Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 21, 2013

Hounds learn cooperation at Va. hunt clubs

LAURA PETERS,The News-Leader
Associated Press

STAUNTON, Va. (AP) — An aptly named hound, Caboose, brings up the rear.

"We didn't name her that. That's what she came with," said Cynthia Morton, master of fox hounds for the Rockbridge Hunt Club.

Morton didn't give Caboose much credit. The hound did not want to ford the small creek with the rest of the pack to follow the scent. It took her some time, but Caboose finally found a small footbridge to cross over the cold water.

Hunt clubs work to bring along the young animals, so they can learn correctly. But at the beginning, it's basic.

"It's a monkey-see, monkey-do" situation, said Fred Getty, Middlebrook Hounds Hunt Club huntsman and master of fox hounds.

Working together Ages range in each foxhound pack. They aren't called dogs, they are working hounds — a distinction hunters are quick to point out.

The hunt clubs in the area use mainly Penn-Marydel hounds in their packs, along with blue tick and American hounds. Packs can number 20 to 45 hounds. Not all hounds are hunted at once, and there is a good mix of ages and capabilities throughout the pack.

Jones said he brings out certain hounds for particular weather or hunting areas.

"We have some hounds that are faster and much faster than the older hounds. You want this group to hunt as pack, you don't want individual hounds to run off," said Dan Jones, huntsman and joint master of the hounds for Glenmore Hunt Club. "If we're in real tight, like brushy country, those hounds that want to drive and push on real hard ... it isn't going to matter because they can't."

But, hounds don't come out of the kennel that way — it takes discipline and repetition, Getty said. "You have to work at it," he said. "That takes a lot of work, love and devotion."

Persistent training "You start when they're puppies, about six months old, and you take them out on leads, (or) a leash, or couple them up to another hound," Getty added.

Newer hounds sent out on the hunt can appear scared and timid. They stay back while the rest of the pack runs off for the scent.

For some hunts, the first-year hounds need to be pick up and dropped off by a farm hand to bring them back to the pack. "They don't know what you want, so they're pulling and jumping all around. Once they settle down, you couple them up — it's a chain that goes between two hounds."

With Getty's hunt club, he sends the puppies out with other club members to break them.

"Just let them have fun and be a puppy. It's like a child," he said. "Then we take them back and train them to come along, hold back.

"He learns the horn calls, everything is repetition. It usually takes them three weeks to settle down and be part of the pack. Then you take them on easy hunts."

Getty can call his pack back to him with just a single horn blow.

"I have a horn that I blow," he said. "They will hear that. The hounds know all the notes, and they know what I'm asking and I tell them to do it, and they do it."

When out in the hunt field, if Getty wants to go right, he'll blow one note and all his hounds will pick up their noses and head right.

"It's discipline, and it's work. You don't see that in a lot of hunts. It's a tremendous amount of work, but it's worth it," he said.

The new hunting hounds will just mimic the other hounds.

Care and breeding David Connor, huntsman for Rockbridge Hunt, said sometimes they exchange puppies with other hunts to keep the bloodline from getting stale.

"We get some puppies from a different hunt every once in a while just so we can have something else to breed," he said.

"If you don't ever breed from outside hounds or get puppies from another hunt, you run out of stuff to do to."

Care for the hounds is paid for by dues of hunt club members. The hounds live in kennels outside of the huntsman's house.

Jones said retiring a hound doesn't have to do with age. "Age is not much of a factor as much as their ability ... or if they still enjoy hunting or whether it's become a drag," he said.

Once a hound is retired, it lives his life out with a member of the club, in the comfort of a home.

But cozy retirement for hounds like Caboose and the others is still in the future, and now, with the huntsman — the Rockbridge hounds take off for the chase, the thrill of the pack and the satisfaction of a job well done.

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