By this point in the season, all hounds should be settled into their work. With autumn hunting finished and opening meets out of the way, the young entry should be hunting well.
I always compare getting a pack of hounds right to managing a good football team — not Newcastle United!
By mixing in the young hounds with the old, the pack as a whole can work most effectively as a team with differing strengths.
You need the younger hounds for their drive and speed, but it’s also essential to have the older hounds there to steady the pack and keep the job right on the more challenging days.
For the past few seasons, a lot has been said about scent, or the lack of it when hunting a trail. I think a lot of this is to do with the very unseasonal weather we get now. Generally speaking, with regard to scent, the wetter and colder the better. It’s been an unbelievably dry and warm summer and autumn, even up here in the wilds of Northumberland. To date, I haven’t even needed to wear a winter-weight hunting shirt!
Our hunting country is very well stocked. When the land up here gets wet, the ground can become very paddled-up by sheep and cattle, which means that hounds can struggle.
I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve driven to the meet looking for a bonfire, hoping to see the smoke coming down to the ground (another supposedly good sign).
It’s been damp and cold and the trees and hedges look black with no haze and I think, “Here we go, this is going to be a good day,” only to be proved wrong. Another day I drive to the meet on a warm, bright and hazy day but the hounds have flown all day regardless, so you just never really know.
Scent can be very frustrating from a huntsman’s point of view and is one of hunting’s great uncertainties. All I would say to any follower or subscriber who finds bad scenting days frustrating is that it’s a lot worse for the person up front carrying the horn. It is like owning a Ferrari but not having the keys to drive it.
Before we know it, the festive season will be upon us. I enjoy all hunting days, but those around Christmas and New Year have to be my favourites. Most people are at home for the holidays, on good form and surely by then the weather will be colder.
Here at the Percy, we try to save the best country for the meets held over the festive period to ensure some good days — hopefully.
For hunt staff, this is one of the busiest times of the year. A lot of hunts will put in extra days and despite it being Christmas, hounds, horses, flesh rounds and valeting still need to be done.
Some hunts very kindly hold a collection for hunt staff. This is very much appreciated, as in hunt service there are no such things as bonuses or overtime. Anything put in is very kind. Please just remember that when you’re putting a fiver in, it often has to be split up to three, four or five ways.
I hope that everyone is enjoying their season so far. At the Percy, despite the very unseasonal weather, we’ve enjoyed a really promising start. Good hunting.
Ref Horse & Hound; 22 November 2018