Inevitably the frozen ground puts an end to the fall hunt season in northern climes. All good things must come to an end. But wait, does it have to be so? What's this title that you see? Riding to hounds in pursuit of armadillos?
Well, yes. It's not quite what you might expect but indeed the rider is mounted. The hounds are smaller than the ones you usually ride behind. There is a quarry even though it doesn't look much like your beloved fox or the not-so-beloved coyote. There is plenty of excitement, a few dangers and it is live hunting with more risk for the hunter than for the hunted. And above all, the ground is not frozen and your fingers and toes are always warm.
The hounds are Jack Russell Terriers, the mount is an adult tricycle and the quarry, although unseen in this photo, is that creature left over from pre-historic days, the common armadillo.
It all began as a way in which to satisfy the demands of the Inexhaustible Jack Russells, Sallie and Simon. Come four o'clock every day they would hunt me down wherever I was about the property and say, in effect, "Come on Dad, it's time that we had our exercise". Woe betide you if you didn't meet their request, if you wanted a peaceful evening that is.
Like most communities in Florida, our dogs are expected to be exercised on a leash. To provide Jack Russells with enough exercise on a leash it is necessary to do a lot of walking and at a pace to suit their enthusiasm. The use of a three wheeled trike with the dogs on an extended leash seemed to be the natural solution. They immediately grasped the idea the very first time they were fitted with their shoulder harnesses. Coupled together like an old foxhound teaching a new entry, they took off at great speed. I quickly found that pedaling the trike is unnecessary except on uphill situations which, of course, are few and far between in Florida.
The "hunt country" is on the undeveloped but paved roads which are only too common in some sections of Florida. These traffic-free roads are usually bordered by about twenty feet of grass verges on each side. These have become favorite feeding grounds for armadillos.
This is how it works. On a twelve foot fixed leash, we cruise these quiet back roads. The secret of success is stealth, surprise and rapid acceleration. Unlike a pack of foxhounds, there is no hound music, just the squish of the tires on the pavement. We cover the territory at a steady dog trot of about 8 miles per hour. On the sighting of an armadillo the charge commences. Rapid acceleration to about 20 miles an hour is required to reach the armadillo before it can cover the twenty feet to the sanctuary of the palmettos. As the charge suddenly erupts it is important to keep one hand on the brakes in order to pull the dogs up short just as they reach their armadillo. In this way we avoid actual contact with the quarry and the possibility of picking up fleas and ticks. Also our friend is likely to be there again on the next occasion if we do no more than startle him.
There is little risk to the dogs or the armadillos. There is a greater risk to the rider and his mount. The possibility of a tumble occurs when the trike goes "off piste" as skiers would call it. Smooth pavement is one thing but the rough tussocks and ditches of the grass verges is another.
Even greater risk occurs when the game switches to a squirrel or a rabbit crossing the road at right angles and the Jacks execute a 90 degree turn at speed. Three wheels are not enough to hold the trike upright and a spill is a distinct possibility. Perhaps even a more hair-raising thrill occurs when the squirrel or rabbit takes off in a straight line down the road. The ride becomes exhilarating as the speed increases to perhaps 25 miles per hour and even the full application of that little rubber brake pad is not enough to hold a runaway trike.
On a typical hunt day we set out at around five pm. as the evening shadows begin to form and the nocturnal armadillos come out to feed. We cover two or three miles of back roads before blowing for home. On a good day we can expect to have about four sightings (finds) resulting in perhaps three "charges" of which one can usually be deemed a "kill", simulated of course.
Upon calling it a day, the bicycle bell is rung, the hounds are boxed up and pedaled back to the kennels in the basket behind the trike's saddle. As evening falls, kennel rations are issued and the master (MJR) is able to pour his scotch and soda and watch the evening news. Another great day's hunting and a quiet evening follows with the two Jacks subdued and happily dreaming about the one that got away.