A-hunting they will go -- for a long time, they hope


September 14, 1997|By MIKE BURNS

FIRST OF ALL, fox hunting is really fox chasing. Rarely is a fox caught and killed in the cross-country pursuit of hounds and horses. The hunters and their pack do not dig out a fox from its den, or "earth" as it is called, once it has found shelter.

Robert Taylor has been huntsman (hunt leader) of the Goshen Hounds Hunt Club in Maryland for more than three years. He learned from his father and grandfather, who were skilled huntsmen in his native Ireland, so he knows more than a bit about the subject.

But the club has yet to actually catch a fox under his leadership. They have spotted many a Rey-nard in woodlots and cornfields, and given spirited chase over the countrysides of Carroll, Frederick and Montgomery counties. But never caught one, Mr. Taylor says with a wry smile.

For most of the Goshen members and others who gathered on a Mount Airy farm last weekend to discuss the future of their sport, the chase is the thing. The riding over fields in a group, the fence jumps, the excitement of the hounds and the uncertainty of the course -- these are the attractions of the hunt. Tallyho, and all that.

Not that there's a scarcity of foxes to hunt. The red fox population in northern Maryland is in good shape, says Department of Natural Resources wildlife manager Robert Colona.

In fact, two trappers on nearby Frederick County farms have each caught about 1,000 foxes a year, he noted. Trapped them, skinned them for their pelts. They aren't wiping out the foxes on those properties, either, because foxes naturally disperse to other areas when they become adults.

At the round table held in Mount Airy, fox hunters were more

concerned about efforts to curb their activities.

Anti-hunting legislation, dog-leash laws, changing landowner attitudes, tighter public land regulations and "animal rights" campaigns are among the challenges they face. Hunt clubs know they suffer from popular misunderstanding and from fears of property damage and liability.

To protect the sport, riders were urged to develop better relations with landowners, to be more considerate in riding over permitted properties, to explain the community benefits of cultivating a hunt club setting, to carry proper insurance, to help with maintaining lands used by the clubs.

Speakers also encouraged stronger ties with other wildlife and recreation groups to build alliances for influencing legislation and management decisions on public parks and lands. Bird watchers and rifle groups and trappers alike should share the interests of fox hunters in preserving outdoor activities and facilities, they said.

Not a 'blood sport'

Addressing public misconceptions is another challenge. No caged foxes are used in the chase; the wild animal is sniffed out in his natural surroundings and the dogs give chase, followed by the riders. The trophy is not the fox but a good chase; there's very little blood sport in fox hunting, in these parts, at least. The hunting season does not coincide with fox breeding periods.

The American foxhounds are not "trained killers," but instinctive hunters, like golden retrievers and cocker spaniels. The purebred dogs are highly valued, and well cared for, says Tom Pardoe, a Master of the Goshen Hounds.

Mr. Pardoe, who got into the sport through the interest of his daughter, finds it a distinctive riding experience, decidedly different from show ring or steeplechase or trail rides. It's social riding that also tests one's horsemanship, he points out.

One of his duties is to secure permission of farmers and other landowners to cross their fields in the hunt. That involves a

sensitive diplomacy that changes with the patterns of development and new ownership.

Loss of open space and competing demands on remaining space, rather than anti-hunting activists, are the biggest challenge to the future of the sport.

Foxes don't stick to a prescribed track, of course, so the hounds may chase off the permitted lands. It's up to leaders to call the dogs back and to keep the riders on the property.

An import of the British gentry, fox hunting in America is often viewed as an elitist, closed society. While the sport certainly requires money for horses, tack, travel and dues, the Mount Airy meeting participants stressed the need for keeping clubs open to new members, and for more open public communication and education.

A University of Maryland survey last year estimated about 1,500 fox hunters in this state, making direct annual expenditures of $8.5 million. Figuring in real estate values and improvements tied to the sport, the study calculated an economic value of more than $300 million, plus the creation of about 1,000 jobs.

Maryland DNR hopes to work with the fox hunters in a new scientific study of foxes: trapping and putting radio collars on these elusive creatures to track their movements and patterns. The study could lead to better understanding of wild fox populations, Mr. Colona said, and to better management of fox hunts under tighter future constraints.

Mike Burns is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

Pub Date: 9/14/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.