In early January, Wayne Thrush, our family friend who takes me hunting, told me that his horse, Bailey, turned up lame, the result of a pulled hip muscle. The prescription: time off, then light work building up to a regular working schedule. I knew it might be a while until we were able to get back out hunting. Of course, road whipping was always an option, but who knew when Mr. Wayne’s schedule would be open? That’s okay…deep breath…I would find a way to survive. I asked Facebook friends for updates on hunts, added a few pictures of hounds to my dorm room wall, kept reviewing my hound list…but one day, I found myself researching hound pedigrees in class. It was like one second I was taking notes on the rhetorical triangle, and the next I was immersed in the MFHA website! I don’t even know how it happened! Something’s got to give soon, I thought. Needless to say, when Mr. Wayne e-mailed me about road whipping at a fixture I’ve never been to, it took me all of three seconds to respond with, “YES!”
The day started early; I rose at 5:20, Mr. Wayne and I left for the hunt at 6, and we arrived at the fixture at 8:20. It was a damp 50 degrees, with overcast skies and a heavy chill sitting in the air. Rain was in the forecast, so I came prepared with my black rain boots and Dri-Duck heavy coat. Hounds set out for the first draw at 9 am sharp, while “Decoy” Dave, his wife, Sarah, Mr. Wayne and I figured out where we needed to be first.
The first draw started at 9:15, and hounds struck not too long after. The first 20 minutes or so of the hunt were spent driving up and down a dirt road, trying to figure out where hounds were heading. Finally, we heard Shakerag’s huntsman, John Eaton, come over the radio that he needed road whips further up the dirt road as soon as possible, and not to let hounds cross. We all quickly loaded up into Mr. Wayne’s black F250, and shot up the dirt road, where we promptly spread out. We could hear hounds screaming as they ran up a hill of brush and low pine trees toward us, but we couldn’t see a thing through the thick vegetation. Their thrilling roar quickly grew stronger and louder as they came crashing towards us, and we were ready to stop them if they tried to cross. I paced back and forth, trying to guess where they would come out; I could feel the goose bumps rise on the back of my neck, as they always do when I hear the hounds cry. Just when we thought we would need to start making noise, suddenly, their voices changed directions, and started running parallel to the road. Whatever they were running, we had apparently turned.
So we sped back towards where we had come from; we saw a few moments of a frantic huntsman trying to make sure his hounds were running together with two whips in tow, and we went on to try to get ahead of the hounds. Somebody came over the radio that 3 or 4 couple had crossed the dirt road, so huntsman John Eaton went ahead with them, and we were told to not let any other hounds cross. As he said that, we turned around, and saw the tails of maybe 2 or 3 hounds disappear into the woods. Great. Decoy Dave started running up the hill where the hounds had crossed, and Mr. Wayne and I were not far behind. But as we were running up the road, we saw another hound cross, too far ahead for us to be able to stop. Of course, once we got there, no other hounds showed up, so we quickly moved on to a new post.
Hounds raced after a coyote for roughly 1 ½ hours, until it eventually went out of country. When our road whip crew caught up with John Eaton around 11:30, he was trying to collect the hounds that had gotten strung out from the fast pace. He had 3 couple with him at the time; we had gone out with 16 ½. Now, Shakerag hunts a pack of PennMarydel hounds mixed with Crossbreds, and a few English. John asked me to take his horse from him before he set out on foot to try to collect the hounds, but before he left, he looked at us and said, “You see these hounds here? They’re all crossbreds except for one PennMarydel, the rest of which are still with the rest of the pack! And who says the PennMarydel can’t run!”
After 30-40 minutes of bushwhacking his way through woods and treading through cow pastures, John returned with the same six hounds he’d had before. Two eventually came trotting in, and MFH Dick Washburn came by and picked up the eight total with his horse trailer. Whipper-in Theresia Moser ponied John’s horse back to the meet site, Mr. Wayne and John set out in his truck with collar tracker and horn in hand, and Mr. Washburn, Decoy Dave, Mrs. Sarah, and I set out to pick up a few more hounds. And so the great hound round up began.
When we met up with John and Mr. Wayne later, John did a head count and figured out we were missing ten hounds. The next hour and a half was spent driving around hunt country, collar tracker hanging out the window, periodically stopping so I could read each collar number off of the hound list to John. Landowners who were road whipping with us that day, Mr. David and Mr. Randy, hunt bear with their dogs, so they used their truck, with a sort of built-in crate to pick up hounds and return them to the meet site. Around 1:00, we picked up a white hound named Delta. As Mr. Wayne and I put down the tailgate to his truck and started calling to her, she jogged over to the truck cab, and started poking her head inside, “YOU guys ride in the back. I’M riding on a nice leather seat!”
Maybe 15 minutes later, we found Damson. John wanted to keep moving, so he left me with her to wait for Mr. David to come pick us up. A fatigued Damson, quite content to rest and be rubbed on for a while, sat with me while we waited on a little red dirt hill for our ride. Too exhausted to try chasing after the truck that took her daddy away, Damson leaned all of her weight on my side, and started to doze off as I reached around with my right hand to scratch behind her ear. Shortly after Mr. David picked us up, we intersected Mr. Wayne and John, and I hopped back in the truck.
At this point, we were down to three missing hounds, and we were pretty sure they were all in the same area. However, we were not sure we had permission to go onto this land, so we sat by the locked gate, with John standing in the truck bed, blowing on the horn, calling each hound by name, blowing the horn again, calling, “Saber! Cooooome on!” A few more soundings of the horn and, “Muuuunchkin! Muuuunchkin!” Another loud blast on the horn, “Tracer Tracer!” Mr. Wayne scanned the area with binoculars, and I tried my best to see as far up and down the road as I could. About 20 minutes later, Tracer cantered back to us down the shoulder of the road, and about 5 minutes later, a rather tired Munchkin popped out of the woods. John figured Saber would be near, so he kept calling him.
Mr. David loaded Tracer and Munchkin into their truck. John blew another note on the horn, and right after it ended, we all heard a loud howl from down the road. We all turned, and low and behold, the little black and brown speck that was Saber was slowly making his way toward us, saying, “YOU’RE the one with the truck, YOU come get ME!” When Saber made it back to us, he shot past Mr. Wayne, breezed by John, didn’t even blink at me, and ran right up to the Mr. David’s truck! “Take me home!”
At the end of the day, John, Mr. Wayne and I pulled back into the meet a little after 2:00. Most members had left, or were on their way out, but there was still some food left from the breakfast. That’s when I realized I was REALLY hungry. Apparently, 3 granola bars at 5:30 am don’t hold you over very well. Some said that they hoped to see Mr. Wayne and I on horseback next time, but we didn’t miss any of the action that day; we got to have experiences we may not have had if we had been a part of the field. I didn’t miss a beat of the hunt that day; our mount went everywhere we asked him to without complaint, had a comfortable seat, and cup holders! We just had a horse of a different color model!