Hounds Back From Walk and
Writing for Hunting Magazine in
1999, the late, great Captain R E Wallace MFH was perhaps
the world’s greatest exponent of the art of hunting
One of the most exciting sides to a Master’s
or huntsman’s life is the development of a pack of hounds—particularly
in cases where things have gone wrong in the past, and the
pack needs to be re-shaped. The successful planning of matings
from a pedigree and a hunting point of view is one objective,
but now we are considering its result.
The development from bundles of charm as
puppies to grown hounds ready to hunt depends tremendously
on devoted puppy-walkers. The cult of puppy-walking has developed
greatly since the war. Although there were a few famous puppy-walkers,
sometimes puppies then were kept largely confined. Now that
has changed. Puppies live as members of the family, and improvements
in worming and inoculations against distemper have helped
to create excellent conditions for the rearing of hounds.
The devotion of puppy-walkers to their local pack, and their
continued interest in the hounds they have walked, surpass
Care of puppies is just like care of children.
Both need some discipline. For hound puppies this need only
include answering to their names, basic instructions, and
if possible, going comparatively willingly on a collar and
lead. After that all depends on love, as with children. Young
hounds who are given genuine interest and love are the ones
that flourish all their lives. Puppies which hunt a lot at
walk can have an advantage over those which do not. Nevertheless,
those which have not been encouraged or allowed to hunt by
their walkers can be the quickest to enter in the autumn.
I remember one place years ago where a walker used to take
the hound puppies out and deliberately hunt them. Those which
came back from that particular walk could be very headstrong.
Hound puppies, known as ‘the young
’uns’, come back into kennels at any time from
November until April or May, depending on their age. Some
puppy-walkers are so keen on their charges that we can hardly
prise them apart until we produce substitutes, which is rather
nice. When at last the puppies arrive at the kennels, they
are like schoolboys at boarding school for the first time.
Some do not give a damn, others are shy. A day or two later
the penny drops. They become part of the pack and no longer
individuals singly loved. Settling in depends then on the
huntsman and the kennelman. They must be nice to the young
hounds, but firm.
The youngsters go straight in with the
older hounds, except for any which are shy or upset. They
will be kennelled on their own, or with one or two others,
to start with. Young hounds are fed in the same way as the
rest. In the old days, oatmeal was the staple diet, and in
the summer it was mixed with flaked maize and rice, but that
was in more palmy times. Some people boil nettles in the summer,
and give hounds nettle soup. It is vital that hounds should
be tough and have stamina. Young hounds that will not thrive,
partly because they do not really eat, have a real disadvantage.
At this stage, all opportunities are taken for walking the
youngsters out with the pack on exercise. This, over the months
until summer, is invaluable. Young hounds learn from their
huntsman and whippers-in to some extent, but they assimilate
even more from the example of older hounds. Sometimes in kennels
one will see junior staff leading young hounds about on collar-and-chain
or string, something they have not learned at walk. Then they
must be trained to go in couples. I have known huntsmen who
said they had never put couples on a young hound. That may
have been so, but if something goes wrong—say, a batch
of uncoupled young hounds bolts—then much good work
and training is thrown away in a few minutes.
For young hounds that are difficult at
first I am a great believer in using couples. Formerly they
were first coupled with old hounds and then to each other.
I think the use of couples is very much reduced now, but I
cannot emphasise enough to young Masters, more particularly
young Hunt staff, not to take risks. If hounds get away there
can be real trouble, and not easily mended.
There is little more to be done with them
until the hunting season is over. The older hounds have a
let-down period and Hunt staff can then concentrate on the
young ones. This brings the further thrill of seeing what
has come home in terms of quality. I never look at young hounds
until mid-February. Then if we have not had a frost for a
day or two it is great fun to have them out. Masters and huntsmen
can then get an idea of them.
But one of the charms of creating a new
pack is that each of these new-comers is altering, literally
every week, until next autumn. One that you thought in March
looked pretty middling, by July may be a swan, and the other
way around. Discovering it for oneself is all about hound
psychology. Many young hounds only reveal their potential
when they have shed their puppy coats, a process which can
be slow. Mrs Gingell of the Cambridgeshire Harriers, a lady
of great skill, said she could tell which hounds would be
good at about 8-12 weeks. I do not have that art.
The walkers’ comments on their puppies
can be useful, particularly if a draft of young hounds is
being considered before the hunting starts, but their way
of going is likely to change, and there is more to it than
that. Foxhounds must behave as a pack, and although some obviously
become brilliant, and others pretty good as individuals, it
is as a unit that they are judged out hunting. A young hound
that becomes too sharp in its first season, and then swollen-headed,
is dangerous. When I first started hunting I congratulated
a young hound on catching an old fox on its own. I was pleased,
and I told it so. It was never any good again. It became too
sharp, and beyond reformation.
In May the young hounds begin to be taught
the ways of the world. In particular, we have to tell them
what they must not do. I believe that modern educationalists
say that you must stress the positive—tell the young
what they are to do. I am not sure that this always turns
out to be a particularly perceptive way of teaching hounds.
A major lesson to be learned is that they
are not to chase dogs, cats, horses and particularly in many
countries, sheep. Huntsmen and kennel-huntsmen have to be
dog psychologists. Some young hounds can be put right by a
reproof. It is well worth remembering that scolding one, catching
its eye and fixing your own eyes to it, can be as deterring
as a walloping. But if there is a genuine attempt to do something
dangerous, such as assault a cat or sheep, then there comes
a time when that hound must have a salutary lesson. Some of
them can be hard-headed.
Hound exercise is used partly to get hounds
fit—but much more importantly, to teach them the ways
of the countryside, how to find their way home from far-flung
places, and civility. It is invaluable to ride about the country,
not against the clock, and to be able to stop and talk to
people on the roadside, visiting farms without a young hound
getting into the dairy and drinking all the milk, and generally
instructing the youngsters in how to be a credit to the pack,
wherever, and at all times. Occasionally I have known a hound
to be lost. In these days of travelling to meets in hound
lorries, hounds cannot always find their way home and will
instead go back to where they were unvanned. Then a hound
may be out for a few days, which is worrying. A hound that
has gone a bit wild is not easy to catch. Some kennelhuntsmen
I have known are marvellous at it, and sometimes a puppy-walker
can be called in to help. An Eton Beagles bitch which we had
lost one September near Evesham, found us again when we were
hunting there after the Christmas holidays, fat as butter.
She was called Peaceful, and she turned out to be deaf.
Eventually, they will all be trained and
will know their way around. No need to shout and scream at
them. If you turn left, they turn left. That is all done by
confidence, a certain amount of talking straight to them,
and a good deal by jollying them along and keeping them happy.
Some people, perhaps because they are short-handed,
use hound exercise merely as a method of clearing their wind,
muscling-up and hardening their feet. Much enjoyment for man
and hound is lost by that. When the first morning’s
hunting comes, then hounds should have had the benefit of
everything which has been described. Then comes the moment
when they are told very clearly what they must do— which
is to hunt a fox, and nothing else.