The Sedgefield Hunt's annual spring performance trial delivered an exciting sunset to the 2012-13 hunting season for 10 competitive foxhound packs and 55 individual hounds. More than 125 human participants, at least 110 of them on horseback, followed the hounds through two days of blistering coyote chases. Attendees hailed from as far away as Quebec, and Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas and Alabama. Hounds from Camargo probably made the longest trek to compete.
Game abounds in the more than 9000 acres of the J. Robert Gordon Field Trial Area, which is used primarily for bird dog training and competitions. The facility is nestled in the 63,000+ acres of the Sandhills Gamelands of Hoffman, North Carolina. As manager of the grounds for the North Carolina Wildlife Commission, field trial huntsman Lincoln Sadler is intimately acquainted with the terrain and its inhabitants. Although the event is hosted by the Sedgefield Hunt, Sedgefield MFH Fred Berry is the first to thank the Moore County Hounds for sharing their territory. Huntsman Sadler whips in to Moore County Huntsman David Raley on a regular basis. Moore County MFH Cameron Sadler judged the bench portion of the field trial, and Raley also filled in as a judge on day two of the trial when one of the judges fell ill.
Chief judge for the event was Ed Fry, who hunts his Flint Hill Hounds on Maryland's Eastern Shore. He was joined by Coleman and Ginny Perrin of Virginia's Deep Run, Mitzi Cabeen of Smith Mountain, Bo Alley from Tennessee, and Gerald Movelle and David Raley from Southern Pines.
Saturday everyone woke to pouring rain, though the sky cleared approaching the 8 AM start. Hounds settled under Sadler's guidance and worked steadily in good scenting conditions, though the thick underbrush made it difficult to watch individual hounds. As hounds worked feverishly in the cover, whipper-in Sorrells, guided Judge Coleman Perrin to the back side of the cover, where a gray fox nearly collided with her horse. She reported, "Full cry was on with #66 and #63 up front, with the rest of the pack right on the line." Hounds were eventually recalled from the swamp, and then recast. The second run was a long, straight coyote run, which lasted the better part of an hour. Most of the field gave up the fast, furious pace, and at the end, all that remained were two tired Masters and three tough young riders from Rockbridge, still ready for more sport. Trailers were sent to pick up hounds, and to save some energy for the second day.
Mother Nature provided an encore on Sunday. Early morning rain yielded to perfect hunting conditions. Huntsman Sadler directed the pack to a different side of the grounds where gray fox are usually abundant. The roar of the hounds circling in the drain (a low, boggy marsh with lots of green cover, but very few safe crossings) gave terrific music to the field, and many assumed they were on a grey. Huntsmen Tot Goodwin of Green Creek and Willie Dunne of Low Country viewed a coyote pop out of the cover and then re-enter. Whipper-in Sorrells and judge Perrin viewed the big brown coyote exit the cover, again with #66 and this time #88 in close pursuit. The chase was on and the coyote obligingly made a big circle, covering several miles, before eluding the pack in the swamp.
The hometown hound Sedgefield Mailbox (#66) was the hero of the performance trial. The Rockbridge Hunt accumulated the most points to return with the coveted team title.
The event requires tremendous coordination on the part of Sedgefield and its volunteers. Although Sedgefield MFH and Huntsman is clearly in charge, he is more than ably assisted by Joint-MFH Rich Weintraub and Martin Schlaeppi, and most importantly, Field Trial Secretary and Honorary Whipper-In Jan Sorrells.
No wonder participants return year after year. Sedgefield's Performance Trial is a highlight of the spring calendar, due to the tremendous hunting, fellowship and festivities everyone enjoys.