Our Annual Pilgrimage to the Carolinas Cup Performance Trials
Three years ago, I, along with hunt members and friends from Stonewall Hounds, made my first trek down to Southern Pines for the Carolinas Cup Performance Hound Trials in Hoffman, NC. It was a fabulous weekend, and some of the best, fastest hunting I had ever experienced. After a weekend like that, of course we planned to come back the next year, and the next, and so on and so on. What started as way to get away from snow in Virginia has become an annual pilgrimage that our hunt looks forward to all season.
This past March, Fred Berry and his Sedgefield Hunt members hosted their fifth Carolinas Cup at the Sandhills Gamelands, in Hoffman, NC. The 9,000 acres of state-owned sandy trails, open longleaf pines and well-defined coverts that run along the creeks, called “heads”, make it an ideal place to run hounds and collect scores.
Because the territory is jump-free, many more people can enjoy riding in first flight and enjoy the fast, open galloping—which is not often possible in many areas where development has encroached on hunting territory.
At our opening cocktail reception, Fred explained how the weekend would go. He was quick to thank Lincoln Sadler from Moore County Hounds, and even made Lincoln an honorary member of Sedgefield Hunt, as he is an integral part of the Carolinas Cup. Fred also thanked the state of North Carolina for the use of the J. Robert Gordon Field Trial Grounds (housed in the Sandhills Gamelands), which has been a bird dog trial facility for 50 years.
“Lincoln knows game, and knows the facility and works hard to make this all happen,” Fred told participants at the opening dinner. Under the chairmanship of Jan Sorrells, the Sedgefield members also worked tirelessly to ensure there was enough food, drink and camaraderie to make everyone happy. I can’t think of a better group of people to make it happen—they are all friendly and welcoming, and Fred is a master emcee; always entertaining!
Fred also told us all how lucky we were to have Chad Wilkes as our trial huntsman. Chad was the huntsman from Camden Hunt, who will be moving to Virginia to hunt the hounds at Blue Ridge Hunt next season. Terms such as “gentleman,” “quality” and “top drawer” were flying around all weekend when describing this young huntsman. He’s unassuming and friendly, and that went a long way to make everyone feel like a part of the event.
One thing Fred has done for the last few years is to have the guest huntsman bring some of his own hounds. These hounds aren’t numbered and don’t compete, but as Fred says, “They love their man and that helps the other hounds who don’t know him to bond with him.” The other and primary benefit is that it gives the huntsman a barometer of whether there is a problem with riot. If the huntsman sees his hounds backing away from a run he is empowered to nip it in the bud, even if he didn’t see what the hounds were speaking on. That has helped immensely in not wasting time on a bad line.
This year Chad brought some good hounds and they helped him make a few tough calls. They also ran well. Bobby Reber, one of the judges, said he saw lots of hounds with no numbers (Chad’s hounds) running at the front.
Chad also did something different at the start of the first day’s hunt. He walked out the hounds on foot to bond with them. Fred recounts, “This generated a fair bit of eye rolling, but I told him he’s the boss and if that’s what he wants, that’s what we’ll do!” And walk, or actually run, down the hill with the pack he did! This created the most spectacular scene of the day, captured by the photographer, Tracy Kelsey. (photos are available at http://www.tracykelseyphotography.com/)
On the first day, hounds found a coyote and took off in full cry. Many of the field were thrown out on the wrong side of the covert, and as a result had to gallop hard and fast to catch up. The dry sand created clouds of dust, and most everyone came back looking like chimney sweeps—faces covered in gray, but white teeth flashing smiles that only come from that kind of a run following a pack in full cry.
Fred notes, “We take hunting very seriously, but we sure get silly at night!” One of the highlights of the first evening is the “Cutest Huntsman Award,” originally presented to Lili Wykle, of Stonewall Hounds, who Fred fondly described as “energetic and intense.” Last year Lili had passed it on to the crowd favorite, Anthony Gibbs, from Low Country Hunt. Anthony’s hunt members and friends teased him mercilessly about this all year, and Fred joked that Anthony was the happiest man in North Carolina to pass it on.
Anthony invited all the huntsmen up for another crowd vote. They overwhelmingly chose Mitzi Cabeen (one of the trial judges, and stand-in huntsman for her husband George at Smith Mountain Hounds). She graciously accepted her award with her best impression of the Miss America wave and a beaming smile.
Hound Trials & Scoring
Fred then turned the microphone over to Epp Wilson of Belle Meade. Epp started off by saying the number one rule of the weekend was to have fun. Performance Trials, he added, are a great way for hunts to play together, and they give an additional way to compare hounds outside of hound shows. Epp noted that this was the largest number of people and hunts participating, and about the largest number of hounds, and likely the biggest mounted Performance Trials in the country, if not the world.
He then explained a bit about the scoring. “The [hounds] beating the bushes and have their noses down and are working off in the tough places.” Trailing is when you have some hounds speaking, but not yet in full cry. Then of course you have full cry, which is when the hounds are running. Last is marking, if the quarry is put to ground (which we did not have at all during the trials weekend). He also said that he has never seen something like this happen before—but out of the 58 hounds that finished the first day, 57 hounds received hunting scores.
Having Epp at the event introduced an air of experience and authority, as his Belle Meade Performance Trial has become an event that other hound trials emulate.
The first day had been a big success, with great hunting and lots of hard riding. It rained that night, but thankfully tapered off during the next day’s ride.
The second day, hounds found a gray fox and members of the field were treated to what we all long for—the echoing chorus of 30+ couple of hounds making music as only they can. Most of the field also got a view of the gray that made for another exciting hunt.
After the hunt, as results were being tallied, hunts brought their best hounds up to the clubhouse for a bench show. Anne McIntosh, MFH, from Blue Ridge Hunt presided as judge, aided by Trial Huntsman, Chad Wilkes.
Huntsman’s Pick — a “Dream Team”
The last day’s and then overall results and awards were presented (full results can be found online here). “I’d be proud to have any one of these hounds in my pack. They were all great—it was like hunting a ‘Dream Team.’” Chad told the audience his overall huntsman’s pick was Stonewall Hounds’ Tenson (aka Potomac Tennyson). Chad noticed Tenson on the first day’s coyote chase. Hounds were all trailing and trying to work out the line. He saw Tenson straighten out that line up ahead of everyone else, then lead the pack screaming in full cry on the line.
It’s All About the Hounds
After the final results were tallied and awards presented, goodbyes were passed around, everyone sadly headed home. Friends were made, memories were created, and another weekend of fabulous hounds and hunting was put to bed—until next year’s Annual Pilgrimage back to the Carolinas Cup!
Grover Taylor from Stonewall Hounds sums it up by saying, “The thing that makes this weekend so great is that it’s all about the hounds.”
Mike Myers, Last Chance Hounds says, “This is just an amazing event every year and this year was no exception. If you get the chance to go to this event next year, even if you don’t have hounds involved, I would highly recommend it. The hospitality shown by Sedgefield and camaraderie of such a large group of Foxhunters just cannot be beat. Hats off to the Sedgefield folks and especially Fred Berry for a great weekend, and I will see you all next year!”
David Hyman, Full Cry Hounds says “By far, the most fun thing about the field trial was being around a group of people that loved foxhunting and enjoyed watching fox hounds work! There were no egos and everybody laughed, smiled and had a great time watching each other’s hounds. Just the way I like it! It was great to meet and talk to Jody Murtagh and David Raley. We have their bloodlines in our kennels and it was great to talk to them and watch their hounds hunt. I really enjoyed talking to Lili Wykle, she is a wonderful person and has a really sharp pack of hounds. I did not get a chance to talk to David Connor in depth about his hounds but I’ll tell you what . . . They draw hard! ”
1. Ed Fry, Flint Hill Hounds
2. Catherine Gunter, Aiken Hounds
3. Mitzi Cabeen, Smith Mountain Hounds
4. Bo Alley, Moore County Hounds
5. Epp Wilson, MFH Belle Meade
6. Bobby Reber, Flint Hill Hounds
1. Cedar Knob Hounds (PA) Albert Menefee, MFH (Doc Addis PMD)
2. Full Cry Hounds (AL) David Hyman (half PMD half Crossbred)
3. Last Chance Hounds (MD?) George Harne (Crossbred)
4. Longreen Foxhounds (TN) Susan Walker, MFH (PMD)
5. Low Country Hunt (SC) Anthony Gibbs (Crossbred)
6. Moore County Hounds (NC) Jodi Murtagh (PMD)
7. Red Mountain Hounds (NC) David Raley (PMD)
8. Rockbridge Hunt (VA) David Connor (Old Style Hardaway)
9. Sedgefield Hunt (NC) Fred Berry jt.MFH (PMDs)
10. Snickersville Hounds (VA) Todd Kerns (PMD)
11. Stonewall Hounds (VA) Lili Wykle, MFH (American & Crossbred)
12. Windy Hollow Hunt (NY) Doug Russell (Crossbred)
1. Rockbridge Lawyer
2. Rockbridge Lead
3. Stonewall’s Tenson (aka Potomac Tennyson)
1. Rockbridge Hunt
2. Full Cry Hounds
3. Red Mountain Hounds