of road to travel on by driving with the car straddling one canyon while the other ran right alongside the driver’s door.
But with the worst of the road behind me, I was headed towards a road called Dunk Hill. Hounds were headed that way. Fast. And Shakerag’s professional whipper in, Kelly Eaton, wasn’t going to make it there in time; she was on a new horse, and she felt him tiring quickly as she tried to reach the road. Road whips Decoy Dave and Nancy Amato were already there, but they needed backup to turn the game, so I was to get there ASAP.
I glanced at Kelly as I passed her on Tom Walton Road, and as I turned right onto Dunk Hill, I heard Kelly’s voice over the radio, “Autumn, pass Decoy, pass Nancy, and get to Sid’s!”
Shakerag’s professional huntsman, John Eaton, promptly came on the radio at this point, “Do NOT let hounds cross! I repeat, do NOT let hounds cross, not a single one!”
Okay then. I zoomed along Dunk Hill. Only problem? I hadn’t even the slightest idea as to who/what/where a “Sid’s” is. And there was no time to ask on the radio, because it was filled with updates from whipper in John Greenfield, who happened to be closest to the hounds at this point, and further instructions from John and Kelly Eaton. Not to mention I was pushing 50 mph on a dirt road and handily navigating between potholes as the wind whipped through my car and I fought to stay calm while occasionally exclaiming, “I don’t know what Sid’s is!” to the emptiness in my CRV.
I zoomed past Nancy Amato and sped past Decoy Dave. Decoy called over on the radio, “Go Autumn, get to Sid’s!” as I sped away from his post on Dunk Hill.
I knew this was the correct direction. And I knew Sid’s was somewhere around here since I had passed the two other road whips as Kelly had instructed. But how much farther do I have to go to get there? Is there time? What if I go right past the pack and they cross behind me? I half-heartedly hoped that there would be a building, a sign, a man wearing a hat that said, “Sid”, anything, something to signal where/what/who “Sid’s” is, knowing very well that there would be no such luck.
“Do NOT let them cross!” I heard John Eaton on the radio. “I don’t want a single hound to cross!”
But at this point I had realized wherever “Sid’s” was really didn’t matter at all. I mean, it would’ve been nice to know exactly where it was, but my job wasn’t really to get to Sid’s; no, the real task was to turn the game, preferably, but if not that, stop the pack from crossing.
So I pressed on, slowing down every now and again to listen for the hounds’ voices. After my third stop or so, I heard them not too far in front of me and thought I had seen something dashing between the trees to my right. I instantly stepped on the gas pedal to get ahead.
I increased my speed to nearly 40 mph, and suddenly it wasn’t the wind pouring in my windows that filled my ears. No, instead I was hit with a roar of hound music so loud that it drowned out all the noises from the breeze and my car bounding down the dirt road. I knew they were dangerously close since I could hear them at that speed, so I looked out the passenger window, and there they were! Tearing through the thickly wooded pine trees, I could only see flashes of hounds running maybe 30 or 40 feet parallel to me.
I slammed on the accelerator to get to the front of the pack. I kept staring out the window while trying to keep an eye on the road to keep up with the twists and turns in my own path, and began making noise. I leaned on my car horn and yelled and hollered for all I was worth while navigating the winding road in my own race against the pack and quarry. I have no idea how long I raced them; it probably wasn’t long at all, but my heart was ready to leap out of my throat and I yelled to the point that I thought I would surely lose my voice and prayed that somehow it would all work. I’ve helped the road whips turn game before, but never in quite this fashion, let alone a raced coyote that was running as fast and pushing his boundaries as hard as this one was today. Of course I was nervous it wouldn’t work; but adrenaline filled my veins more from the fact that I could see pack while they stormed through the woods, not letting the thick brush and pine trees slow them down a bit, and I was watching the lead hounds fly through the woods right next to me.
When I finally thought I had yelled enough to damage my vocal chords, I realized I suddenly couldn’t see the hounds anymore. I stopped my car, and then realized I could hear the hounds, but couldn’t see them. They were still in full cry. It was still loud, but significantly quieter than they were, and their voices were fading into the distance.
Good Lord. I think the game actually turned.
I sat there for a moment as my heart rate came back down to somewhat normal and I tried to catch my breath (who knew sitting in a car could be so strenuous!) but then John Eaton’s voice came in on the radio again. I realized I hadn’t heard anything on the radio recently since I had been so preoccupied with the pack running alongside my car, but I heard him say, “They’re headed back towards the original draw.”And with that, I laughed, “Haha! Yes!” threw my car into gear, whipped her back in the other direction, and headed off to my original post.
To this day, I’m still not entirely sure where/what/who a “Sid’s” is, but from what I understand, it’s an empty mud lot that I apparently passed on the way to finding the pack. Slightly anticlimactic? Yes. Important for future reference? Definitely. But even more importantly learned that day was that the key wasn’t necessarily getting to Sid’s; the key was getting to the head of the pack. Sid’s was just a reference point; the real task was to get to the pack, whether they were at Sid’s, before Sid’s, or past Sid’s, racing along at 30 mph down a winding road while honking and yelling like a psychopath. But I can guarantee one thing; I will never, ever, ever forget Sid’s now!