A Tail of Two

Wenchdays are always exciting.  Usually a smaller group of riders (mostly a wildish group of gutty women – hence the nickname), we dispense with the formalities of attire and structure and just hunt.  I have heard from the real huntsmen that the mood (for lack of a better word) of the huntsman dictates the mood of the pack. Each Wednesday, I expect a higher level of sport, more energy, drive, and take on a no-holds-barred attitude that somehow permeates throughout the pack and the country to produce exactly that.  When you join us on Wednesdays, bring your fastest horse, don’t expect a field master, keep up or know the country, don’t fall off, show up on time to get the earliest start possible, and have a backup plan for getting the kids from school or be prepared to go in early, because we take the day as it comes.  It is the best of times.

Wednesday, September 21st was a nice cool calm day, with a little residual moisture from the prior day’s rain to help with scenting. Whipping in were Marie Griffis and Corie Downey, and the field consisted of members Coco Kirchhoff and Sheila Smart with guests Wayne & Trina.  Under normal circumstances, Wednesdays don’t include guests new to the sport or men, but Wayne and Trina fell in behind Sheila like naturals on their capable horses and they can both now proudly wear the title “Wench” (which should be fun for Wayne).

JR Morden released the hounds, we rode out around 9:45am, went out the East Gate (opened by Rick Daniels – thanks, Dad!) and trotted through the Flats toward Bone, where we cast at the bottom and started south.  Within seconds that wonderful cry started, the one that starts with the crazy high pitched sound of Gaith saying THIS IS REAL! and ZB backing her up to tell the rest YES IT’S GOOD!, then the rest chimed in. They were off!  From the west side high up in the Golf Course, Corie spotted our Tally Ho climb out of Bone to the west then circle south and fly east down the fenceline between State and Greens, with Eddie literally inches from the tail and Emily close behind.  Marie started her roller coaster trek east as fast as she could, and we started the arduous climb out of the bottom of Bone to crest on top of the flat to the east between Bone and Blind.  My new horse “Bernie” stopped for one tiny recovery breath at the top and I looked back to see the field coming along so I took off with a few straggler hounds who were more winded than my horse. The hounds dove along the line dropping down into Blind, but we couldn’t see them.  This is where VOICE comes in, especially here.  Big voiced hounds in the lead are essential in our terrain because we just can’t get to where we can see in time to determine whether the 300′ climb to the top is really worth it.  I couldn’t hear the two lead hounds, but luckily Nell came along in front of me, nose down, hot on the line and I dropped the slower end onto it and sent them to her. From that vantage point, I could SEE (blessed be the white hounds) the lead crest east over the ridge between Blind and Picnic.   Corie flew to it and Marie viewed Charley, then headed north to Cabin Bowl to stay north of them and prevent them from bailing once again too far into Big Davis (if that is where it was going to end).  After a few moments of indecision and haphazard starts both north, then south, then north, then south (I hate it when my brain tells my body to cue my horse to follow those epileptic moments of second-guessing), Sheila stopped to watch my tennis tournament ahead of her and saved the horses at least a quarter mile of running around.  Off toward the head of Picnic we went.  Luckily, Bernie has incredible heart and stamina for a couple mile long-trot up then down into the bottom, and the old and lost hounds that followed me kept up.  Corie joined me there. Marie radioed that she had heard them in Middle Finger, so we dropped them onto the line in Middle Finger and climbed out east to the south (the only way out of Middle Finger, and only before the hard freeze) following what we assumed was the same line that the lead had.  By now, we have climbed up and down three canyons, even though we had taken the long flatter route, so that we could get the hounds back in the game.  We had three couple with us, and were enjoying our own little pack hunting, though by this time the lead was so far gone we didn’t know if it was even the same Tally.  We basically had two packs on the same line and if it weren’t for the lasting scent, long stretch between hounds that allowed us to spot and hear the line, and eagerness of the tail we might have simply been on a recovery trail ride.

I am pretty sure that at this point in the blog, one of those real huntsmen would insert a comment here about the day so far.

Meanwhile, Sheila (ever the whip) stayed west of Picnic and Greens.  I spotted and heard hounds heading south along the top of E Picnic and followed my hounds in cry heading that direction.  Sheila radioed that she heard hounds (our lead) down in Greens near The Very Interesting Rock, so we looped around to join them.  Once again, and for the third time, we pulled our rear hounds up forward to drop them further up in the line. (HMMMM.)The field had a fabulous view of the hunting all day!  We followed, miles later and still hunting, up out of Greens, out the SE corner of State, and the field joined us heading toward Greens house on the south side. Somewhere in between we lost.  There, we met Marie who had brought hounds with her who had finally lost in Sheep (!) and we gathered at the mudhole again for a check and regroup.  By now, we had run for two hours. Bernie finally said enough for the first day, I have proven myself worthy and so we packed up with the help of Coco and took the long road home to the east of Sheep to see if we could gather the lead hounds presumably out there.  As we walked we heard nothing, and looking to the east we couldn’t see anything in the vast 10 more miles of continuing country.

This is the part most don’t want to talk about it (or admit, maybe): leaving hounds out.  The truth is, sometimes we do.  I was hunting from my kennels with an old pack of hounds that always come home. Whip horses were tired, I was dizzy from blowing, we had been out three+ hours hunting, we had NO IDEA where the lead went, and do not own a helicopter. We are fortunate to hunt out our back door through big continuous ranch country with no roads and no houses (except our ONE landowner’s). So, we came home without some. I got a call within an hour of getting home, from Pat Green saying they were tracking us back through her yard, heading home. (This also told me that Marie had picked up hounds still on the line, but way back from the lead and wandering to find it.) Within a couple hours, all were accounted for and safely tucked in.

Radios are an essential part of our hunt. I use them. A lot. In big country where you cannot see or hear each other, you can save a lot of horse and time by keeping in touch the only way possible since we have no cell reception.  The wind howls on the ridges lifting sound and scattering it, so I keep the whips privy to the direction I’m headed and sometimes we are so far apart the Hilltoppers have to relay messages back and forth.  If you like (read: staff, this is highly recommended), get a Motorola XPR 3300 and program it to our channel. They are about $400. You can order these from a Reno supplier to Red Rock and then when we have joint meets we are all on the same channel (much to Lynn Lloyd’s chagrin, as they are much more traditional in their radio use.  Note to self: radio etiquette discussion in order.) In our hunt, we like to have anyone wearing a radio in a staff position wear red.  Thank you to Catherine Mee for allowing BSH to use two of hers, and to JR Tonjum who fund-raised for the third.

It is now also apparent, after two good Wenchday hunts that we have a bit of an issue with our pack.  We actually have two packs – The Fast (the puppies and the bitches — and ZB and Glaser) and The Rest (and ZB and Glaser, who go both ways). Maybe we have three, because sometimes Nelson or Michael are a pack unto themselves.  We’re working on this by drafting a few new hounds this fall, maybe sending Eddie over to hunt with her faster litter mates for a season, and reorganizing what hounds we draw for the day. Stay tuned for the solution to this.

Thanks to all for another Wonderful Wenchday.

See you Sunday, September 25th.  Be saddled and ready to ride at 9:30a and please EVERYONE meet OFF your horses at 9:30am on the deck for introductions and stirrup cup.   Potluck hunt breakfast follows.

~Renee

 

Exactly what we need.

The hounds tell me what is happening in this world. I can tell now without even looking out the window, by their voices, when someone drives in yard, the deer are eating the grass at the cabins, someone is stopped out on the road, when the turkeys come round alone or with their young, when Laura shows up to feed, when the house dogs are bothering them, when “someone” escapes, when another hound is in a foul mood, when they are happy and playful, when they are miserable from rain or too many flies, and when they are just ready to hunt. Tonight, they told me the coyotes were calling them out. As I walked on my deck, I heard a coyote in every draw around the valley singing back and forth to one another and the hounds responded with equal enthusiasm.

Where were they Sunday!?

Sunday, September 18th marked the first Sunday hunt of the autumn season and another grand kickoff with a wonderfully exuberant group of members, guests, juniors, families, friends, husbands, staff, and staff-in-training. Riding out were members: Marie Griffis (MFH and Whip), Lori Dooley (1st Field Master), Kelly (Whip) & Tracey Hale, Corie (Whip) & Levi, Zane & Hallee Downey, Donna Baeth (2nd Field Master), Sheila (Family Field Master, Whip), Lane (Junior Whip) & Aspen Smart, Catherine Mee (Whip), Laura Knapp, Kasey Fallang, Sara Tharp & CeeCee (junior whip in training), Christine Gordon, Coco Kirshhoff, Katy Harjes and guests Jude Mackenzie, Erin & Kathleen, and Sophie. (I hope I didn’t miss anyone.)

By the time we went though introductions and rescued Eddie from certain death or a broken leg, it was nearly 10am. We left under a sunny sky, howling wind, and warming day. Not ideal conditions, admittedly. We drew Tried and True, to no avail, then popped over the top to draw Greens. NOTHING. The wind was wiping clean the scorched earth of any scent, and the draws were dry. Rear riders had dirt in their teeth. The hounds tried valiantly, despite the heat, though sometimes hunting shade instead of scent. Two hours into the hunt, we stopped at Greens to partake in their mudhole for water and a check. From a distance, we could see the crops were still in the field to the east, so continued south to the Mongolian border then hunted into the wind heading west. At the top of a ridge a herd of antelope fled and the puppies gave chase. Voice and horn could not be heard in the 17mph wind, Marie and CeeCee were stuck behind a failing fence with no gate and Levi headed over with a coat to lay across the wire to free them, so Corie flew down the hill to cut them off and teach them a very good lesson about chasing trash. They dutifully returned, better for it. We packed up and dropped over the road to draw the canyon that runs parallel, purposefully crossing the erratic line of the antelope to enforce the newly realized puppy  rule on the only scent that could be had. They did marvelously! By the end of the draw, the hounds told us that they were done, it was hot, a dry, blank day. They had given it their all, and after nearly four hours, we made our way back into the kennels.

My first reaction to the day was disappointment. A blank day! And with such a wonderful field of riders, including new people, we wanted to get on a good chase. We each wanted something that day —  to try, to win, to remember, to appreciate, to be appreciated, to feel, to help, to be grateful, to grieve, to stage a comeback, to make a friend, to reconnect, to share, to rest assured, to gain pride, to show off, to support, to escape, to enjoy, to test ourselves, to prove something, to relax, to learn, to gain confidence, to celebrate, to feel a part of something, to laugh, to simply enjoy.  So the world, the hounds, the coyotes, the horses and the land conspired to give each of us exactly what we needed.

Plus, we got in some really good puppy (okay, they will always be puppies to me) training and learned again what try and heart our pack has.

Sometimes, a blank day is just what you need.

Happy Birthday, Christine. And what a cake by Marie!
Happy Birthday, Christine. And what a cake by Marie!

~Renee

What It’s All About

If I had read more books on the subject, I might be able to concoct some fabulous piece of poetic prose to describe what foxhunting here at Big Sky Hounds is all about, something that would transcend the miles across the world of foxhunters in a language all would understand.  We just did it our way, bashing along as if we knew we couldn’t fail, creating a unique way we like to call “Foxhunting – Montana-Style.”   Now, starting our fourth season, we’ve come up with a way of doing things…of being really,  that maybe doesn’t translate to the rest of the world verbally, but some might just understand.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016 marked our first hunt of the season and our first Wenchday of the year.  Cool weather and cloudy skies made perfect conditions. The hounds knew it was going to be different, that we were actually, finally going to be hunting instead of stupid hound walking and roading.  In fact, the puppies jumped the fence not once, but thrice to be thrown back in the kennel and finally into the house, corralled before we rode out. Of course, it is only testament of how much our hounds love being here that they acquiesce to being  contained in a tiny yard behind a 4′ net wire propped up on a few panels and an electric wire that hasn’t been turned on for years.

Marie Griffis, Corie Downey, Lori Dooley, and Sheila Smart and I got a late start, waiting anxiously to hear news from Katy Harjes about her beloved Icon at the vet clinic with a fractured leg and a sudden turn for the worse that morning.

The first day of hunting is always exciting, and a little disorganized.  Radios weren’t charged properly, clothes cannot be found, and puppies disappear between house and kennels before we can actually release the hounds.  We rode out with 7 1/2 couple and hoped they’d find us.

The first coyote was wonderfully patient and graciously waited until we cast up the bottom of Red Rock Canyon.  He popped out about 100 yards into our very first hunt of the season in the most grandiose, albeit a little obvious, fashion and the hounds gave chase.  Surprisingly, my horn still worked, even after I ran it over with the horse trailer (tragically still on my saddle) and put it on hiatus for four months.  As the hounds screamed south down the canyon, we climbed the hill to the east in a blaze of glory.  King, a wild bronc all the way to the top (I had visions of the last hunt where he unceremoniously dumped me in front of 60 people), came to a dead stop and almost fell flat out, exhausted for the day. (Note to self: more conditioning needed.) Across on the other side, Nelson had somehow gotten turned around and was running heel, so Corie overandundered her horse in a home run that showed why she could proudly wear her 2016 Barrel Racing Champion buckle, turned him back, at which point Whiskey also realized that this whip horse thing maybe wasn’t what he really wanted to do with his life.

The hounds crested the east side of Red Rock, ran through Four Corners, down into Shane’s, over the Golf Course, over Bone and we heard them down in Blind.  We ran south and dropped into Picnic.  Somewhere near the Blond Saddle and Finger Field, Marie thought they had something denned. How is it that Marie always gets to see the coyote and be exactly where she needs to be at exactly the right time?  Thankfully, we have some big voiced hounds (and Marie has a radio), because by this time we were at least a mile to the south moving as fast as we could waiting for the sound to come echoing down the canyon so we knew which way to come off the top. Of course, Sheila was already exactly where she needed to be, somehow ahead of us, and looking cool as a cucumber amidst the mayhem. Corie was back scooping up slow hounds. That was the last time we saw either of the west/south whips.  Our 1/4 mile whip radius had just turned into about 2.  Hounds were strung for about a half mile, with the fastest keenest in the lead and good ol’ Zeus following faithfully behind me, in case anyone needed to know from a distance which one I was (the one with the old hound following faithfully behind her).

By the time we got to Two Coyote Peak, it was quiet.  I blew from the top, could see for miles and miles, but not a hound in sight. No noise. Then, off on the east, down Little Davis, they hit again!  Off we went, over the top of Waterfall, across the wheat fields, across Sheep, across Cactupuss and crested to look down over Cow Camp.  Hounds were crying to the north, so Marie climbed to the top of the ridge between Big Davis and Little Davis, following the line of the SECOND coyote she had seen with the hounds hot on it.

Lori and I dove down into Little, picked up a few more hounds, then climbed the crossing on the west end up onto the spine between Davis’s, chausing (no spellcheck help here) two pair of black cattle on ahead of us on the steep trail.  By now, we had lost the lead.  There were a few stragglers that had not picked up the line and we kept them with us.  As we headed east on the spine, thinking all was lost for the day and we were going to be hunting for hounds for the rest of our lives, Marie caught sight of a few wandering and we decided to call them off and blow them in.  Ahead of us, the feat was to get down into Big Davis off the top, gun it around to the east, and stop them. Marie radioed to me, “How many hounds do you have with you?”  I said, “Five.”  She said, “Please say that is couple.”  I did not respond.  Slowly moving east, I blew for hounds and they began coming in.

Meanwhile, four hours later (and who knows how many miles, because Kasey wasn’t there with her GPS) and back at the ranch, Sheila had to go to get kids from school and Corie was bringing in a couple to the kennel, running up to close gates in the horse pasture, and cussing me for leaving her with a 4 wheeler on fumes and a leaky gas can.  We came to a tight wire gate on top and Lori jumped off to open and close it.  Remembering something I had read somewhere about how handy the horn handles on a hunt whip are, I reached down and hooked it around the gate stick, dallied the thong to my saddle horn, and backed up to help close it.   The handle promptly popped off, nearly poking Lori’s eye out, and as I sheepishly tried to stuff the pieces into my coat I realized that most people who use this type of hunt whip probably do not ride a saddle with a horn.  We knew we had to follow down into Big Davis and frankly I did not think there was a way off.  Marie said she had bailed off at the “opening in the fence,” so we followed her tracks.  Below us was a steep 300′ drop into the bottom and a narrow goat? trail covered with downed logs and low branches.  “Did you ride this or walk it?” I asked.  “I rode it, but there is a bit of a pucker factor.” (Note to all: Maries version of “a bit” is not the same as yours.)  About a quarter of the way off, I lost her tracks and encountered a branch there was no way under so I veered right and down to immediately get stuck in a gnarl of trees.  I snapped back at Lori that she shouldn’t follow too close (in a manner that must have indicated that this was somehow all her fault, because I think Joe flipped me off on her behalf), turned around and climbed over them and continued down a trail that led to logs over the top.  I got off, led King under and over trees until I was so sure that he was going to fall on top of me as I was tripping from the seven thousand feet of lashing stringing out from my broken hunt whip, that I turned him loose and told Lori to do the same and get behind Joe and push them both along.  King decided instead of following it would be a better idea to say “to hell with this, I’m going home” and started heading uphill (obviously Lori’s fault again) until she convinced him that it would not be good for him to piss off two redheads at this point in the day.

bigdaviswater
Big Davis water hole before the monsoon.

 

 

Words cannot express the amount of respect I have for Marie, who bailed off this cliff ala Man From Snowy River and got around the hounds.  By the time we got there, they were heading back to me.  The rain had started.  We picked up a trot and went home via The Gauntlet. NEVER AGAIN.  After the chickens, goats, turkeys, geese, PIG, horses, cows, three gates and piles of rotting garbage, we have officially decided to avoid taking the hounds through the community via Big Davis, whenever possible.

Rain was pouring when we kenneled, cleaned, fed, grained, turned out the herd, trailered, and everyone headed for home.  Of course, it couldn’t dampen anything but our clothes. What a Wenchday!

Katy had to put her friend Icon down that afternoon.  Over in Red Lodge, the Hales also said goodbye to their old friend Joey.  Many of us have some personal heartaches, concerns, things we’re going through right now.  Texts and calls, messengers, and visits flitted back and forth among many of us BSHers, an onrush of support and love, shared hugs, tears, and prayers. Camaraderie. Friendship. A bond.

We know that every Wednesday and Sunday, we’re going to get together and ride like heroes on our winged horses in our beautiful land following the best hounds in the world.  And for just a few hours, we suspend our normal lives and live in the moment. Thrilling, magical, and unique. That is “Foxhunting – Montana-Style.”

Come Ride With Us!

jack-sleeping
Jack and ZB, home at last. In front of the fire, drying out and sleeping.

~Renee

Opening Hunt and BIG NEWS

scamosse

DRUMROLL, PLEASE…BIG SKY HOUNDS HAS BEEN GRANTED THE STATUS OF REGISTRATION WITH THE MASTERS OF FOXHOUNDS ASSOCIATION! 

Join us this weekend for Opening Hunt and let’s celebrate.  Congratulations, Big Sky Hounds!  Thanks to all who have made this important milestone possible.

 

You are invited to join us for the Big Sky Hounds OPENING MEET and Blessing of the Hounds – Sunday, November 1st.

All welcome! Guests, spectators, foot and car followers encouraged to join.

 

9:30am – Stirrup Cup, mounted. PLEASE MEET ON TIME. Riders should be in your stirrups by 9:30am.

 

10am – Blessing of the Hounds.

 

11am – Ride out.

 

Puppy Truck will follow, car followers welcome.

 

Hunt breakfast follows, potluck. Please volunteer to bring a dish. Bring your own beverages. Buck off bar is open.

 

Formal attire if convenient.

 

Capping fees – $75 adults, $45 students/juniors (or a big bag of dog food for juniors) — or become a member. See www.bigskyhounds.com for details.

 

Horses available for lease $100. Call Renee at 406 285-3541 for information.

 

CONGRATULATIONS, BIG SKY HOUNDS!

 

Renee Daniels-Mantle, MFH

Marie Griffis, MFH

 

 

 

 

Today’s Hunt Journal by Big Sky Emily

It was a crisp fall morning, twenty two degrees.  The coyotes had been calling us out all night.  I hadn’t slept a wink.  Being a puppy, my first year entered, I was full of energy and waiting for the huntsman to let me run, but instead I had been benched for the last two hunts due to something about being hot…or heat…or something.

At 8:30am we enjoyed a drink from our bucket, and then met at the out gate to the kennels.  There was excitement in the air.  The world was awake. Across the yard, the turkeys were strutting toward the backyard of the clubhouse for their morning snack.  The deer on the ridge began their migration up the hill, looking over their shoulders at us as the sun made its way over the Horseshoe Hills to the east.  The house dogs, those barking Neanderthals, had already made their rounds around our yard, sassing through the wire, and then on to the various front doors on the grub line.  A wafting of smoke rose from the house, the first fire of the season.  Cubbing season was almost over and I was ready.

We assembled, pent up energy coursing through our veins as we scrambled over one another to get to the gate.  It had been exactly 36 long hours since returning from our last hunt and we were overly ready for our next, despite the mean elderly status and over feeding of our pack.

JeDee was the boss and I was listening.  If you put your nose through here, you can just push back the wire and wedge your way through.  Be careful not to cut yourself on the edges.  This only works if Renee forgets to tighten the keeper on this bottom and she only does this when she is sick and forgetful.  Actually, this is the first time she has done this, but nevertheless

Got it.

I am so ready.  I mean how hard can this be?  See something, smell something, chase it.  Got it.  Who needs a huntsman?

Now, once you get your nose through, you push your shoulders through and this moves the entire panel back a couple of inches so you can squeeze out.  You must be quick.  Only one fits at a time. 

Got it.

Behind me I could hear the older hounds warning me not to follow the bitches.  Even Zero came out of the kennel to stand in the doorway and bark a word of caution. Fool.  I did avert my eyes as ZB gave me that stern look of disapproval, but I ignored him, listening instead to my fellow adventurers.  Carpe diem!

Finally, JoDee made it through, the panel creaked open, and one by one we were off!  I headed for the lead, spying our first quarry – the turkeys.  We all opened grandly, screaming with joy as we sped past the house.  In hindsight, that was probably a bad move, because it instantly alerted Renee who was inside enjoying a morning cup of joe with her dad Rick in front of the fire.  She could hardly help but notice the flock of turkeys flying into the air to land on her roof and the electric wire, even if she hadn’t heard the ruckus.

Back at the kennels, the naysayers were getting louder.  Devil be damned, this was fun.  Passing the turkeys we headed up the hill after the deer.  By now, I had run well past JoDee and was fully in the lead as fast as lightening.   Dan doubled back for home at the backyard fence, just as he always does, the chicken.  Eddie, my sister the teacher’s pet was sticking with JoDee. The rest, minus about seven old stick in he muds, followed behind.

We cut through the marsh to the west and then headed for the mouth of the Red Rock Canyon.  Not really chasing anything in particular, we were just happy to be young, free, and healthy.  Barking and running like assholes, we sped south along the bottom of the draw and then cut up to the top on the east side, passing over the fire pit and usual landing location for a coyote they call John.  Not that we could have smelled a stinking old coyote – we were running free, with the wind in our hair and our heads held high, singing to the sky.

About a mile and a half into our joyrun and our fun came to a screeching halt as we heard and spied one very mad huntsman on a four wheeler blocking our path to two dozen antelope and bearing down hard.  She must have been pretty mad, because her face was redder than her hair and she was screaming words I had never heard before.  En masse, we reversed field like a flock of birds and headed back toward the kennel.  Drat.

JoDee and Lance tried to make nice with her, Eddie waiting in the brush to do the right thing, but I wasn’t convinced and there were several with me.  Renee had to take the long route back with her four wheeler, so by the time she got back to us, we had called mutiny.  Off we were again, this time down on the river bottom and around the kennels, where the scenting was good and the game aplenty.  After running around the place knocking down gates and cursing, she finally turned off the buggie on top to look down and survey the situation and listen for us.  It must have resembled a three-ring circus.  Me, Bizby, and a couple others chased birds in a giant circle around the kennels, yard, horse pasture, and houses, flying by Rick and the farrier screaming catch me if you can.  Wallis took a couple to the river over the road and railroad tracks and chased some deer then went for a swim.  JoDee and Lance, and probably Eddie gave up on the rest of us and headed west, probably on the line of the real coyote.   And somewhere in the deep trees, someone had treed something and was baying it up like a real treeing walker coonhound.

I heard the horn.  SEVERAL times.  But, the day was young and so was I.  Off again!

Five hours later things hadn’t quieted down much, but the feed lady Laura came in and we heard the tractor running.  Most of us came in one by one for dinner.  Some delivered by car, others hobbled in.  Eddie had broken a toenail way deep in the quick and showed up bloody, Lance had cut his front legs on barbed wire. Iraq’s bum shoulder gave out and she waited in the middle of the road for a kind stranger to bring her home.  But not me, and not Hershey.  We were the lone holdouts.  There was fun to be had, things to chase, and lots to still be learned.

By 5:30 pm my tummy was growling.  The feed lady had left and I wondered what we would eat.  I was tired.  Even Hershey thought home was better, so we headed that way.  I made my way, tail sagging, for the kennels.

I learned a lot today.  Did you know that at certain times of the year, cedar trees smell exactly like cat piss?  A four wheeler can travel at 45 miles an hour, which is faster than I can run?  Turkeys can fly?  The F-word can be used as a noun, verb, adjective, and adverb and carries across the prairie for miles?  And if you show up as a puppy at 5:30 pm at the kennels of Big Sky Hounds, Renee will hug you and kiss you and feed you and tell you are the best hound in the entire world?

Got it.

Out the gate and one fun run.

Ahhh, Wenchday. You never know what will happen.

On Wednesday, October 14th we met for your average Wenchday Hunt. Marie and I were joined by Lori Dooley and her two guests Jackie and Jessie, plus Token (AKA Darrel Knapp).

Our small and sweet group of capable riders set off east with the whole pack minus the puppies, who were in heat and crazy back at home wanting to join us. As we passed the pond, the hounds could smell the coyote who had passed by that morning and watered, calling out to them several hours earlier in the dark of the morning and setting them to singing. I remarked, “It wouldn’t be very fun to chase this one, we’d end up back home in two minutes.” And we laughed.

Passing through the gate, we hit a trot and planned to hack to Fox Draw to cast. However; just a quarter mile into the field I spied the tail of a coyote trotting through the sagebrush from the community in the north, heading southish across our path and a couple hundred yards in front.

I radioed to the field to let them know I was going to Tally Ho and were they ready? Ready! I looked at Marie, still on my left as we packed up, and she smiled. Game on. I tooted my horn and off the hounds went, searching, searching. They couldn’t see the coyote, but we could. What a great way to watch your hounds, like a classroom. Finally, Bizby got him on the wind at the same time JoDee got him on the ground. Bizby lit out like a flash, but JoDee had the manners to alert the others and the chase was on.  Full cry and hot on his heels.

The coyote could her the horn and kept looking to me, but didn’t seem concerned at all that tweny some hounds we bearing down hard and loud on him.  He trotted, turned back, trotted. I thought, Holy crap, we’re going to catch him!  This was not something I particularly wanted, so I radioed to Marie to run along with the lead and chase him off.  (This may not be the textbook reaction one should have, in fact I have no idea what that might be,  but I just wanted this coyote to be a little less gentle and he clearly wasn’t scared of the hounds.  She was there, and I thought if anyone was game to scare a coyote, it would be Marie.)  Finally, he gave chase and the hounds were on in a fast straight line south and then up the steep hill between Bone and Blind.  The view was phenomenal, a good two mile chase with the hounds just on the heels of the big pretty coyote.

About that time, the field called to tell me that one of the riders was off, having trouble with her horse.  So Marie and I kept with the hounds and the small field stopped to see that she was okay.  We climbed the steep hill, and about three quarters of the way up my horse gave out about the same time I did.  My cold/flu must have been a little worse than I thought because I was about to pass out from running and blowing, so I slid off my horse and climbed the final steep face to the top.  How did Marie get up there?  It had looked doable from the bottom, but the last part was a doozy and I was glad the ground wasn’t frozen or we wouldn’t have made it. A few rear hounds were still with and passing me, among them my boy Zeus.  Of course, he’s a fair weather hunter, but if you want to find me, find Zeus.  Meanwhile, Marie caught up to the hounds who were on the top, heading west across Bone and over into the golf course.  She got around the south through State, cheering them on.   At the same time, Lori took the rallied field to the base of Shane’s where I suspected the hounds had run the coyote to the den in the bottom.  In fact, the coyote must have ran past the den and down to the backyard and straight into the field!  Well, if that’s not home base, I don’t know what is, so Lori scooped up the majority of the hounds and held them at the water trough as Marie watched the west out-of-bounds line and I came down Shane’s to get the hounds they had heard in the bottom.

We took the pack home, kenneled, and went back out to cool our horses and look for a couple old slow boys who weren’t home yet.  As we passed by Bone, a youngster coyote trotted up the canyon in our view, looking over her shoulder, hopefully thinking That was fun to watch, and now I get it.  I’m pretty sure that is what cubbing is all about.

Needless to say, the coyotes are thick this year.  Why they chose to live in our backyard, I’m not sure.

I don’t know how coyotes simply vanish.  I don’t know how you send out a thought and it comes to fruition.  But, I do know that that today was one fun run.  Short, sweet, and perfect.  Thank you, hounds.  Thank you, coyotes.  Thank you, horses. And thank you, people.

Apocalyptic conditions net first view of the season.

On Sunday, October 11th we all woke to hear the wind howling outside.  Surely she will cancel, this is insane.  But, no.  After calling off the prior Wenchday due to extreme exhaustion, sickness, and subsequent apathy following the Cottonwood Joint Meet there was no way I was going to deprive Marie Griffis of her first chance to hunt the hounds, or us of our chance to taste Katy’s chicken and biscuits.   

Besides, visiting MFH Jane Jeffries was in town and offered to whip, as well as guests Michael and Kari Williams all the way from Kalispell.  Kembrough Chesson, our newest member, and Katy Harjes, Coco Kirschoff, and Laura Knapp rounded the field.  Christine Gordon loaded up the road whip kit and nursed her broken ribs into her car to follow.  Even Catherine Mee drug herself away from dragging calves for the chance to help Marie with her first day hunting hounds.  The rest were sick in bed with The Crud – or whimps – or both.

Looking back at prior hunt journal entries, there are many references to Marie and I casting sideways glances at one another as we contemplated the conditions.  Today was no different.  The temperature was a balmy 65 degrees and the wind was about the same in mph.  Gale force was the oft used description.

We set off anyway, with seven couple in tow, all the boys and Yentyl.  To set ourselves up for success, we brought the A Team  and decided to hunt in the bottom of the canyons.  Marie packed up and headed through Shane’s Canyon.  At Tried and True, she cast.  The hounds were less than enthusiastic.  Either the scenting was simply just horrible or they were truly confused by the presence of the “bad guy/whip” in the lead with a horn that sounded funny. They picked along occasionally making a show of smelling, but mostly pretending to hunt.  Hounds are not good actors.  At the south end of Tried and True, we veered west and headed over the hill.  Nothing.  Wind gusts at 35 miles and hour.  I looked back at the field hoping they would say screw this there is no way we’re ever going to chase today, but they smiled and bounced along enthusiastically, so off we went for another draw.  We exited the State section in the SW corner and then trotted casting across the open stubble field, hoping to catch a whiff in the occasional green patches and taller clumps that might hold scent.  At the bottom of the draw, right at the fence line, the hounds landed en masse on something very interesting.  Marie and I took the field up over the hill to the east and went through the open gate back into the State section.  NOTE TO WHOMEVER CARES:  We need a coop in the middle of that fence!  We put the hounds back on the spot and just as they opened, Catherine radioed that she thought she might have a tally ho just to the north.  TALLY HO!  Scrambling, we kept up with the hounds as they dropped into the ravine.  Catch, lose, catch, lose.  The hounds would open, then stop, double-back and come look to us as if desperately asking which way did he go, which way did he go?

Finally, we spotted two giant mule deer crest the top of the ridge on the opposite side of the ravine, a couple hundred steep feet above the bottom of the canyon where the hounds were.  I radioed to Jane to ask her to watch the line just as Marie said “There’s the coyote!”  Sure enough, the coyote was ten feet behind the deer following right along.  Of course, I radioed back asking Jane to DO NOTHING!  The hounds were on and we could hear them despite the wind ripping past our ears.  Unfortunately, we had to travel way to the south the get across the deep canyon, losing precious time. By the time we reached their out spot the lead had dropped down into Picnic and the rear was still climbing out.  We held.  The coyote and the deer had vanished, as had the scent.  As soon as they crested the ridge, the wind took them and cast them into the north, quite possibly literally.  The lead hounds were weakly chasing the remnants of a line that was wafting in the wind hundreds of feet downwind of the actual line.  Marie and I got to the top of the ridge between Picnic and Blind and blew for the hounds, who were still milling where the scent was lost to the wind.  Where had the coyote gone?

As we blew hounds to us, in the south a small poof of smoke suddenly plumed into a giant raging forest fire just a couple of miles from us!  Perhaps we should hunt toward the house? 

As the wind raged and the fire got bigger and closer, we cast again in a zig zag on the probably route of a coyote we call John. Occasionally, the hounds would catch a pocket behind a cedar tree and scream with joy, but quickly lose. By the time we reached the top of the ranch, we were exhausted, no one had a hat left on their head, the hounds were D.O.N.E., and the helicopters were dripping water on our heads as they raced to the fire.

The fire turned into a major catastrophe, though we were spared thanks to the wind.  We scrambled trailers and four wheelers to help with evacuations, but in the end all animals and humans were safe.  Thankfully.  It is almost contained tonight as I write, but much of our hunt territory went up in flames.

TODAY, WE SAW AND CHASED OUR FIRST COYOTE OF THE SEASON!  Way to go, Marie!  Good job, hounds.  On a day that should never have been, we had the best chase of the year, thus far.

Putting the farmer in the Farmer Pack.

My Facebook post said “Fellow Crazy People — we ARE hunting today.  Dress warm.  Fashion be damned.”  It was 3 degrees when I wrote it, at 10am.  Most of the day’s participants were already bundled up and headed to the meet, but I wanted their instant messages to be encouraging.  They could have a light at the end of the windblown county road for which they could strive — and stave off that odd sensation of vertigo one feels after a few minutes of staring into the sheer whiteness of a rural Montana ground blizzard.

The Big Sky Hounds met January 4th for a normal Sunday fox hunt.  However; we have all determined that hunting with Big Sky Hounds is never normal.  At 11am, I looked at Marie Griffis (joint crazy person in charge), Pat Gowland, PJ Penor, Amanda and Kyle Cram, Lori Dooley, and JR Tonjum.  We were suiting up inside.  Field Master Kyle said, “Yup, putting the farmer in the farmer pack,” as we pulled on Carhart coveralls and Elmer Fudd hats.

We rode out with 4 1/2 couple. (Yikes stayed home, and actually hasn’t left the couch since.  She is enjoying instant retirement and it would take a tractor to pull her into the tundra right now, away from a never-ending supply of cookies and lots of attention.  She is most appreciative.)  The wind was out of the north at about 5-8 mph, the snow was spitting, and it was 7 degrees, but felt like negative 70.  I looked sideways at Marie and we both thought maybe if someone wanted to call it off we could be just fine with that.  But no one did, so after a quick radio warning  that no one should be a hero or risk body parts, we forged on.  Since we had only one Whip, and the side hills were solidly frozen and snow covered, we decided to take the same route as last hunt but maybe shorten it a bit.  I packed to the east curve of Wagon Road, then cast.  THE HORN STUCK TO MY LIPS.  No kidding.  After a moment of panic, I blew through it to warm it enough to get it unstuck and only pull a minor portion of skin off, then sought a way to shove it down my pants…!  This is tricky, wearing a jacket over coveralls.  When I finally found a pocket and the cold metal hit my nether-region, I was instantly certain my sluggish brain had solidly frozen all self-preservation and sound-judgment synapses.  Had I been a man, I would have had a new definition for “retraction”.   No pun intended, but screw the frozen horn for the day.

Luckily, the coyotes were on our side.  Two minutes into the circus, through ear flaps, we heard them yipping from up high to the south.  At the top of the skyline, as high as you could get, there sat our first coyote —  calling out the hounds.  “Tally Ho!” Two or three heard him, two or three hounds saw him, and the rest followed me to where we found his tracks and smelled him.  A very hot line on a very cold day.  I started croaking from the horn and whooping like an Indian.  The chase was on.  The field was right behind me.  We never lost sight of the coyote, and when we came around the edge of the hilltop, we saw not one but two beautiful grey fluffy coyotes.   Carefully, we picked our way to the top of the hill, avoiding the patches of snow that had no grass sticking through, denoting slick rock.  The coyotes waited, letting the hounds get to within a few feet of them before jumping up and taking off again.  They looked like younger coyotes, maybe this years, and very playful and sporting.

From the top of the hill looking off into a very steep ravine to the west, we watched (that’s all we could do) as the coyotes split, one moving south and one started his first full circle back to the north then headed east for the second half of a figure eight.  Glaser and Dan followed the one to the south, but immediately upon realizing they were in the minority, they reversed directions and joined the rest.  JoDee was in the lead with her amazing voice and Gaith also gave good chase.  Marie followed off the steep hill and I popped over to the east at the top of Waterfall and then fell off into Little Davis to catch the line again as it continued running north.  The field followed and we entered the first of the double gates and crested to the top of the Burned House Ridge.  From there, we watched as the coyote and the pack ran off into Big Davis and continued north over the top.  There is no way to get into Big Davis from Little when the north faces are frozen and the trails are drifted, so we sat and watched, listened and hoped they would loop around.  They did!  Marie ran west and waited to see if she needed to follow north, eventually going down Ponderosa Rd.  I headed the same direction, leaving the field to watch as we all circled around them.  The coyote had circled back and headed up Wagon Road.  By now, the hounds were far behind but still in pursuit and we could hear their cry echoing off the hills in the cool winter air.  Zeus, Dan, and Glaser had come back to me and I took them over Falls On Ass to the line to catch the rest of the pack.  From where I stood, on the coyote tracks at the northern boundary to our country, I could see the entire neighborhood in an uproar.  The excitement was contagious. Bundled up snow-people were out walking toward the riders/field who were sipping from their flasks and watching safely from Burned House.  Horses were running like wild creatures up and down their fencelines.  Dogs were howling.  And we were all smiling and sometimes laughing out loud.

A short hour and a half into the hunt and we had seen a ten mile chase, but only put on three.  I unfroze my horn and called hounds to me.  The coyote had laid tracks through several backyards, so the hounds were following, under the watchful eyes of Marie and me.  It was like catching them in a net.  We trotted out to pick up the last hound, Lance.  They were just as thrilled as we, wondering if they could do it again.  But, the wind was cold and the thrill was sufficient, so we packed up and headed home.

Neighbor Lucy opened locked gates through her place so the field did not even have to brave Falls on Ass.  Kyle and Amanda, who had joined us early, closed gates, herded hounds, and fed cookies as the field caught up.

If it had been scripted, it could not have been a better day.  There are just some days when you don’t want to break your neck or freeze to death, but watching foxhunting on TV won’t suffice.  So, we just conjured up the perfect solution and let it play out in front of our eyes.

Hunt breakfast was prepared by the Tonjums.  JR, a southern lady, presented a traditional southern New Year’s feast of ham, collard greens, black eyed peas, and corn bread.  Ham is for health, greens for prosperity, and commons peas because it is said that if you eat like a peasant on New Years Day you will have money through the year but if you eat like a rich man you will not.

Today, we dressed and ate like farmers and had a most amazing day.  Viva la farmer pack!

~Renee

New Year’s Day Meet

It has been said that you will spend the year doing what you do on New Year’s Day. Personally, I hope this is true, as does a small hearty group of foxhunters in Montana who turned out for the Big Sky Hounds New Year’s Day Meet.

Though the Meet was scheduled at the crack of noon, the thermometer still read four degrees at 10am across most of the snow packed frozen southwestern part of the state.  Chatter about changing New Year’s Day Meet into the Day After New Year’s Day Meet started over phone and facebook lines.  But, trailers were loaded, hounds were waiting, and flasks were filled.  Eight brave souls cowboyed-up and made the journey to Montana Horses.  The theme was “come as you were” and flask recipe contest.  Members and guests turned out in true post-New-Year’s Eve-festivities-style.  Pat Gowland still wore her pajamas and Lori Dooley and JR Tonjum forgot (or drank) their recipe entries…not the flasks, mind you.  PJ and Christa Penor brought a gorgeous plate of Christmas cookies as their buck-off offering, and guest Bailey as our token male rider and gate opener.  Thank you, Bailey.  Marie Griffis started the year off in true Marie fashion, arriving early, fully prepared, and looking fabulous in her coyote collar and glittering smile.  Seeing us off (or hoping to judge the flask contest) were Dennis and Lukus Tonjum,  Kail Mantle, Rick Daniels, and Denise Dodge-Boyd.

We rode out at 12:30pm with all hounds (5 couple).  Marie whipped and Lori led the field.  Lori’s sole duty was to be sure that Bailey’s ears did not fall off.  The temp had climbed to 14 degrees, the sun was shining, there was no wind, and the hounds were moving fast.  Fresh tracks led from Wagon Road.  To avoid Falls on Ass Trail, we cast at the bottom of the hill.  Jodee opened immediately, and the chase was on.  The hounds flew to the western side of the hill, and we rounded through Finger Field to catch them as they rounded the tip of the hill moving east and south.  We played with some lines to the head of Picnic, then moved east to Waterfall.  The scenting was amazing and the hounds were following tracks that looked old, but still must have had morsels in them.  About halfway up Waterfall, PJ stopped the hunt to readjust the Zeus-cam.  The troops looked cold, but Pat, JR, and Lori gave me the “take no prisoners” look and we forged on.  We chased old and new lines up Waterfall, over to and down Sheep, and then to the south end of Cactapus.  Rounding the tip, the tracks and marks looked suspiciously unlike cattle, and we topped to east field to see three hundred elk on the skyline. Whoa.

new years first field
New Years Day Foxhunt with Big Sky Hounds, notice Pat’s pjs.
new years junior field
PJ, Christa, and Bailey tough it out in style.

Packing up, we watched with wonder as the elk gathered themselves, looking over their shoulders at us, and crested off to the east, out of sight.  It was a magical moment.  Looking around we were struck by the absolute beauty and the sheer exhilaration.  We were aware of how fortunate we are to find ourselves in this stunning place at this time.

After four hours in cold we had barely noticed, the way home seemed frosty so we partook in the fortification process of field testing our flasks.  Marie’s definitely merits creative accolades, with hints of sun stained beaches mixed with Vermont,  but mine was most “warming”.  We are rescheduling the contest for Sunday, we need a second look.

Returning to the ranch, we met the send off crew and Laura and Darrell Knapp.  As the sun went down on the first day of 2015, we enjoyed the camaraderie of good friends, Christmas cookies, Guinness, and Pat’s potato leek soup.

Happy New Year, Big Sky Hounds.  I count this time in my life as the finest and look forward to an awe-inspiring  2015.

Notes:  Scenting was great.  These hounds are super in the cold.  I had trouble getting the pack to honor Jodee today, she was much more discerning than the rest.  Footing sucked, solid frozen ice under 2 inches of snow.  Aggressive sharp shoes are very necessary and we found ourselves hilltop hunting.  No problem for hounds, but they are sore for two days following a frozen hunt.  Yikes should only go out once a week, and we should start looking for a nice comfy couch for this super-star hound’s retirement.  I am upping raw rations, double, to help with the cold.  We will never cancel or alter a hunt within 3 hours of start time, so check the notes but rest assured we’ll try not to make last minute changes.

The Big Sky Hounds will next meet Sunday, January 4th at 11am.  JR and Dennis Tonjum will provide hunt breakfast.  The flask recipe contest will resume.  Come prepared.  Dress warm, cover your ears and feet, and be sure to have sharp shoes.

Happy New Year,

Renee

Top That. Big Sky Hounds Opening Meet shows we’re now a true fox hunt.

There are certain moments in life that cause a person to pause and notice beauty as if it was something tangible.  Sometimes this happens quietly in a moment of introspection.  Other times, like last Sunday, it is as if a giant hand reaches down and rips you out of the moment for just a split second, slaps you in the face with it, and then douses you in cold water so that you can open your eyes and clearly see that the thrill and jaw-dropping drama of the beauty you are experiencing is not a dream, but in fact really happening.  To you.  It only takes a moment, no one from the outside would notice, except that you now have this silly love-struck grin on your face that won’t be wiped clean for a very long time.

Somewhere, there might be grander hunts, brighter days, a bigger bunch of hounds, a better bunch of people, more beautiful country, and more plentiful quarry…but, I doubt it.  And I would challenge anyone to come up with a day to top Sunday, November 2nd when the Big Sky Hounds had their Opening Meet and Blessing of the Hounds.

Welcome to the second season of Big Sky Hounds.  Foxhunting Montana-style.

Our Stirrup Cup started at 9:30am and the crowd swelled to fifty people including guests of honor, landowners Bob and Pat Green.  We drank Champagne and Port before the Blessing at 10:30am, despite the windy and blustery day.  Father blessed the hounds, the St. Hubert medals – strung on red ribbon and dangling from the hunt whip, the hunt, the land, the quarry, and the horses and riders.  We, well dressed and turned for our own brand of Sunday church, received it all with a star-struck sense of awe and a few tears.  It was clear we were part of something magical.

Partaking in a stirrup cup prior to the Opening Meet. Marie, Danika, Olivia, Pat, and Irish.
Partaking in a stirrup cup prior to the Opening Meet. Marie, Danika, Olivia, Pat, and Irish.
Blessing of the Hounds
Blessing of the Hounds

Five couple of blessed (and freshly bathed – thank you Olivia Eggleston/Muddy Paws and Pat Gowland) hounds went out – Zeus and ZB, Glaser and Gaith, Yentyl and Yikes, Jodee, Lance, Crossley, and Dan.  The puppies Emily and Edie, also blessed, stayed home crying out as we headed off,  hoping for the day they can join.  Three fields were led by Kyle Cram, Kail Mantle, and Sheila & Paul Smart with Donna Baeth corraled the large junior and third field.  Marie Griffis, Catherine Mee, Danika Quenemoen, and Melissa Main, and Jeremy Knutson Whipped. Secretery JR Tonjum was helped by Liz Gibson and Rick Daniels.  Members and guests joined including (and please let me know if I forgot someone) – Olivia Eggleston, Lori Dooley, Pat Gowland, Amanda Cram, Katy Harjes, Colette Kirchoff, Dennis Tonjum, Laura Knapp, Leanne Smith,  Sara Tharp, Barb Marshall, Cody and Denise Boyd, Rebecca White, Junior Field was huge – with MacKenzie Chatriand, PJ and Christa Penor, Cora, Will, Ryan, and Emma Baeth, Sage, Lane, and Aspen Smart.  Foot followers and Puppy Truck helpers included Jennifer Kent (get well soon!), Olivia’s Mom, Chris and Lori Penor, and the Steele parents and Sheila’s folks.

We headed east to avoid the wind and draw the Cabin Bowl to the south.  Leaving at 11:10am, the wind was from the SW and it was around 48 degrees, overcast.  Upon entering the west end of the bowl, the hounds were already chomping at the bit, so I cast right off and we picked up a good pace heading into the mouth of Sheep.  At the split where Sheep forks west and Cactapus forks east, a gorgeous red fox jumped out of the bottom of Sheep and flashed north, running along the rim and heading toward the hounds!  Kail (and not just a few others) cried Tally Ho and the entire field viewed as this magnificent creature flew and darted over the top and into Cactapus.  The hounds were not near it, still searching for the coyote in the bottom,  so I brought them to the line where they picked it up with ease and in full cry followed the fox.  Within a couple of minutes I thought the chase was over, and I remember thinking, “What do I do when they den him?  I’ve never chased a fox before.  Do I just blow my horn and get off and congratulate them?”  It was a rip roaring fun chase, and I watched as the fox ducked into his den in the side of the hill right under Marie as she sat at the top to the north and east of Cactapus.  I crossed down into Cactapus and the first field followed,  running like mad as we attempted to get to the hounds who were (in full view) following the fox to ground.  As we raced to the den, Kail radioed again and I heard several from the field shout TALLY HO as another fox darted in behind us, in our footsteps.  I looked back as he ran right into the rear end of the first field.  Startled at seeing people and horses there, he jumped up and did a ninety degree turn mid-air, reversing his direction.  The chase was still on!  I called the hounds to me and they handily picked up and diverted to the second line, doing a full circle and this time heading south along the entire length of Cactapus.

Now, I can say that I love hunting coyote very much. But, chasing fox is absolutely some of the most fun we’ve ever had!  The fox was quick and ducked and dived, up and down, sometimes around.  They are crafty and fast, smart.  They maneuver the country to their advantage, not just in a straight and fast line out, and it gives the horses a chance to catch up and people an opportunity to really see the hounds work.  It is difficult not to overrun, remembering the times it was all I could do to stay with hounds in pursuit of a coyote.  But chasing fox is like suddenly playing chess after months of learning how to play checkers with the coyotes.  It is wonderful to have the opportunity to stop or slow to really read the wind, hear the hounds, and feel the excitement.  Oftentimes, I could watch my horses ears to determine where the hounds were.  We chased the fox for about three miles up the entire length of Cactapus and into the field south.  On the east side of the canyon, we were able to stay close to the action, from the west side of the canyon, the second field was able to see the fox and the entire chase.  Sometimes, it seemed as if the hounds had lost him completely, he had disappeared, then suddenly they would pick up again and off we’d go.  We even turned around a few times and waited as they sorted out his movements and then picked up the cry and the pace.   By the time we reached the south east end of Cactapus, we had crested into the higher hills and the wind had picked up.   Suddenly, he had vanished.  We think he had darted out over the top and scattered his scent to the wind, but perhaps he had simply holed up or doubled back.  The hounds, tired and thrilled, milled a bit.  We watched as they circled the last sighting for a few minutes, and when the second field caught up, we gathered them all together and blew the victory call.

Gone to ground.
Gone to ground.

Elated, we rode the short distance up the hill to an awaiting Puppy Truck with Rick Daniels at the helm, serving his Famous Daniels Bloody Marys and snacks for all.  After a long and fun break, we gathered the hounds and headed down Greens Canyon into the wind which was now spitting snow.  The second field took a short cut and headed down north toward home.  The hounds picked up another line at the top of Tried and True, but after a short run lost and we decided to go home, too.

Not just once the cry from the junior field was "Tally Ho," as they capped our own little fox, Aspen.
Not just once the cry from the junior field was “Tally Ho,” as they capped our own little fox, Aspen.
The hounds and juniors also enjoyed the Puppy Truck.
The hounds and juniors also enjoyed the Puppy Truck.

 

juniorfieldsinging
The Junior Field Song

Hunt breakfast back at the ranch was filled with laughter and a tally of  bottles owed, for unfortunately there were several fall-offs.  The juniors sang a rousing rendition of “The Junior Field Song”.  We ate like kings and retold the stories over and over.  Somehow, after chasing a fox on Opening Day we somehow felt we had crossed over to being a bona fide  foxhunting club, and we were elated.

I don’t know what this is that holds us, that calls us back every week, but each time it is better.  Each week there are more people, better houndwork and chases, new country, and a growing bond between  us all.   No single element of Big Sky Hounds would stand on its own to cause such a stir, but the combined effect is truly enchanted.

Until next time –

Renee

Foxhunting Montana-style