The first weekend in February of 2014 my Tennessee Valley Hunt was invited to bring our hounds east to North Carolina to hunt for two days with the Red Mountain Hounds. That first day of hunting the pack had to work for it. Garry and Ryan cast the pack for about three hours until the hounds hit. And when those Penn-Marydels hit, they hit. The pack ran a coyote for about an hour and a half before it was over.
Garry Riggs, Joint Master and Huntsman for the Red Mountain Hounds, was leading my huntsman, Ryan Johnsey, down the steep cliff through thick cover. Below was the iced-over Flat River and a combined pack of eighteen and a half couple of Penn-Marydel hounds from both hunts. They were in full cry as they bayed their coyote on the icy river bank.
The huntsmen were on foot, sliding/falling down the back of the ridge to reach the pack below. Top boots, as it turns out, do not make for great hiking apparel. But their slick soles do help facilitate the skiing down steep bluffs in thawing leaf litter at ever increasing speed when hounds are screaming for their huntsmen to hurry up!
Let this be a lesson learned to those who gave up at the two hour and forty-five minute mark to hack back to the trailers. The only good excuse to leave a hunt before the huntsman calls it a day is if the helicopter pilot takes you away. A hurricane downpour is marinating your very expensive saddle (not to mention your knickers)? Non-hunting In-Laws are due to arrive at your house that day expecting something for Thanksgiving besides left over pizza? Still fuzzy from braining a large live oak and flipping your horse on top of you? It doesn’t matter the reason – you STAY OUT HUNTING. Because you know that the second you go in that the hounds will hit, and you will miss out on something great. Maybe even epic. And everyone will talk about it; everyone, that is, except you.
The next day we hunted from the Red Mountain kennels into the Hill Forest territory, which is a 2,000-plus acre teaching forest held by the North Carolina State University. Garry and Ryan cast the hounds first by the frozen pond guarded by two very icy swans. After that, we went further into the Forest to cast by the bank of the Flat River, still frozen over even though the temperatures were reaching 50 degrees that morning. Thirty minutes into the hunt, hounds opened up on the river bank. A coyote was jumped on our side of the river, and he ran across the ice to run up the very steep ridge on the other side. All hounds were on.
We jumped some down trees on the windy path and then splashed into the river, which was about hock high. We avoided as much of the ice and big rocks as we could, and then ran up the wide trail on the other side to blast up to the top of that ridge. Over the course of an hour or two, the pack roared in circles around us, never going that far away. This coyote was very obliging.
The coyote left the river again to cross a gravel road where he was viewed. The Field jumped a coop or two on the tight, twisty turns of the trails. The coyote teased us by bringing the pack ever so close to the Field, but he remained hidden from us beyond the pines even though the pack was so close that I had goosebumps from their loud music. We went back and forth over the gravel road to ford the river again, only to cross back and charge up the same hill to start another loop.
After topping that same hill again, we could hear the hounds down below at the same place on the river where they picked up the coyote. So we raced down the hill to the river crossing and back down to the same trail until Second Field, hidden in the cover on the river bank, hollered for us to stop. Ronnie King, Joint Master of Red Mountain, had his Second Field down on the river bank. They got to see the coyote come down off the ridge on the opposite bank and try to cross the ice of the river, coming towards the Field. Six hounds were right on his tail, and they all fell through the ice. The coyote was accounted for in the river.
A very short video shot by a member in Second Field provided the testimony of who were the lead hounds that went after the coyote into the river: three were Red Mountain hounds, and three were Tennessee Valley hounds. First Flight just missed the plunge, but Second Field got the view that legends are made of.
While this was going on, Garry and Ryan were still up on top of the ridge and decided it would be quicker for them to climb down the ridge thanracing down the hill to the river crossing, far down stream. That decision, turns out, was not as quick as they thought it would be. They never made it down off the cliff and then had to endure turning around to climb back up to their horses. Their top boots were of no help going up either.
Carol Riggs, Red Mountain Honorary Secretary, Whipper-In, and wife of Garry, was on the river bank with their professional kennelman and Whipper-In Drew Daly. Drew had just been hired the week before to be Red Mountain’s professional huntsman for next season. He was also less than 24 hours recovered from a case of extraordinarily bad food poisoning. His face was rather green, as opposed to flesh colored, and I’m not quite sure how he got into the saddle that morning as the dawn report on his condition didn’t include “upright”.
But he was determined not to miss the day’s hunting. Unless the helicopter pilot straps you into the gurney, you never miss a minute of hunting! Drew would have missed this if he had done what any intelligent, sane, and obviously boring non-hunting man would have done and stayed in bed. Drew didn’t stay in bed this day – instead, he went fishing.
Drew got off his horse on the other side of the river and made it to the tree on the bank where the break in the river ice marked the coyote. I placed myself right opposite of him, still on the other side of the river with my camera.
Drew tested out the tree roots and then how deep the water was in the ice hole. I was hoping for a shot of him wading into the icy river, when he instead stepped out onto the ice. He was right on the edge of the break of the ice when he started throwing a hunt whip, stag horn first, out into the river. When he leaned over the edge of the ice to get a better throw, I started to grin mischievously and held down the shutter of the camera to capture the inevitable splash his top boots would make as they broke through the ice. I was waiting for the epic photo.
But I guess Drew must have lost quite a bit of weight during his bout of food poisoning the day before, because the ice held him up in the dry. I will admit that I was mildly disappointed. After making numerous throws, he finally caught the coyote with his whip and fished him out.
There are no adventures like the ones we experience while foxhunting. Who knew your hunting kit was incomplete without a star chart and a fishing pole?