Q: What is the difference between hound exercise and cubbing?
A: This is the time where all the preparation starts to come together; hounds are fit and the young entry have been exposed to everything they might encounter out hunting. Up to this point, we have spent our time keeping the curiosity in check and trying to maintain a level of calm; and finally the day comes where everything changes. Now we expect them to almost do the opposite of what we have been doing throughout hound exercise. As you can imagine, this could be a little confusing to a young hound.
Q: How do you get them to make the switch from exercise to hunting?
A: It takes a lot of confidence for a young hound to make this transition. This is where I like to use the corn fields to our advantage. It is far easier for them to join into the cry with the open rows than, lets say the thick of a soy bean field or the underbrush of a woodland. Once they have the confidence to leave me and join in with the older hounds we can start to change things up and move to the thick where they have to start to work. It would be the same as taking a young horse and expecting him to jump a four-railer; it’s all about building their confidence.
Q: Shannon, what is a whipper-in’s work like, at this point?
A: The challenge is to stay ahead of them and know what they are going to do before they do it. We have to anticipate. We have a lot of young entry in the mix.
Q: Sam, what does the typical mix of hounds look like now?
A: We usually take anywhere from 18 ½ couple to 26 ½ couple. It is important to have enough older more experienced hounds in the equation. I am certainly very fortunate to have a good team of masters and staff; that, combined with good cubbing country allows me to take more of the young entry than most people might, thus getting more mileage into them earlier.
Q: How does the work you have done with hounds until this point come into play?
A: It is one thing to deal with starting the new entry but a whole new level with the 2nd season hounds. They could be considered like teenagers. With a full season under their belts, a whole new mind set kicks in. These young hounds almost come out with no consequences, the ability to find game and run it but without the mileage to deal with some of the trickier situations. This is by far a harder situation to manage than entering new hounds.
Q: This year’s schedule was different and you took a different approach by alternating some hound exercise and hunting. How did that work out?
A: Normally at this time of the year we are hunting 6 mornings a week. This can be a very intense time for a pack of hounds. Leaving the kennels and finding game quickly has its obvious advantages but also brings a huge level of anticipation to the pack. The hounds, being fit and with a few days of hunting behind them, find it easy to get a little wound up. I felt it was more important to have a little more switch off time with them this year. I am very pleased with how quickly we were able to achieve that. A pack of hounds you can’t switch off is a pack of hounds that gets into trouble.
Q: So what is the biggest challenge at this point?
A: You have to keep an eye on the second season hounds and keep them from getting too confident. The young hounds are really figuring out how to hunt and they start seeing other animals that might be interesting to hunt. Once they are confident enough to get their nose down and begin speaking. It’s the same challenge every year.
We have been taking out the young entry with the older hounds but we will start taking fewer younger hounds for a while. They (the older hounds) are tired of babysitting and just want to hunt. We have given a lot of exposure to the first season hounds and now want to knock back the confidence of the second season hounds a little. The third, fourth, fifth season hounds really just want to hunt!
But this time of year is about educating the foxes, too. A well-seasoned, well run fox is less likely to run in a hole. It becomes amusing to them. There is one fox in particular that will give us three or four great runs in a day. The older foxes teach the cubs and obviously we want them to learn. A country with no foxes would be no fun at all. We have a great fox population. As long as I have been here we have never come up empty in a day.
Q: How can the members of the field facilitate your work?
A: We want it to be as uninterrupted as possible. When a fox get turned it takes a lot to settle the hounds down again and then we have to start the whole process over. If you get separated you are best off standing still and listening. Even if you don’t literally turn the fox in a different direction by going through covert, the fox actually has the ability to “lift” his scent when he passes over the area you travelled, throwing the hounds off his trail.