Former University Chancellor Stephen R. Portch, 62, knew from a young age that he had to hunt. He specificallyplanned his career so that it ensured him the ability to one day have his own pack of hounds. The Master of Foxhounds and Huntsman for the Hard Away Whitworth Hounds of Greensboro, AL spends his days attending to the 35 ½ couple crossbred hounds, in addition to advising institutes of higher learning. Portch has generated a fiercely dedicated following, with membership representing five states and perhaps a couple of time zones.
e-Covertside: Tell us a bit about your pack of hounds.
Stephen: We are disciples of Ben Hardaway and the crossbred, with the foundations of our pack being Midland and Fox River Valley bloodlines. Our crossbreds have a little bit of everything in them and our focus is clearly on performance, not beauty.
We also adhere to Hardaway’s dictum: ”Have as much July blood in your pack as you can stand.” And, I like my hounds to be like my favorite singer, Tina Turner. She has the drive, voice, and stamina I want in my pack.
e-Covertside: How did you become involved with hunting?
Stephen: As a young boy in England, I was on a debate team that argued against foxhunting. A friend heard that and invited me to go hunting with him. It only took one time, and I was hooked. From then on, I spent hours in the kennel and hunt field and dreamed of having my own pack of hounds one day. I planned my career to make that possible.
e-Covertside: Three things you never hunt without are:
Stephen: My hounds, although they sometimes leave me in their wake; a custom designed belt that can be used as a rein, stirrup leather, or leash; and my heavily dented antique horn.
e-Covertside: What makes your territory unique? What types of modifications have you made/will you make for this territory?
Stephen: Our territory has a lot of commercial catfish ponds. Southerners like their catfish fried. Coyotes don’t care; they like catfish sushi. So we have a lot of game, small coverts, and a plenty of open pastures and plough. So the pace can be blistering and viewing the game and hounds is pretty much a given. We have built a pack around speed, drive, and stamina which also applies to the type of horse you need. Unfortunately, the open country and speed of the coyotes mean we have to resort to radios, tracking collars, and GPS technology, and we rely on skilled road whips to ensure safety.
e-Covertside: What are your goals for the pack and for the organization?
Stephen: I’d like our pack to be recognized as a highly professional organization that takes its hunting very seriously, yet embraces and encourages newcomers to hunting. Our members are in five different states, and the average member drives three hours one way, with several regularly driving five hours. Our members are dedicated and fun loving.
e-Covertside: Any memorable experiences you’d like to share?
Stephen: The most memorable experience was when hounds ran a coyote hard from the Kennels meet. As our coyotes often do, he took to the water when he tired. This particular water was a 53 acre catfish pond. What the coyote did not know is that our hounds get to swim every day in catfish ponds, so they are Olympic swimmers. The whole pack followed him into the pond, speaking as one with every stroke, as they swam their famous doggy paddle! We watched in amazement from the shore for over half an hour. My nephew, who is the first whip, jumped off his horse and launched a boat to ensure no hounds drowned from exhaustion! It was a sight and sound not soon forgotten.