Our May story about the spring basset trials at Aldie, VA, was one of the website's most popular articles this year, and coverage of the bassets and beagles showing alongside foxhounds at Bryn Mawr garnered similar attention on our social media feeds in June. To follow up, we asked foxhunters who are active with both mounted and foot packs to share some of their experiences. Alasdair Storer, huntsman at New Market-Middletown Valley Hounds, Emily Melton, whipper-in at Howard County-Iron Bridge Hounds, and Bennett Barclay, Hermit Hollow Beagles, all in Maryland, offered their insights.
Melton, far left, whipping in with Hill and Hollow Bassets. Fellow staff, left to right, are Bill Bush, Carter Amigh, MBH, Rita Bush, and Robin Conrad. M. Drum photo.
Covertside Online: Briefly describe your foxhunting experience.
Melton: I hunted as a junior member with Howard County-Iron Bridge Hounds as a teenager, and was a staff groom and hunted in the field for about three years. I currently have been a professional whipper-in with them for the last eight years.
Storer: I grew up foxhunting sporadically in my childhood and entered professional hunt service as second whipper-in at the Avon Vale in Wiltshire in 1998. Climbed the ladder by serving apprenticeship at several other hunts in the UK and USA, including Tiverton Foxhounds Devon, UK, and the Blue Ridge Hunt in VA, and am currently in my fifth season as huntsman at New Market-Middletown Valley.
Covertside Online: How did you get started following a foot pack?
Barclay: Foxhunting was something I may have been born into, but it wasn’t something that I necessarily grew up with. My father was the huntsman of the Green Spring Valley for 20 years, but when he retired in 2001, I was still very young. We had a small pack of old beagles, mostly retirees from other packs. Dad would hunt them on foot, and that was the hunting where I could tag along. This is probably why it was the memory of the beagles more than anything else that lingered in the back of my mind for the rest of my life as I grew up. I eventually started following hounds with my father, but hunting didn’t really grab me in that capacity. I didn’t get it, and I didn’t even realize my ignorance.
In 2009, however, we got three old beagles from Joan Barrett, master of the Warrington in Pennsylvania, for me to hunt, and we’ve never looked back from there. Today, our Hermit Hollow Beagles are a thriving pack of hounds, and I have recently taken up a position with a pack of foxhounds, something that would never have occurred without the passion and drive that these beagles instilled in me.
Melton: When I started working for Master Roger Scullin and his wife, Marion, I started whipping in to the bassets. Marion and her daughter, Carter, had their own basset pack. We hunted the bassets every day we weren't foxhunting.
Storer: I'm told I came out of the womb part hound, as my family have many generations of Masters and huntsmen to packs of hounds, also a farming family. I hunted as a child at the Derby, Notts and Staffordshire beagles. Then family moved near my grandparents on the Welsh borders, where we hunted with the Glyn Celyn Beagles - my father and I whipped in, my mother and sister whelped brood bitches and walked pups on the farm. My school holidays were spent in either the Glyn Celyn kennels or the Old Berkeley Beagle Kennels. In My professional career I was very fortunate to spend several years as huntsman to the Newcastle and District Beagles in Northumberland, they are one of the best packs of hounds in the world.
Covertside Online: What are the biggest similarities, and differences, between mounted hunting and foot packs?
Melton: Hunting rabbits with bassets versus hunting foxes with foxhounds are very similar. It's basically the same exact idea. The differences are that the game is smaller and runs smaller, hence why you can be on foot for bassets [and still be able to keep up]. Hounds still need to be all on during a run, work together as a pack, be disciplined on riot, and be responsive to the huntsman's wishes.
Storer: Trick question. What is the one thing you can't go hunting without? Answer: Hounds (you sure as hell can go hunting without a horse, but I'm fairly certain you can't hunt without hounds). Other similarities are the comraderie, the enjoyment of being outdoors in God's beautiful country, listening to a pack of hounds running their quarry hard and with passion. If the song of a pack of hounds in full cry doesn't stir your blood and make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, it's time to take up golf.
Middletown Valley Beagles' founding Master James Farber, Sr., and Master and huntsman Alasdair Storer assess their hounds. Middletown Valley Beagles celebrate their 50th season this year.
As far as differences, you don't need a horse to go beagling, just outdoor clothing and comfortable footwear. Foxhounds require the horse and all, making it not as accessible to everyone, while beagling attracts everyday folk without the horse. Land-wise, beagling is more accepted by hardworking farmers and landowners who may not have horses themselves. With foxhounds you cover more ground and have a relationship with your horse. Some hunt to ride, others ride to hunt. For me, being in a unique situation of having a mounted pack and beagles, working and watching my hounds work hard, hunt true and run with drive as a team, there is nothing like the huntsman's relationship with his hounds. Happy hounds make for a happy huntsman.
Barclay: I do not think it is entirely unfair to say that the majority of foxhunters have probably never given the concept of foot-hunting any serious consideration. I do not mean this in any sort of malicious sense. Organized pack foot hunting is by far a minority sport in America, the most common quarry is the cottontail rabbit (as opposed to the superior hare of England and Ireland), and if one finds the joy of foxhunting more on the equine side of the sport than the hound side, certainly foot hunting has less abundant offerings.
It is in the hound work, however - the ability to observe and learn to appreciate the hard puzzle-solving work of our canine counterparts - that foot hunting truly shines. American foot packs tend to hunt cottontail rabbits, creatures that lay a very tenuous scent line and lay a labyrinthine maze of misdirection and falsehood in their elusive flight to confound even the best pack of hounds.
Covertside Online: What do you wish more foxhunters knew about foot packs?
Melton: Hunting with a foot pack brings more opportunities for people to hunt. Especially for newbies, people can see how hunting goes on a smaller scale and without a horse. It's a great opportunity to see hound work, up close and personal, and really learn about the sport in general.
Storer: Go back to my trick question. Beagles have, can and will produce as high a quality of sport as foxhounds do. Every foxhunter should go with foothounds at least once a season, to remind them of the essence of hunting: houndwork and venerie. Foothounds allow you to get up closer to the hounds to watch see and learn what's going on, without worrying about your horse or other field members' horses. Remember, you can't go hunting without hounds.
It's a fun way of introducing new and young or old people to hunting. It's great to see their reactions when they get to see a good pack of hounds at work.. Warms the heart when they turn back up with a check and and an offer of wanting to learn and help.
Barclay: Foxhounds and foot hounds may have specific differences, but at their core, hounds and hunting are all the same, no matter what breed or quarry is involved. These sports certainly have many differences, but they are all superficial, exterior color shading over the true heart and soul inside all of these sports, that being a love of hounds and hunting above all else. I hope that any foxhunter with the opportunity will take the time to spend a day with a pack of foot hounds, and take the time and effort to focus on what they are really seeing. If they do, I can promise that the next time they mount up with their pack of foxhounds, they’ll start to notice aspects of hound work that had escaped them for years, and this will make the experience more meaningful than they ever realized it could be.