The Virginia Legislative Sportsmen's Caucus meets every Thursday while in session to receive and discuss topics of interest. Delegate Buddy Fowler, who represents the House district that includes the Caroline Hunt country, invited joint Master William Burnette to speak at the March 8 meeting. Burnette's presentation was "Foxhunting 101," an introduction to the history, practice, and values of our sport. PowerPoint slides featuring images of hounds, horses, and universal members of our community - families, hunt staff, quarry - accompanied Burnette's informative commentary.
A slide from Burnette's presentation highlighted the economic impact of horses in Virginia. All images courtesy of the Caroline Hunt.
Six delegates were among the 35 people attending the meeting, which was chaired by Delegate Jim Edmunds (60th District). Representatives of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) led by Executive Director Bob Duncan, a host of legislative staffers, and a few lobbyists were also present.
Burnette reported, "I was given a target time of 20-25 minutes to present the what and why of mounted foxhunting. I showed the map of hunts in Virginia, discussed the basics, described the Code of Hunting Ethics, and the role of the MFHA." He continued, "I chose to impart the personal impact of mounted foxhunting - to demonstrate the passion and dedication of the hunting community by focusing my remarks on Hounds, Horses, History, Conservation and Membership. Statistics are very important for lawmakers, but I wanted the legislators to understand why we are so passionate, as much as possible to feel the thrill of a hunt within the confines of a subcommittee hearing room."
Regarding hounds, Burnette introduced the four major breeds, American, English, Crossbred, and Penn-Marydel. With an audience including beaglers, deer hunters, foot foxhunters, and bear hunters, the passion for hound work was understood and well-received. It was observed by an attendee that mounted foxhunters are well known for their dedication to the welfare and safety of their hounds and are frequently used as the standard for other hound hunters.
Continuing to highlight horses, Burnette noted, "A recent study found the Virginia Equine Industry equals $1.2B annual economic activity and I made it clear that mounted foxhunting is an integral part of that industry. No one blinked – the legislators understand it. I discussed breeds found in the hunt field which raised interest as there were several horse people in attendance." Burnette stressed the near symbiotic nature of the human, hound and horse team while hunting and that no other activity could offer this level of interaction with the natural world.
To briefly present foxhunting's place in Virginia's history, he shared several vignettes and talked about the Museum of Hounds and Hunting at Morven Park, which generated considerable enthusiasm. Burnette also serves at the Treasurer for the Museum.
Burnette then emphasized that sportsmen are the largest group of conservationists, opining that if that fact is not ingrained in every public message of every sporting organization, it should be. He felt this subject really resonated with the attendees, and was supported by the data point that mounted foxhunting has preserved over 1 million acres of land nationwide. Preceding his presentation on foxhunting was a Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries report on wild turkey populations in Virginia. The report illustrated that fox are the single largest mammalian predator of wild turkey (well above coyote in Virginia). Burnette commented that foxhunters are fully supportive of turkey habitat conservation efforts because a healthy turkey population equals healthy foxes. He also discussed outreach programs and community service performed by hunt clubs across the Commonwealth.
Finally, the importance of membership and family was stressed. Burnette explained that our sport is enjoyed by entire families, with lessons learned in the hunt field contributing to build better individuals. "Foxhunting, as all sporting pursuits, strengthens the family, supports the environment, educates the populace, and encourages a sense of community," he stated.
To wrap up his presentation, he shared a few pictures of the Caroline Hunt's demonstrations at Mount Vernon and appearance on the set of the Revolutionary War television program,"Turn." He also brought a whip, a horn, and his wife Tammy's great-great-grandfather’s Virginia cow horn for show and tell. "The subcommittee room had fairly good acoustics for the horns. It struck home to the audience that there was a direct link between notes they heard from that specific Virginia horn to Virginia’s hunting legacy, and that mounted foxhunting is an integral part of our shared history." As a follow up, Burnette was asked to present to the VDGIF Board in the near future.
On reflection, Burnette believes his presentation was a good investment of time and effort - while the crowd was expected to be sympathetic, they were also eager to learn - indicating they had little prior knowledge of mounted foxhunting. He observed, "In my opinion, getting state legislators, especially those on key committees, out and involved in hunt activities is crucial. Collectively, we need their legislative aides contacting us before a bill is even introduced, so we can help shape it to the benefit of foxhunting."