Fox Hunters Chase Traditional Thrills


November 21, 1990|By Marie V. Forbes

It's a thrilling spectacle - first the pack of hounds, noses to the ground, eagerly sniffing for their prey. Then the huntsman and the whippers-in, their scarlet jackets a brilliant contrast to fading autumn foliage.

Against the dazzling blue of a perfect November sky, the red-coated masters of the hunt appear, proudly erect in the saddle. Close behind follow mounted hunters, sedately clad in traditional black and white.

Even the sounds are magical -- the eager baying of the dogs, the cry of the huntsman's horn, the clop of horses' hooves.

Fox hunting. A sport of both kings and farmers. A tradition older than Carroll itself.

Col. Donald Thackeray, co-master of the Carrollton Hounds, says that there have always been informal fox-hunting groups in the county.

"Farmers would keep four or five fox hounds, and in the fall and winter they'd get together with neighbors to hunt," he said.

The Carrollton Hounds traces its ancestry to a group started some 50 years ago near Taylorsville. Harry Strauss, inventor of the Totalisator machine used to calculate odds at race tracks, founded the club as a private organization.

After Strauss' death in a plane crash, Gene McCaffrey, uncle of local auctioneer Tom O'Farrell, bought the club. Later, as membership dwindled, the property was sold and the hounds were moved to the Blackston farm near New Windsor.

In 1968, after Thackeray retired from military service to a farm near New Windsor, he and another farmer were instrumental in reorganizing the group. Today, the Carrollton Hounds is one of four fox-hunting clubs active in the county. The others are the Taylorsville Hunt, Pretty Boy Hunt and the Mayberry Hounds.

None of the county clubs, however, is sanctioned by the Masters of the Foxhounds Association headquartered in Boston. Years ago, the Greenspring Hounds club of Baltimore County applied to the Masters to have Carroll assigned as its territory. Although the Greenspring Hounds have hunted the area only occasionally, this prevents any other club from being sanctioned within their territory.

"We're perfectly happy with this arrangement," Thackeray said. "We simply deal with the local farmers and obtain their permission to ride on their land. We try to be very careful.

"Carroll farms are not like the wide-open grass fields of Virginia, and we have no big estates here for hunting as they do in the Greenspring Valley. Our local fields are cultivated, and on dairy farms the cows can't be disturbed."

Fortunately, hunting takes place from late October until the end of March, a time of year when most crops have been harvested and the fields lie dormant. After March, the vixens (female foxes) have new cubs and hunting ceases. For safety reasons, fox hunting stops during deer season.

During late summer and early fall, the fox hounds begin their training.

Club members on foot walk the dogs as a pack, training them to work together and to respond to the huntsman's horn.

When a new puppy won't work, he is often "coupled" to an older dog. This practice explains why a pack of 40 hounds is referred to as 20 "couples."

During a hunt, the huntsman controls the pack with his horn, assisted by the "whippers-in" or "whips" who ride on either side of the pack to control the dogs and signal when a fox is sighted.

A good fox hound has a good nose, a good "voice," is eager and does not wander, Thackeray said.

Thackeray and Everett Wagner serve the Carrollton club as co-masters.

Business meetings are conducted by the club's president, Edgar "Dick" Hain of Hampstead. The huntsman is Eddie Osborn of Hampstead.

"The hunters in this club are largely working people," Thackeray said.

"Although we hunt twice weekly, in mid-week we don't get a very large turnout because many of our 45 members can't get away from their jobs."

The Carrollton group, like the county's other fox-hunting clubs, includes many women riders.

Members join the pack for the hunt as they are able, transporting their horses in vans to the selected sites. A recent Wednesday afternoon found the group collecting at the farm of Edward and Diane Hale of Maple Grove Road near Hampstead.

Members frequently gather for hunt breakfasts, a traditional adjunct of fox hunting.

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