A touch of England in area's rolling hills
Hounds and huntsmen kick off opening day with time honored tradition
| Metamora Hunt Club members Gay Kent, Joe Maday, Madam Huntsman Pat Pearce and Phil Maxwell take the field as a shroud of mist surrounds the hillside for an early morning ‘cubbing’ on opening day. photo by Catherine Brakefield.|
September 19, 2007When the leaves begin to turn, hunters drag out their camouflage pants and coats, clean their guns and set their caps in prelude to opening day.
And for most people, opening day is November 15, when the man—or woman— of the house suddenly tells his or her "dear" about their divided loyalties and head off into the hearty wild in pursuit of another "deer." For Metamora Hunt Club members, however, opening day kicked off on Sept 15.
Although the sport of fox hunting began in England during the early 1700s,
the Metamora Hunt Club long ago deviated from their English counterparts and Americanized the fox hunt with their "chase not kill" hunt philosophy. The club also strives to preserve the habitat of the fox community.
But just how does the hunt club's opening day compare with their regal counterparts of the past?
Even before the official opening day, or as some like to call it, "the blessing of the hounds," the prelude begins with "cubbing" during the months of August to mid-September, when the young pups are being trained.
Pheasant and wild game hunters are familiar with this aspect of the sport. Without a trained dog, it's just a romp in the woods—for the fox hunter, just a pleasant trail ride.
During cubbing, the young pups learn from the older and experienced hounds.
Master Joe Kent explains that though the pups look much like mature hounds, there is clearly a difference.
"There is more muscle definition with a mature hound," Kent says. "Their body language is different. The young hound is looking around a lot, not quite sure where he should be. The older hound will settle down."
Peggy and Robert Hutton, originally from Windsor, England were avid fox hunters. Robert came to the states in 1968 after retiring from the British Army; he served in the Lifeguards Household Cavalry to the queen.
The Huttons say that in England, fox hunting is taken more seriously than in the United States. Fox hunting is a major livelihood for many farmers and residents there, they say, and careful training is provided to the pups. Not every member is allowed to hunt with the young hounds during cubbing season.
"Cubbing is by invitation only," Peggy Hutton says. They don't want people disturbing the young hounds."
As the case with our deer hunters, England's opening day is in November. England's traditional opening day begins with breakfast, while Metamora Hunt Club members enjoy a meal after the hunt.
"England's hunt has around 250 horses, kids on hand and kids on ponies," Peggy Hutton says. "Everyone from town comes out to watch the event."
People who do not own a horse drive their cars down the streets and follow the hunt, Peggy Hutton says.
Although different in many ways, like its English counterpart Metamora's opening day is a flamboyant event that has riders arriving early, before the traditional departure of 9 a.m.
Hunt members awarded their colors will be adorned in scarlet red hunt jackets with collars of York blue with robin's egg blue piping. White breeches and black hunt boots with brown tops, a neat white stock tie clasped with a gold pin and white gloves with black helmets perched snugly on their heads complete the picture.
Before entering the field, a St. Hubert (the patron saint of huntsmen) medal is handed to every rider.
A traditional "stirrup cup" either of apple juice or sherry and a biscuit, or in this case hunt hostess Jessie Reynolds' "sour cream softies" are offered.
A hunt rider in the 1950s, Reynolds has traditionally hosted opening day at her home on Rock Valley Road. Though no longer straddling a horse, Jessie finds time to ride her tractor around the 10-acre field, grooming her velvet green turf-like landscape for this prestigious event each year.
"It's therapeutic, I just love doing it," Reynolds says.
Landowner Ron Barnard, a member of the Flint Scottish Pipe Band, makes an appearance adorned in his Scottish kilt. His bagpipes play across the field, mingling in the early morning mists, a haunting melody of the Celtic heritage of the Scottish highlands.
Then, with the stage set in regal splendor, in walks jubilant Madam Huntsman Pat Pearce, proudly stepping into the awaiting entourage of scarlet and black hunt coats, and landowners, introducing to everyone there her new pack of hounds.
"It's graduation day for the pups," Pearce chuckles, "those which proved themselves worthy to open up the official day of hunting."
With a group of 50 hounds, sixty to eighty riders, and the innumerable car followers, this gala event begins with a priest mounting the wooden platform in the center of the field. After a short sermon, the priest ends with a blessing for the hounds, horses and riders to have a safe hunt season.
Opening day is a success if Pearce's hounds provide a "showing"—that is, if the fox goes to ground (runs back to his or her home) or the riders get a glimpse of this sly varmint through the bushes or woods.
The fox craftily mingles his scent with deer, coyotes, and raccoons. The fox will often follow a creek bed or hide in a hollow or lightning-struck tree.
Remembering her bygone years in the hunt fields of England, Peggy Hutton laughs as she recalls some of the fox's antics.
"Foxes are so clever," Hutton says. "They will run on the backs of the sheep and be gone!"
Afterwards, participants enjoy a traditional Metamora Hunt breakfast, usually held at the White Horse Inn. There the morning's events are relived again over eggs and coffee until another opening day once again brings England into the Metamora countryside.
For more information about fox hunting, please visit www.metamorahunt.com