This past January my Tennessee Valley Hunt went on the road for a Joint Meet with Belle Meade. We traveled with our professional huntsman Ryan Johnsey, ten couple of our Penn-Marydel hounds, four Joint Masters about a dozen members. We went south to Georgia to hunt with Belle Meade and then off to the east over the Smoky Mountains to hunt with Red Mountain in the North Carolina. Any time one travels to foxhunt then adventures will abound. Due to these Joint Meets, I now have two new items to knock off my bucket list: 1) survived hunting in the pitch dark of night; and 2) was tutored on to how to fish for coyotes.
It had been four years since Tennessee Valley had visited Belle Meade. We had such a legendary hunt back then, and we were all so excited to hunt with the lovely people of Belle Meade again in late January 2014.
Belle Meade hunts later in the day than most hunts; they start at about 3 pm. Epp Wilson, MFH and Huntsman, hunts based on the fact that as the temperature drops at the end of the day, then the scent continues to improve. Of course this means that the last run of the day happens in the ever deepening dusk, and hacking back to the meet in the pitch dark is very common to the Belle Meade members.
I was told that the gate we were looking for that lead to the kennels was “under that star up yonder”. I realized why all of their coops have the top board painted white. It’s so the horses can see how high to jump when the hounds are on a run after dusk!
Belle Meade’s crossbreds and our Penn-Marydels hunted very well together. About thirty minutes into the hunt, we spied a grey fox in the woods about 20 yards from us. I was right behind as “Tally Ho” was called, but since I was sitting on 12.1 hands tall Ziggy, I couldn’t see over pine scrub enough to spy the fox myself. The hounds were harked to the spot and picked up the grey for a strong, if short lived chase. The grey went into about a 25 acre-section of the territory that Belle Meade cannot follow. We waited to see if the pack would chase him out of that little bit of land, but alas, Reynard was too smart for that. So the huntsmen had to go in to knock the pack off. Epp was very pleased at the grey fox run, for they haven’t seen any greys in their territory for quite a while.
After each night of hunting, we were invited to a cocktail party given by Jean Derrick. She has a cozy hunt box, where we told tall tales about hunting trips to Ireland. Ms. Jean also mixed for us these amazing Hot Buttered Rums and Syllabubs. Ms. Jean’s Syllabub was so good that I really don’t remember what was in it. Ms. Jean’s hospitality, charm, and un-ending generosity are second to none. The lady is a gem.
After the last day of hunting, we meet for the hunt breakfast in the Belle Meade Clubhouse, where Epp and his Joint Masters Charlie Lewis and Gary Wilkes had a gift to give TVH Joint Master Grosvenor Merle-Smith that harked back to our last Joint Meet in 2010. The pack had just accounted for a big, black coyote, and Gro went down on foot to the pack. Since it was raining on that hard Georgia clay soil, he slipped and slid down the hill without his horse. Gro had to wrestle the coyote away from the hounds. He finally got the smoky coyote up over his head with both hands while all the hounds leapt up on him, trying to tug it back down. That’s when Gro realized that he had no horn (it with his horse) and there was no cell-phone or GPS reception in the bottom of that ravine. No one, including himself, had any clue where he was. He would climb a few feet up the slope before the hounds would jump up to grab a hold of their prize and drag both of them back down. Finally someone heard Gro’s rebel yells and helped him out of the ravine. Gro brought the coyote draped over the pommel of his saddle back to Epp. All you could see of Gro were his grinning teeth under his hunt cap and the rest of him covered in paw prints.
The Joint Masters of Belle Meade named this spot “Grovsenor’s Hill”.