Richard Gurney: Dodging the banana skins *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    I have been hunting for more than 45 years and I am entering my 10th season as an MFH, but nothing can prepare you for the responsibility, exhilaration and sheer terror of hunting hounds.

    It is perhaps the greatest challenge of my life. Hunting a pack of foxhounds in 2018 in the south-east of England has many potential banana skins from the moment you leave the meet. But it is also so rewarding.

    Sometimes even before you leave the meet, as you try and steady both your hounds and your own nerves, inquisitive people come up to you and remind you of where the danger points are, and ask “Where are you going?” One doesn’t mind either of these questions, but to begin with you are nervous and excited and just want to get on with it.

    I still throw the odd biscuit to hounds at the meet which always ensures I keep at least two couple by my side (you know who you are, Warfare, Actress, Buttons and Daystar). I have learned that “the team” — in my case three amateur whippers-in, four to six trail-layers and numerous other helpful souls — are what make the day go well.

    Add to that scent. A non-scenting day is what sees the cream rise to the top in terms of huntsmen and I am learning just how difficult a day’s sport can be without scent. A good-scenting day is a different game. As a good friend of mine put it to me the other day: “They will all start saying you have got the hang of it in a month or so, but all that will have happened is that the scent has come.”

    Invaluable inheritance

    My job is to hunt our bitches, and what bitches I have been fortunate enough to inherit. Leaving kennels for the last time, our outgoing professional huntsman of 25 seasons, Mark Bycroft, declared, “And remember you can kid a dog but not a bitch”. This is knowledge I felt I had already learned from other areas of my life, but he was spot-on.

    You can’t kid a bitch and for the large part they do their own thing, can multi-task, have complete disregard for anyone shouting at them and telling them what to do, and they are ruthless in their day job, very organised and professional.

    I am now learning to leave them alone and not make quite so much noise as I did at the start.
    Some say my horn-blowing has improved and I am afraid I use it like a dog whistle, but that helps me relax.

    You do feel very alone at times, trying to find the scent knowing everyone in the field
    is waiting to get going, and while the natural reaction is to get more agitated and upset the hounds’ sense and feel, the calmer approach definitely pays more dividends.

    As my first season hunting our hounds draws to a close, I reflect on how terrified I was on the opening day and how much I have learned in just one season with so much more to learn. My team are the best and my thanks to every one of them.

    But lastly, I have received complete understanding, help and invaluable knowledge from one man who was entitled to disappear and enjoy a rest, but he didn’t and he has been more supportive than I could ever have asked. Mark Bycroft has been so helpful that I can’t thank him enough, but then again why wouldn’t he? I am hunting his bitches.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 22 February 2018