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Foxhunting

The staff of the Blue Ridge Hunt bring the hounds across a field of Angus cattle. Boyce, Virginia.

The staff of the Blue Ridge Hunt bring the hounds across a field of Angus cattle. Boyce, Virginia.

© Masters of the Foxhounds Association

Introduction

Foxhunting is the sport of chasing a wild quarry with a pack of hounds. It is the union of man and animal in the beauty of nature's setting. Mounted men and women are privileged to follow and watch this timeless drama of hunter and hunted. The fox or coyote maneuvers and circles, runs and dodges, trying cunningly to escape the pack. The hounds pursue across plains or through woods, over fields or across creeks, into marshes and over rock walls and fences.

Foxjp closeupEXC (c)Masters of the Foxhounds Association

Riders may encounter obstacles, such as rock walls and fences, while on the hunt.

© Masters of the Foxhounds Association

 

All the while, the music of hounds in full cry and the stirring call of the horn echoes through the chase. It's a crescendo of sounds and sights that thrill you beyond imagination.

Foxhunting is the grand opera of hunting. Mother Nature is the stage manager; baying hounds and hunting horns are the orchestra; pack and prey are the actors. Huntsmen and horses - in front-row seats - make up the audience. As they watch, the plot gradually plays out before them until the prey at last is caught or goes to ground or is lost. Every performance is unique, no show is ever repeated.

The huntsman starts the grand procession of staff and hounds to begin the ceremonial Opening Day of the hunting season. Boyce, Virginia.

The huntsman starts the grand procession of staff and hounds to begin the ceremonial Opening Day of the hunting season. Boyce, Virginia.

© Masters of the Foxhounds Association

 

History

Foxhunting has existed in North America since Colonial days and was enjoyed extensively by night hunters, farmers and landed gentry. The earliest record of the importation of hounds to this country was on June 30, 1650, when Robert Brooke arrived in Maryland with his family and hounds. By the early 1700's, foxhunting was increasing rapidly in Maryland, Virginia and probably other colonies. The earliest surviving record of American foxhunting in the modern manner, by what is now known as an organized hunt, maintained for the benefit of a group of foxhunters rather than for a single owner, is for the pack instituted by Thomas, Sixth Lord Fairfax in 1747 in northern Virginia. The Blue Ridge Hunt today hunts over much of his former territory. Much of what little is recorded about early hunting comes from letters written by Lord Fairfax and the diaries of George Washington. Washington, the first president of the United States, was an ardent foxhunter who owned his own pack of hounds. Washington's diaries are laced with frequent references to foxhunts near the nation's capital. On one occasion while congress was in session, hounds ran near the capital. Many congressmen ran outside to watch hounds and some jumped on their horses and joined the chase. The earliest established foxhound club was the Montreal Hunt in Canada 1826. In the United States, the Piedmont Foxhounds were established in Virginia in 1840. Both packs continue very successfully to this day.

Through the years, North American foxhunting has evolved its own distinct flavor which is noticeably different from the British. The most obvious difference is that in North America the emphasis is on the chase rather then the kill. In addition, the coyote not the fox, is hunted by a very large number of Hunts. The coyote has increased by large numbers throughout the United States and Canada. It is bigger, stronger and faster than a fox. In Britain the goal is to kill the fox. There is no rabies in the British Isles, so populations of fox are extremely high and fox are considered vermin and farmers with sheep farms want the animals numbers controlled. In America this is not normally the case. A successful hunt ends when the fox is accounted for by entering a hole in the ground, called an earth. Once there, hounds are rewarded with praise from their huntsman. The fox gets away and is chased another day. When hounds do not account for a fox by chasing him to an earth, the vast majority of times hounds lose the scent of the fox and that ends the hunt. On many hunts scent isn't sufficient for hounds to run at all. They cannot run what they can't smell. Even these slow days are fun as the scenery is always beautiful, fellow foxhunters are enjoyable and watching the hounds as they attempt to find the quarry is pleasurable. That is not to say that foxhounds in America do not sometimes kill but it is always the exception. Fox populations in hunt country are exceptionally healthy due to natural selection.

In some parts of North America coyotes have become a nuisance and are destroying livestock. While this too is the exception, in those situations Hunts do attempt to kill the coyote with limited success.

The generic term foxhunting applies to red fox, grey fox, coyote and bobcat chasing depending on location. In colonial days the primary quarry was the grey fox. Red foxes were found only in Canada and as far south as New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The grey fox was native to the country south of there. Some red foxes migrated to the southern states. Others were imported from England and released. What animal is hunted depends on the geographic location of the hunt. Today in North America the coyote has become a significant quarry as well as the fox. Coyotes are very adaptable and have migrated across America reaching areas of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

There is tremendous variety of both terrain and quarry in the United States and Canada. Hounds hunt red fox along the sand dunes of Long Island Sound. They hunt red and grey foxes, coyotes and bobcats in the pine woods of Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Florida and the Carolinas. The stony fields and thick deciduous growth of New England make perfect covert for the red fox. Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware offer countryside closer to the traditional English landscape. Here, the fox is plentiful. Moving westward, there is hunting on the great plains of the Mid-west, in the high altitudes of the Rocky Mountains and along the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Coyotes predominate as one moves westward. Canada has the same variety of terrain and quarry as one moves from east to west. Foxhunting exists in thirty-five states and five Canadian provinces.

 

Foxhunting Today

 

A junior member of the Loudoun Hunt West watches the hounds before the hunt begins, and they size her up, too. Hamilton, Virginia.

A junior member of the Loudoun Hunt West watches the hounds before the hunt begins, and they size her up, too. Hamilton, Virginia.

© Masters of the Foxhounds Association

Foxhunting is a highly organized sport. The Masters of Foxhounds Association, established in 1907, is a non-profit corporation formed to; set and maintain high sporting standards among its membership, encourage foxhunting, approve and register territories on official maps of foxhunting countries, settle disputes in regard to the same, register eligible foxhounds in a Foxhound Stud Book and improve the breed of foxhounds. To be a member of the Association a hunt must have the necessary number of qualified hounds, proper kennel facilities, a hunt country of sufficient size that does not conflict with another hunt and an established organization. Most importantly, member hunts must agree to abide by the rules and guidelines which include animal care and good sportsmanship as directed by the MFHA. The Association encourages membership as the best way to keep up the high sporting standards it insists upon.

The Masters of Foxhound Association insists on compliance with its rules and standards in order to organize and supervise the conduct of the sport. Since the sport does not have the agricultural imperative to control the fox population, American foxhunting emphasizes the thrill of the chase in a beautiful natural setting. To ensure that the sport is conducted with respect for its quarry, the Masters of Foxhound Association of America recently published a booklet entitled ¬The Code of Hunting Practices¬ which emphasizes that foxes and coyotes must be hunted in their wild and natural state. Any other practice that does not give an animal a sporting chance is contrary to the best traditions of the sport and is strictly forbidden. All hunts, in both the United States and Canada, who are members of the Association must follow this code or lose their membership.

Junior members of the Old Dominion Hounds wait for the hunt to start on a snowy day. Hume, Virginia.

Junior members of the Old  Dominion Hounds wait for the hunt to start on a snowy day. Hume, Virginia.

© Masters of the Foxhounds Association

A hunt can be organized in several different ways. It may be a private pack owned and supported by an individual, or it can be a subscription pack where members pay a fee to hunt and the hounds are owned by a club or a hunt committee. In the later case, the hunt committee appoints a Master or Masters. The majority of American hunts are subscription or membership packs. Their organization is similar to many golf clubs. One pays a fee to be a member and hunt. This money is used to feed and care for hounds and for hunt associated expenses. The season for foxhunting is from when the crops are harvested in the fall until the spring when they are planted. Since no one knows where a wild fox may take them, large areas of land are required to have a successful hunt.

Members of the Blue Ridge Hunt dress up for the ceremonial Opening Day of the hunting season. Boyce, Virginia.

Members of the Blue Ridge Hunt dress up for the ceremonial Opening Day of the hunting season. Boyce, Virginia.

© Masters of the Foxhounds Association

The members either elect a Master or elect a hunt committee which then appoints the Master. Masters serve for designated periods and are responsible to the members or hunt committee. It is the Master who is responsible for the days sport and he makes the decisions. The proper care and handling of hounds is his responsibility. He or she makes every effort to maintain a cordial relationship with the owners over whose lands the hunt rides. He supervises the hound breeding program, schedules the hunt meet locations and appoints the hunt staff who work for him. If he does not hunt the hounds himself, he appoints a huntsman who is sometimes a professional.

The huntsman and hounds of the Thornton Hill Hounds head towards the mountains in the Virginia Piedmont country during Cubbing season. Woodville, Virginia.

The huntsman and hounds of the Thornton Hill Hounds head towards the mountains in the Virginia Piedmont country during Cubbing     season. Woodville, Virginia.

© Masters of the Foxhounds Association

 

Most hunts have more than one master. The Joint-Masters share responsibilities. If a master doesn't lead the field himself he appoints a field master who is responsible for the riders who follow the field master. The field master's job is to keep the field of riders close enough to enjoy watching the hounds yet not so close as to interfere with the huntsman hunting his hounds.

The huntsman of the Bear Creek Hounds tosses a treat to his eager hounds before starting a joint hunt with the Rappahannock Hunt. Reva, Virginia.

The huntsman of the Bear Creek Hounds tosses a treat to his eager hounds before starting a joint hunt with the Rappahannock Hunt. Reva, Virginia.

© Masters of the Foxhounds Association

 

Whippers-in assist the huntsman in hunting the hounds. They are an extension of the huntsman, usually far out on the flanks, and are used to help assure that the hounds do the huntsman's bidding. They act as safety valves to prevent hounds from running onto roads or land not open to hunting and they assist the huntsman with a myriad of tasks related to the hunt. Other help is often needed in the hunting field. A designated person is responsible for closing gates and someone else supervises juniors and hilltoppers (those individuals who follow more slowly in the rear). Some hilltoppers follow in cars along roads. Lastly there is the hunt secretary who collects capping fees (non member riders that are guests of members who are out for a day's hunting pay a small fee to ride with the hunt). The secretary takes care of the many administrative requirements of the hunt such as checking to see that horses have current coggins tests.

 

Foxhounds

 

The staff of the Blue Ridge Hunt give the hounds a break during a summer exercise walk. Boyce, Virginia.

The staff of the Blue Ridge Hunt give the hounds a break during a summer exercise walk. Boyce, Virginia.

© Masters of the Foxhounds Association


To breed a pack of hounds that measures up to the Association standards is no easy task. The Masters of Foxhounds Association Stud Book has been in existence since 1907 and keeps track of all hounds bred by member hunts in the United States and Canada. There are three hound classifications: English, American and Crossbred. The English hound, as his name implies, is a hound whose ancestors are in the English Foxhound Studbook. American and English hounds must have less then one sixteen out cross blood in their pedigree to be considered pure. Some of the best known varieties of American hounds are the Bywater hound, the Walker hound and the July hound. Crossbred hounds are a cross between English and American hounds. Only in Canada does the English hound predominate. Crossbred hounds are the most popular in the United States.

The huntsman of the Deep Run Hunt communes with a hound before starting a joint hunt with the Rappahannock Hunt. Reva, Virginia.

The huntsman of the Deep Run Hunt communes with a hound before starting a joint hunt with the Rappahannock Hunt. Reva, Virginia.

© Masters of the Foxhounds Association

For a new hunt to be registered and eventually recognized, it must have twelve couples (hounds are always counted by twos hence the word "couple") of entered registered or registerable hounds for a live hunt, or six couples of entered hounds if a drag hunt. A drag hunt is a hunt which hunts fox scent rather than live quarry. The hunt must also have a breeding program and produce their own hounds. Their kennels must meet the qualifications of sanitation and space. Since hounds must be trained and controllable, training starts before a hound is a year old. Since he must hunt with a pack, and not as an individual, he is usually coupled (attached by a collar to an older hound) and walked with him until he realizes that he is to stay with the others. Early training takes place on foot with the huntsman and whippers-in supervising. Once the young hounds are under control, they are introduced to horses when the staff mounts up and hounds are exercised with fitness being the goal. As hounds hunt over private farmland, they must ignore all farm animals and other dogs and pursue only the chosen quarry. The chasing of any other wildlife is also not allowed. A hound begins to hunt at roughly twelve to eighteen months of age.

 

Code of Hunting Practices

Rules
Mounted Foxhunting has been an integral and important part of rural life in many parts of the United States and Canada for centuries. The beneficial role it plays in conservation, the physical beauty of the countryside and in the local economy is unquestioned.

Hunting takes place in public. We must all assume that our activities will be observed by the public and must be prepared to be held publicly accountable for our actions.

This Code of Hunting Practice is aimed at ensuring that not only new-comers to hunting but everyone who participates understands that it is their absolute obligation to maintain the highest standards of sportsmanship and good behavior at all times. In the case of Masters, this responsibility extends to the care of hounds. It is the Masters' obligation to ensure that hounds are kenneled in safe, clean, adequate kennels and that hounds are well fed, regularly exercised and properly handled in the hunting field.

The huntsman of the Old Dominion Hounds warns his young hounds to behave before the hunt begins, during "Cub Hunting Season" (cubbing). Orlean, Virginia.

The huntsman of the Old Dominion Hounds warns his young hounds to behave before the hunt begins, during "Cub Hunting Season" (cubbing). Orlean, Virginia.

© Masters of the Foxhounds Association

By accepting membership in the Masters of Foxhounds Association, the Masters and the Hunt's governing body agree to be bound by its Constitution, By-Laws, Regulation, Code of Hunting Practices and Guidelines, as amended, and relevant state and federal laws. Furthermore, the Hunt and its Masters will cooperate with any investigation of alleged infractions and will accept as final the decision of the Masters of Foxhounds Association ("MFHA") on any question arising under said Constitution, By-laws, Regulations, Code of Hunting Practices, Guidelines or relevant state and federal laws. The Hunt and Masters agree to indemnify and hold the MFHA, their officers, directors and employees harmless for any action taken against the Hunt pursuant to this agreement.

1. Mounted Foxhunting as a sport is the hunting of the fox, coyote, bobcat or other acceptable quarry in its wild and natural state with a pack of hounds. Nothing must be done which in any way compromises this rule.
2. Hunting flourishes entirely because of the goodwill of landowners and farmers. No one who goes hunting should do anything to jeopardize this goodwill. Be constantly aware that you are a guest on someone else's land.
3. The sport of mounted foxhunting as it is practiced in North America places emphasis on the chase and not the kill. It is inevitable, however, that hounds will at times catch their game. Death is instantaneous. In some instances, a pack of hounds will account for their quarry by running it to ground, treeing it, or bringing it to bay in some fashion. The Masters of Foxhounds Association has laid down detailed rules to govern the behavior of Masters of Foxhounds and their packs of hounds. The most important are as follows:
(a.) The hunting of a "bagged" or "dropped" quarry, or any other practice which does not give the animal a sporting chance, is contrary to the best traditions of the sport and is strictly forbidden.
(b.) When the quarry is run to ground, treed, or is brought to bay, if, in accordance with the wishes of the landowners, the decision is that it be culled, it must be quickly and humanely dispatched by a member of the hunt staff. It is the responsibility of the Masters and hunt professional to avoid the participation of the general public.
(c.) When the quarry is run to ground, there shall be no digging other than for the purpose of humanely destroying it according to the wishes of the landowner.
(d.) The reason we call "fox hunting" and not "fox chasing" (unless the animal needs to be culled) is that despite the fact our emphasis is the chase; the hounds are hunting their quarry and trying to catch it. Studies and reality confirm that hounds are a quick and humane method to dispatch an animal. Normally the quarry eludes hounds unscathed. We, as ethical hunters, are obligated to assure any hunted animal is dispatched quickly, fairly and humanely. In addition, as sportsmen and women, we have an obligation to find and quickly dispatch any wounded or sick quarry known to be in our hunt's area. Any quarry which has had to be handled must be humanly destroyed or if deemed to be unharmed should be freed. Under no circumstances may it be hunted. When the quarry is run to ground, treed or brought to bay, this same animal may not be bolted or knocked out of a tree and run again. However, it is permissible to bolt and hunt quarry that has taken refuge in a man made structure such as a culvert, hay shed, deserted house, etcetera. Hounds must be taken out of sight of the refuge at a reasonable and sporting distance and a reasonable amount of time allowed to elapse before the pack is put back on the line.

 

Additional Information

For additional information contact:

    Masters of Foxhounds Association
    PO Box 363
    Millwood, VA 22646
    (540) 955-5680
    [email protected]
    www.mfha.org

 

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