Gretchen Pelham, an MFH with the Tennessee Valley Hunt, submitted this tale of thrills and spills from their latest outing.
Photo: Prof. Huntsman Andy Bozdan blowing in the hounds to him after they put the grey fox to ground.
The Tennessee Valley Hunt’s season is going strong. We are hunting twice a week, every week until March, and the Penn-Marydel foxhounds in our kennels are giving us great sport. But like everything, you can have the biggest high and the lowest low in one day.
This past weekend was the opening day for muzzle loading rifles for deer season. We decided to hunt anyway on a 1,200 acre peninsula in the Tellico Lake that is public property. If we canceled our hunts every time there was a possibility of other hunters then we would never get out. So this day we knew there would be a lot of deer hunters out. For the most part they are grateful we arrive as our noises get the deer moving.
I was leading First Flight, which I don’t usually do. Our main First Flight Field Master was out of town. So it fell to me, and yes, did I fall! I would love to say that this would be the first time I fell while leading First Flight, but oh no, it is not. But don’t think I have a reputation for falling flat on my butt in front of the entire hunt, nope. Not me. Just because the horse behind me gives twice as much space as they would the regular Field Master has nothing to do with it. But I digress.
We started out from the boat ramp parking lot down the road past the cemetery. Our professional huntsman, Andy Bozdan, put the 16 ½ couple of hounds (which means there were 33 hounds total) in the woods heading toward what we call the Bermuda Triangle. We have called the Triangle not because of the shape but because of the high ridge in dense cover that is in between the trail and the lakefront. When the hounds go down that ridge, they disappear in all the trees. Sometimes sound escapes, and we just have to wait to see where they come out. There is always a red fox down in the Triangle, so we love to cast the hounds there.
Well, this day we had just entered the woods. We had gotten not far at all when a lovely red fox comes walking out of the woods as calmly as you please straight at me. He was just a few yards away, and looked up at me. There was a hound, which I’m guessing was a puppy out in his first season hunting, that was sniffing the tail of the fox. It reminded me of a dog wanting to goose a cat in the butt! The fox completely ignored the hound, turned to walk a little towards the rest of the Field behind me, then he turned back towards me. The red was still just walking, all the while the puppy was sniffing the fox’s brush like it was a treat. It only lasted a few seconds, and because of the dense woods only I really got a good look at the fox, even though I was pointing and mouthing to the field, “Tally Ho! It’s a blooming red fox right there! SEE?”
I was quiet because you are not supposed to make noise that would distract the hounds when you see the fox or coyote. One is only supposed to call a Tally Ho when the fox or coyote has already been out of your sight for 5 seconds and you can’t here the hounds coming on whatever you just saw.
Just after this the fox disappeared and the hounds gave chase with their full voices echoing around us. It was awesome! I had goose bumps as I led the Field down one of the few trails we have that goes into the Triangle. The hounds went deep down the ridge, so I decided to take the Field out to the Pipeline to see if we could view the red crossing the open pipeline.
We could hear the hounds roaring around the Triangle. They circled once and passed us in the woods. We turned to look the other way down the pipeline to get a view. But the pipeline is a series of hills, and they must have crossed where we couldn’t see. I had been waiting for the pack to cross so I could tell which way to go down the pipeline. When we decided they had crossed and were heading towards the gravel road, I took off. We raced down the hill to a winding trail in the woods.
I was hoofing it, but in the back of my mind I did think of the deer hunters that were out that day. But did I put my heels forward on my girth in a defensive posture? No. Did I slip some fingers under my breastplate as a “just in case” plan? Nope. I did think about it, but I just didn’t do it. So when I saw the Orange Creature in 3-D camo run across the trail just as we rounded a curve, I was toast. My hunt horse Phillip, who is a large pony, slammed on the breaks so he wouldn’t run over this thing in the trail. I was thrown forward onto his mane.
I am still mostly sore in my right arm and the right side of my neck as I clung to Phil’s mane with everything my right arm could muster. I was screaming in my head, “NO! NONONONONONOOOOO!” I had a flash of Karen O’Connor back when she was Karen Lende at the Rolex. I was there when she was thrown on her horse’s neck right after she came down the Lexington Bank. Somehow that woman never touched the ground and got back in the saddle. Well, there is a reason why I will never ride at the Rolex 3-Day Event. I didn’t stand a chance and hit the dirt flat on my back.
I did manage to roll as I hit, and found myself sitting with all of First Flight slamming the breaks behind me. I had kept ahold of Phil’s reins, and he was staring at the Orange Creature with suspicion. As soon as the deer hunter spook, then my horse decided that he was just a man with a very strange sense of fashion. The deer hunter came around Phil and asked me as I sat on the ground, “Did I do that?” Bless his little heart. My only consolation was that I didn’t fall in the mud; therefore my scarlet coat was free of muddy spots would betray me to the world.
I did manage to get back on Phil, we found the pack later by the soybean fields. The pack had by this point lost the red fox and had gotten on a grey fox circling back to the Triangle. They gave chase to the grey until he ran to ground very close to the pipeline. We heard Andy blow on his horn the signal that means, “Whip to me”. We got out of the way for the Whipper-In to gallop down the dead end trail that Andy was on. Then we heard Andy’s horn blowing the sound that means, “Gone to Ground”. He was not that far into the Triangle, so I lead the Field down the trail to get closer.
The hounds’ full voices were ecstatic, and Andy was alternating blowing “Gone to Ground” on his horn and sweet talking his hounds. Andy is British, so he calls him his “clever o’ lads” and “my poppets”. The fox stayed in the hole he chose to hide in. He was left in his hole safe and sound so he could give us a merry chase the next time we returned.
Andy pulled the hounds out of the cover and cast them down the pipeline near the tip of the peninsula. They had a short run, but by that point it seemed that everywhere we went there were more Orange Creatures in camo. Plus it was getting very warm, so we decided to call it a day after about 2 1/2 hours.
The deer hunter who got up close and personal with my Field decided that we were far more fun than his own hunt. The grey fox at one point before he went to ground ran under the man’s feet! I guess that 3-D camo was a magnet for anything running around that day. I’m just glad that my Phil didn’t decide to run under the man’s feet as well. That would not have been pretty.
So after we put the hounds up in the trailer we invited him to share our Hunt Breakfast with us. I teased him with, “So, how many hunts can you say that you didn’t bag a deer but a lady in scarlet?”
Gretchen Pelham, MFH
Tennessee Valley Hunt
Gretchen is one of the five Joint Masters of the Tennessee Valley Hunt. She is a photographer and always hunts with her large 20D Canon camera and zoom lens shoved down the front of the her hunt coat (including this day she fell). Sometimes she even remembers to put the digital card in the camera. She is known as the Naked Foxhunter from a series of articles she has written for The Chronicle of the Horse. Her other hunt pony Ziggy writes a blog for the foxhunting magazine Covertside. Occasionally Gretchen manages to finish a hunt without falling off, but that is not as often as she would like.