North Hills Hunt hosted a foxhound performance trial at its Burwell, Nebraska, fixture on October 5 and 6, 2019. Originally scheduled for March 2018, the event was delayed by the floods occurring in the spring of 2018. At the time, all the bridges leading to Burwell, Nebraska, (population 1,210) were washed out.
Burwell is a town with warm Midwestern hospitality. Signs welcoming foxhunters were posted on the stores outside the courthouse square, and the local Chamber of Commerce was handing out 10% discount coupons.
Burwell has been a fixture for the North Hills Hunt of Omaha, Nebraska, for the last 27 years. Omaha is a three-hour drive away, but North Hills visits Burwell in the spring and fall of each season.
The Journey Begins
We stopped along the way from Georgia to Nebraska to enjoy two days of hunting (including a junior meet) hosted by Mission Valley (Kansas). The Walker pack of hounds was handled by Huntsman Jim Keiler. The coverts were through meadows with adjacent woodland, with rides cut through. Hounds were well suited for this territory, making energetic music even though the temperature was in the high 80s.
Headed to Burwell
Mission Valley is a day’s drive to Burwell. The next day, North Hills Hunt met at Master Luke Matranga’s Foxtail Farm, a fixture in the Sand Hills of Nebraska, overlooking the picturesque Calamus Reservoir. It looks like an ocean located in the middle of a prairie. There are pelicans that winter there, which add to the seaside look.
The sandy soil of the Hills (sand dunes of the prehistoric ocean) was covered in thick wild grasses. There was not a rock in sight. This fixture has approximately 200 coops, as well as “Clemson” wire gates.
The Performance Trials Kicks Off
Saturday, October 5, I woke up an hour early, keyed up for the first day of the Performance Trials at the Packard fixture, 7x7 miles, which backed up to North Hills’ Master Luke Matranga’s place. Trial huntsman Angela Murray, of Red Rock Hounds, had a light touch, and supported but didn’t direct the pack. She spent about 45 minutes in the holding pen with all entries, mixing the packs with love and praise. We had five entered hunts, with teams of eight hounds each – Belle Meade Hunt, Bridlespur Hunt, Fort Leavenworth Hunt, Mission Valley Hunt, and North Hills Hunt.
After the cast, the hounds worked well together. A reddish-colored coyote was viewed by followers about twenty minutes out. Then the mounted field viewed him, and hounds ran well down the canyon. Judge Epp Wilson, MFH, said, “hounds were running so well in the canyon. And it was impossible to judge on horseback there due to the steep banks, so I got off my horse and ran in on foot to be able to score these good hounds.”
Overall, the first day there were three sustained runs, with six coyotes viewed, plus a red fox. Given the harsh windy conditions, the hound work we saw that day was spectacular. The field would move from canyon to canyon, listening to the pack in full cry below. Periodically the pack would burst out of the thick cedars in the bottom of the canyon, and we’d view the quarry. Ryan Beer, a kennel huntsman from North Hills, observed: “that Packard fixture is extremely game rich, and the footing is amazing – it’s like an indoor arena.”
An Incredible Day Two
Day two was at Master Luke Matranga’s 3x5 mile fixture, overlooking Calamas Reservoir. While there was wind, it was nowhere near the gale force of the day before. A fine day in a fine country.
Even before the hounds were cast, a coyote was viewed in the middle distance, racing along the ridgeline of a sand hill. Angela Murray cast the hounds forward, and the pack hunted as one. Looking back, Angela later said, “The second day I’ll never forget how these hounds came together. Because of the deep gullies, I couldn’t reach them sometimes, so there was a whole lot more watching, but with their full cry, there was no mistake. They were all hunting and running hard.”
At one point, a wary coyote popped out of the tall grasses and turned. The pack overshot, but Angela brought them back and picked them up and they kept the line.
The second day was three hours of galloping and jumping– a thrilling ride. I’m surprised that the sport at these performance trials is so good, but when hunts bring their best hounds, and the pack melds on the second day and the hounds began to trust each other, magic happens.
Every entered hunt had at least one hound in the top ten.
Burwell Fall Performance Trials Scores
Overall Top 10 Hounds
- Gator (Mission Valley Hunt)
- Porkchop (Belle Meade Hunt)
- Ollie (North Hills Hunt)
- Lyse (North Hills Hunt)
- Bond (Bridlespur Hunt)
- Grace (Mission Valley Hunt)
- Edna (Mission Valley Hunt)
- Zeus (Fort Leavenworth Hunt)
- Courtney (Bridlespur Hunt)
- Cracker (Bridlespur Hunt)
- Mission Valley Hunt – 617.5
- North Hills Hunt – 410
- Bridlespur Hunt – 315
- Belle Meade Hunt – 290
- Fort Leavenworth Hunt – 155