Category Archive 'Field Sports'
25 Feb 2012

At the Recent National Open Field Coursing Association’s Grand Course

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Swift greyhounds are closing on the jackrabbit.

(photos by: Herb Wells — click on images for larger picture)

When he reverses course and dashes back right through their legs!

19 Dec 2011

A Xmas Present from a Cumbrian Lad

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Shepherds Meet, Mardale 1921

A nice Xmas present for sportsmen from Ron Black: his “The Mardale Hunt: A History,” a 166-page downloadable electronic text of the history of the oldest, and most famous, of the Lakeland Fell Shepherds’ Meets. This is the kind of simple, hard-bitten North Country hunting associated with John Peel: foot-following foxhounds on the often pretty vertical landscape of the Lakeland Fells.

Hunting in Mardale is a fundamental and immemorial feature of the season.

[T]he shepherds’ meeting at Mardale ” wasn’t founded in’t memory of man.” That the shepherds gave up a week to ‘ raking ‘ the fells and bringing down to the Dun Bull the sheep that were not their own. That though there is a Shepherds’ Guide with all the lug-marks and smit marks of the various flocks in it, it is very seldom referred to, for all the shepherds ken the marks as well as they ken their own bairns. From the time whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary, a hunt succeeded by a good dinner ushers in the shepherds’ ceremony of ‘ swortn ‘ the sheep; and after the sorting a hound trail and pigeon shooting at clay pigeons affords diversion till daylight fades; then tea is served and the shepherds who determine ‘to remain on spree,’ as they call it, instead of driving their sheep home, make a night of it. I gathered from the old farmers that they thought ‘ nowt ‘ to the hound-trail and pigeon shooting. They wur new-fanglements and mud varra weel be dispensed wid.’

By the early years of the last century, the fame of the Mardale Shepherds Meet had spread and visiting sportsman often attended and participated.

For years the Mardale Meet’s popularity relied on the reputation of Joe Bowman (Hunty or Auld Joe) and his Ullswater Foxhounds. Visitors travelled to the meet from all parts of the country and some the world, they travelled in a variety of ways-“Rolls-Royces, carriages, horseback and on foot walking over the high mountain passes sometimes in bad weather (snow was not uncommon) and my Great Uncle Brait and Trimmer his hound actually got lost on the tops in bad weather. Trimmer subsequently won his trail. Expensive furs, kid gloves and silver mounted walking sticks mingled at the meet with woollen clothing, hand made walking sticks and fustian jackets. Most people walked and the general view was summed up by Tommy Fishwick who was once heard to say to a friend “Yan wants nowt wi’ riding as lang as yan legs ‘ell carry yan.”

Hinchcliffe quotes that after a good days sport, huntsmen, shepherds, visitors, sheep dogs and terriers (hounds were not admitted) all turn towards the Dun Bull for a meal.

In the evening, a smoking contest took place. Skelton records “ the main portion of the pack, cast off in the large dining room and every room in the house filled with overflow meetings-or rather concerts”

The big room was the focal point, a tray was sent round and money subscribed for the evening’s refreshment. Each individual orders his choice of drink and the chairman pays out of the general pool. Toast’s and song follow in quick succession. The chairman selects the singer and everyone is supposed to sing at least one song and there was an element of pride in singing one that had not already been sung that evening. If the song had a good swing or chorus the men got particularly enthusiastic, the shepherds beating the tables with their sticks in time to the tune and the sheep-dogs and terriers howling either in enthusiasm or execration, no man knows which.

One song often sung paid tribute to the renowned local huntsman.


Down at Howtown we met with Joe Bowman at dawn,
The grey hills echoed back the glad sound of his horn,
And the charm of it’s note sent the mist far away
And the fox to his lair at the dawn of the day.

When the fire’s on the hearth and good cheer abounds
We’ll drink to Joe Bowman and his Ullswater hounds,
For we’ll never forget how he woke us at dawn
With the crack of his whip and the sound of his horn.

Then with steps that were light and with hearts that were gay
To a right smickle spot we all hasten away,
The voice of Joe Bowman, how it rings like a bell
As he cast off his hounds by the side of Swarth Fell.

The shout of the hunters it startled the stag
As the fox came to view on the lofty Brook crag,
“Tally-Ho” cried Joe Bowman, “the hounds are away,
O’er the hills let us follow their musical bay”.

Master Reynard was anxious his brush for to keep,
So he followed the wind oe’r the high mountain steep,

Past the deep silent tarn to the bright running beck,
Where he hoped by his cunning to give us a check.

Though he took us oe’r Kidsey we held to his track,
For we hunted my lads with the Ullswater Pack
Who caught the fox and effected a kill,
By the silvery stream of the bonny Ramps Gill.

Now his head’s on the crook and the bowl is below,
And we‘re gathered around by the fire’s warming glow,
Our songs they are merry, our choruses high,
As we drink to the hunters who joined in the cry.

When this song is sung at Ullswater, the third verse should be given as follows:

The shout of the hunters it startled the stag,
As the fox came to view on the lofty Brook Crag,
“Tally-Ho” We’re away, o’er the rise and the fell,
Joe Bowman, Kit Farrar, Will Milcrest and all.

14 Nov 2011

La Chasse Renversé

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Harry B. Nielson, Mr. Fox’s Hunt Breakfast on Christmas Day, chromolithograph print published in Vanity Fair, Christmas, 1897

The hunter characteristically admires, and even identifies with, his quarry, and that sense of identification commonly leads to the visualization in the hunter’s imagination of the animal object of the chase as a fellow sportsman, participating in the hunt with equal pleasure and enthusiasm and equal relish of tradition.

The fantasy of the quarry-sportsman gives rise to one of the most popular and best-loved genres of sporting art, images of La Chasse Renversé, the roles of hunters and hunted reversed. No foxhunter’s den is completely furnished without a humorous print like A.C. Havell’s Foxhunter’s Dream or the beloved Mr. Fox’s Hunt Breakfast (above).

The same comedic effect, and the same sportsman’s pleasure in thinking of his adversary in the field as fellow sportsman, can be found in shooting prints, like the very well-known contemporary print by Alexander Charles-Jones “Cocks Only,” which gleefully depicts a line of Ringnecked Pheasants in hunting vests, smoking cigars and drinking while peppering a discomfited group of incoming naked men.

Another classic example of the same humorous genre by Snaffles, published in Hoghunter’s Annual in the 1930s, depicts a couple of senior ranking boars smoking cigars and admiring trophy mounts of British officers acquired in the hunting field.

I had assumed, without any special investigation or thought on the matter, that this genre of sporting humor was specifically British and Victorian, but I was decidedly wrong.

What I have referred to as La Chasse Renversé is, at least, a common medieval artistic humorous subject, found in all sorts of forms and expressions, in paintings, sculpture, manuscript illuminations, and even tiles, representing a variation of all kinds of humorous reversals referred to in general as Le Monde Renversé. I feel sure, at this point, that a thorough search would produce similar examples of sporting facetiae from Classical Antiquity.

Some excellent examples of the hare turning the tables on the hunter were posted at Archivalia.

The Hunter’s Doom,” marginal illumination to The Romance of Alexander by Jehan de Grise and his atelier, 1338-44, Bodleiana Ms. 264, fol. 81v

09 Nov 2011

Restoration of Paiute Cutthroat Trout Blocked By Environmentalists

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Paiute Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarki seleniris)

There is naturally a special fascination for sportsmen in the prospect of trying for an example of particularly rare and beautiful game species.

The Paiute Cutthroat Trout survived in only a portion of a single remote stream in the High Sierras, Silver King Creek, (and transplants have been made to only handful of other locations), so Paiute Cutthroats do not grow to a very large size, but with respect to beauty and rarity, they inevitably rank at the top of the heap of potential trophies for the trout fisherman. I say potential, because it has not been legal to fish for Paiute Cutthroats for many decades. Occasionally, one is caught, photographed, and released with special permission by some writer or fisheries biologist.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday on the ironic situation in which environmentalist extremism on the part of two busybodies, has, for more than a decade, successfully blocked efforts by the California fish and game department to restore the rare Paiute Cutthroat to its original home range on the lower portion of Silver King Creek.

In 1912, a young shepherd named Joe Jaunsaras wanted to fish the fishless upper [portion of Silver King] [C]reek, historical records show, so he carried some Paiute trout up in a can. The fish still exist in that upper stretch of the creek.

He unwittingly saved the Paiute trout from extinction. … State officials later put other trout species into the Paiute trout’s old home. The more-aggressive new fish ate some Paiute trout and hybridized with others. By the 1940s, Paiute trout were gone from the nine-mile stretch of creek.

There are now fewer than 2,000 adult Paiute trout… The fish has been classified as “threatened” on the federal Endangered Species List since 1975.

California’s fish and game department started working on plans to restore the Paiute trout to their old range in the 1990s.

Then Ms. Erman, the bug researcher, found out. At a water conference in Las Vegas around 2000, someone—she doesn’t remember who—mentioned a plan to use the rotenone toxin in Silver King Creek. Ms. Erman says she knew there were few studies on whether that would kill rare insects. She talked to others who were skeptical of using poisons in the wilderness.

Ms. Erman came to believe that angling enthusiasts were driving the plan at the expense of other species.

Mr. Somer of the state fish and game department says a recreational Paiute fishery could be a “benefit” of a successful restoration, though he says the creek may never open to fishing. …

Ms. Erman joined forces with environmental lawyers, who in 2003 sued in federal court to stop the trout plan because of their concerns over using rotenone. The suit delayed the plan, but state officials got it back on track until Ms. Erman and her allies in 2004 successfully lobbied a water board near Silver King Creek to halt the plan. The state water board overturned the decision.

The following year Ms. Erman’s allies at Californians for Alternatives to Toxics filed new state and federal suits. They won a federal judgment forcing the state to modify the Paiute trout plan by doing more studies.

The trout plan was again on track in 2010, when the state and federal agencies completed final reports in preparation of poisoning the creek.

But a wet winter caused delays and the insect allies kept litigating. In September, U.S. District Judge Frank Damrell issued an injunction on the plan, in part because it “left native invertebrate species out of the balance.”

The plan, wrote the judge, was “failing to consider the potential extinction of native invertebrate species.”

Nancy Erman, a retired invertebrate researcher from the University of California-Davis, and Ann McCampbell, a Santa Fe, New Mexico physician who appears publicly representing the Multiple Chemical Sensitivities Task Force of New Mexico (a group comprised essentially of herself) are waging a campaign against the use of rotenone and antimycin, the piscicides that would be used to eliminate hybrid and competing trout species in order to allow the reintroduction to their native stretch of stream of one of the rarest and most beautiful trout species in the Western Hemisphere.

Erman and McCampbell, with inadvertent comedy, have actually successfully combined left-wing egalitarianism on the level of Natural Orders, essentially winning in court by accusing California of discrimination in favor of vertebrates (!) with their environmentalist fanatical opposition to chemical piscicides and their Puritan hostility to the field sport of angling.

Looking at all this from the viewpoint of democracy, the state of California sells approximately two million fishing licenses a year. The American Sportfishing Association, as of 2006, estimated that 30,000,000 Americans bought fishing licenses each year, but that twice that number actually fished in the course of a five year period.

All two million licensed California anglers and roughly 60,000,000 American anglers contribute money via license fees and excise taxes of equipment for fisheries management and have a legitimate interest in the perservation of the Paiute Cutthroat and the eventual creation over time of a highly restricted, catch-and-release fishery allowing Americans to interact with this rare and charismatic trout.

But our system of laws has become so sclerotic, so open to manipulation by cranks, extremists, and special interests that two malevolent old crackpots can impose their will against the desires and interests of millions upon millions.

Normal Americans, in this particular case, as in so many others, find themselves simply run right over by crazy people utilizing the enabling provisions of feel-good legislation, like the Endangered Species Act, which the majority allowed to be passed into law.

We need to modify and repeal that kind of enabling legislation and we need to pass laws applying some kind of scrutiny to the deceptive fund raising and the lobbying and litigating activities of radical fringe groups attempting to exercise extravagant kinds of power at the expense of ordinary people.

14 Oct 2011

Hunting Party

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A nice car interior shot from Rodger the Real King of France via Vanderleun.

24 Sep 2010

Cubbing With Rappahannock

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Karen’s photoessay on our visit with the Rappahannock Hunt on September 11th is now up.

The Rappahannock hounds are Crossbreds. Now recognized as a separate category at hound shows, the Crossbred Hound, a mixture of American and English foxhounds, was created by Ben Hardaway, Master of Georgia’s Midland Hunt, in response to the arrival of White-tailed deer in his country in the 1960s. Hardaway’s July hounds went off on a deer, and they were eating the same deer when he finally caught up with them days later. To create a deer-proof foxhound, Hardaway searched the British Isles for more docile, deer-resistant strains of foxhound which he subsequently successfully blended with classic American hound lines, finally added a soupçon of Penn Marydel to add just a little extra cry. Hardaway’s breeding program was so successful that the Crossbred category is usually the best represented at current hound shows.

Several of the Rappahannock hounds were long-haired, a trait evidencing Welsh hound ancestry.

That Saturday morning the Rappahannock hounds seemed even more filled with energy and high-spirits than hound packs typically are in general, which is saying a lot. It seemed to be snowing hounds as the pack, released from their trailer, ran, rolled, and frolicked, dashing in circles around the huntsman.

The morning’s cubbing was overlooked by a Bald Eagle who sat perched and watching with obvious interest from a dead tree by a local stream, which I think must have been the Thornton River.

10 May 2010

Obama Creates Great Outdoors Initiative

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Winslow Homer, Boy Fishing, 1892

Presidential Memorandum, April 16, 2010:

Today… we are losing touch with too many of the places and proud traditions that have helped to make America special. Farms, ranches, forests, and other valuable natural resources are disappearing at an alarming rate. Families are spending less time together enjoying their natural surroundings. Despite our conservation efforts, too many of our fields are becoming fragmented, too many of our rivers and streams are becoming polluted, and we are losing our connection to the parks, wild places, and open spaces we grew up with and cherish. Children, especially, are spending less time outside running and playing, fishing and hunting, and connecting to the outdoors just down the street or outside of town. …

it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. Establishment.

(a) There is established the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative (Initiative), to be led by the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and implemented in coordination with the agencies listed in section 2(b) of this memorandum. The Initiative may include the heads of other executive branch departments, agencies, and offices (agencies) as the President may, from time to time, designate.

(b) The goals of the Initiative shall be to:

(i) Reconnect Americans, especially children, to America’s rivers and waterways, landscapes of national significance, ranches, farms and forests, great parks, and coasts and beaches by exploring a variety of efforts, including:

(A) promoting community-based recreation and conservation, including local parks, greenways, beaches, and waterways;

(B) advancing job and volunteer opportunities related to conservation and outdoor recreation; and

(C) supporting existing programs and projects that educate and engage Americans in our history, culture, and natural bounty.

(ii) Build upon State, local, private, and tribal priorities for the conservation of land, water, wildlife, historic, and cultural resources, creating corridors and connectivity across these outdoor spaces, and for enhancing neighborhood parks; and determine how the Federal Government can best advance those priorities through public private partnerships and locally supported conservation strategies.

(iii) Use science-based management practices to restore and protect our lands and waters for future generations.

Barack Obama thinks America’s children are not hunting and fishing enough? And there’s going to be a federal initiative to do various things about this?

Visions of federally-grant-funded programs hiring aging boffers to take a boy fishing swim before my eyes. I should get one of those How-To-Write-Federal-Grant-Proposals books and start a corporation, rather like ACORN, which would recruit the kinds of individuals my mother used to refer to uncomplimentarily as “woods rats,” the kind of guys who’d rather fish and hunt and drink than work, and sign them on board to take under-Field-Sports-privileged youths out bluegill fishing and bunny shooting. I know some of just the bars to look for my first staffers in.

The idea of a democrat administration ponying up to pay for the gasoline, live bait, cartridges, (and beer) required to expose America’s youth to the out-of-doors is wonderfully amusing.

Hat tip to Peter Wilson via the News Junkie

11 Mar 2010

Is Obama Planning to Ban Fishing?

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What happens if PETA gets to write our fisheries regulations?

Probably not, but…

Last October, Phil Morlock, director of environmental affairs for the well-known tackle company Shimano, warned that President Obama was rapidly developing a fisheries policy report intended to serve as the basis for an executive order that would apply to both saltwater and freshwater fisheries and which would potentially have grave and very far reaching implications. People at Shimano were alarmed at observing the power of influence over the report of radical environmental groups and found themselves and the recreational angling community shut out.

Dave Pfeiffer, President of Shimano American Corporation explained, “In spite of extensive submissions from the recreational fishing community to the Task Force in person and in writing, they failed to include any mention of the over one million jobs or the 6o million anglers which may be affected by the new policies coast to coast. Input from the environmental groups who want to put us off the water was adopted into the report verbatim – the key points we submitted as an industry were ignored.”


Robert Montgomery, a senior writer for BASS Publications, reported this week that the period for public input has now closed, and the situation has not changed.

The Obama administration has ended public input for a federal strategy that could prohibit U.S. citizens from fishing some of the nation’s oceans, coastal areas, Great Lakes, and even inland waters.

This announcement comes at the time when the situation supposedly still is “fluid” and the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force still hasn’t issued its final report on zoning uses of these waters.

Fishing industry insiders, who have negotiated for months with officials at the Council on Environmental Quality and bureaucrats on the task force, had grown concerned that the public input would not be taken into account.

“When the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) completed their successful campaign to convince the Ontario government to end one of the best scientifically managed big-game hunts in North America (spring bear), the results of their agenda had severe economic impacts on small family businesses and the tourism economy of communities across northern and central Ontario,” said Phil Morlock, director of environmental affairs for Shimano.

“Now we see NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the administration planning the future of recreational fishing access in America based on a similar agenda of these same groups and other Big Green anti-use organizations, through an Executive Order by the President. …

Led by NOAA’s Jane Lubchenco, the task force has shown no overt dislike of recreational angling. As ESPN previously reported, WWF, Greenpeace, Defenders of Wildlife, Pew Environment Group and others produced a document entitled “Transition Green” (sic) shortly after Obama was elected in 2008.

What has happened since suggests that the task force has been in lockstep with that position paper, according to Morlock.

In late summer, just after the administration created the task force, these groups produced “Recommendations for the Adoption and Implementation of an Oceans, Coasts, and Great Lakes National Policy.” This document makes repeated references to “overfishing,” but doesn’t reference recreational angling, its importance, and its benefits, both to participants and the resource.

Additionally, some of these same organizations have revealed their anti-fishing bias with their attempts to ban tackle containing lead in the United States and Canada.

Also, recreational angling and commercial fishing have been lumped together as harmful to the resource, despite protests by the angling industry.

Morlock’s evidence of collusion — the green groups began clamoring for an Executive Order to implement the task force’s recommendations even before the public comment period ended in February. …

Morlock fears that “what we’re seeing coming at us is an attempted dismantling of the science-based fish and wildlife model that has served us so well. There’s no basis in science for the agendas of these groups who are trying to push the public out of being able to fish and recreate.

“Conflicts (user) are overstated and problems are manufactured. It’s all just an excuse to put us off the water.”

I looked at the National Resources Defense Council Transition to Green document. It certainly contained plenty of environmental empire building and a very lengthy list of funding requests, but I did not see any specific plan to ban sport fishing.

I think anything that radical is still a long way off in the United States, even for the Obama Administration. But a ban on angling, following the Hunt Ban, is definitely on the table in Britain.

PETA has a front group specifically targeting both commercial and recreational fishing.

The folks at Shimano were quite right though in recognizing that the development of federal land and water management policies hand in glove with radical environmentalist and strongly anti-field sports organizations is extremely dangerous to the interests of sport. Changing the basis of wildlife management from a focus on recreational use and harvest to a junk science-laden ultra-preservationist agenda would have terrible practical effects and there are a thousand ways that minor regulations can be crafted on the basis of one pretext or another to cripple little by little anything the left is not able immediately to openly ban.

Signing Keep America Fishing’s petition is not a bad idea.

08 Mar 2010

Ashland Bassets Met at Huntland

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The Ashland Bassets met yesterday at Huntland.

It’s been blizzard after blizzard since mid-December. We’ve been covered in snow, and most of the hunting season in Northern Virginia was a write-off this year.

Yesterday, though, for the first time in months, we were finally able to go out. Happily, favorable weather coincided with a special occasion. Dr. Betsee Parker had invited the Ashland Bassets for a guest meet last Sunday at her historic Huntland Farm, a century ago the home of the renowned sportsman Joseph B. Thomas, Master of several illustrious packs, and author of Hounds and Hunting Through the Ages.

The opportunity to see Huntland was a particular treat, and the typical Sunday field accompanying the Warrenton-based basset pack was supplemented by an unusually large group of guests representing hunts from all over the region.

The architectural details are particularly delightful at Huntland. The shutters feature a fox’s head, and the shutter stops are cast in the form of a bunch of grapes. Joseph B. Thomas’s left gate panel (see above photo), greets the visitor with a “Salve,” and then quotes Virgil’s Georgic III, 42-45:

En age segnis
Rumpe moras; vocat ingenti
Clamore Cithaeron
Taygetique canes domitrixque
Epidaurus equorum
Et vox adsensu nemorum
Ingeminata remugit.

Lo, up! the horn calls
Break off delay! with ringing cries
Cithaeron summons,
Taygetus with his hounds
and Epidaurus trainer of steeds,
and from the applauding woods
the call echoes back redoubled.

Rabbits proved to be in short supply, but hounds and people were positively thrilled to be out of doors and hunting again. The well-populated field was keen, and everyone’s exertions were more than adequately rewarded by glimpses of the charms of Huntland’s magnificent architecture and broad acreage.

At the end of the day, Dr. Parker welcomed the entire company inside the great house, providing a post-hunting “tea,” which could have been more accurately described as a buffet banquet. Prior to the the current owner’s occupancy, this wonderful house had been neglected and sat empty and unused for many years, and it was a real pleasure for visitors to see the superb job of restoration and decorating which has again made Huntland into such a spectacular showplace.

Karen’s photo essay has yet to be edited and uploaded, but I will add a link to it as soon as it becomes available.

Huntland staff awaiting guests with stirrup cup in front of the grand house.

15 Feb 2010

Will Goodall’s Horn Sold in Zimbabwe

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Will Goodall (1812? — 1859?), renowned huntsman to the Belvoir (pronounced “beaver”), the Duke of Rutland’s, was famous for his devotion to his hounds, whom Lord Bentinck reports he contended required to be treated like women, as “they could not bear to be bullied, deceived, nor neglected with impunity.”

Lionel Edwards (Huntsmen Past and Present, 1929) tells us that Goodall’s illustrious career was curtailed by an unfortunate accident.

Will died as the result of falling on his horn, which he carried in his breast, on the last day of the season, after Croxton Races. The meet was at Belvoir. The day was the third anniversary of the Hunt presentation to him — a day on which the inn at Grantham had rung again to the tune of “Will Goodall’s the boy!” The year was probably 1859, the last year of Lord Forrester’s Mastership, as the sixth Duke of Rutland’s first season as Master appears to have been 1859-1860. Will was only ill ten days, during which time he rose from his bed but once, to show Lord Henry Bentinck his young Rallywoods of the third generation. It was with a strange fitness that as the hearse moved away the hinds began to “sing” a strange and mournful requiem, which the “Druid” tells us, fairly thrilled the mourners.

A Guest Blogger at Lilla Mason’s (huntsman of the Iroquois Hounds) Full Cry blog last summer wrote a tribute to Goodall last July.

A few days ago the article prompted an inquiry from a distant reader inquiring about a recent auction purchase.

James and Denise Davies… decided to bid on the copper horn at a local auction near their home in Zimbabwe. The couple have a restaurant in the African nation and also have been collecting antiques for about six years.

“Nobody bid on it, so we got it more next to nothing,” said James, whose usual auction picks are more in the line of figurines and military memorabilia. “We were the only bidders.”

It would seem that Mr. and Mrs. Davies had acquired Will Goodall’s famous (and fatal) horn.

19 Jan 2010

Diane Athill on Field Sports

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Emily Hacker whipping in for Bath County Hounds.

In her memoir, Instead of a Letter, published in 1963, renowned editor Diana Athill, makes the case for the field sports brilliantly, but then, with little explanation, at the end, declares herself a firm Puritan opponent.

Any kind of hunting, whether with a gun or with hounds, brings the hunter into a close intimacy with the country over which he does it. He learns what kind of cover a partridge, for instance, will favour—learns it so intimately that he can almost feel himself crouching under the broad, wet leaves of a field of sugar beet. He knows what weather does to ‘his’ land, and to its animal inhabitants; he knows smells and textures, the sounds different sorts of fallen leaves make when he walks through them, the feel under his palm of the moss on the damp side of a tree trunk. Because of his pursuit his senses have to be more alert than those of even the most enthusiastic walker, so he takes more in. He has to contend with nature, not merely look at it, wading through heavy land, clambering through thorny hedges, allowing for wind, observing the light — and discovering, of course, as much as possible about the habits of the creatures he is after. People who have always been, as a matter of course, against blood sports often gibe at the sportsman’s professed affection for animals, but paradoxical though it may be, it is perfectly true that there is no surer way to identify with an animal than to hunt it. The man who shoots for pleasure only is doing, I myself now believe, something wantonly destructive—but I have no doubt that it is he who knows best what it is like to be a hare, a partridge, a pheasant, a pigeon. …

Hunting had no pains—or rather, its pains were both private and shared, and sharpened its joys. That I was nervous almost to the point of throwing up at every meet, hearing the crack as my horse’s forelegs hit the top bar of a gate, the crunch as one of its hooves came down on my skull, was at the same time an internal matter and something in which I was not alone. During the waiting about before the field moves off, many people are likely to be either unusually silent or unnaturally hearty. The more frightened you were, the more miraculous the vanishing of fear as soon as things started to happen; the more exciting the thud of hooves, the creak of leather, the more triumphant your thrusts ahead by risking a blind bit of fence while others were queuing for a straightforward bit. What instinct it is in a horse that gives it its passion for following hounds I do not understand. It is not only the obvious herd instinct, for I have often known horses who continued to quiver and dance, to be alert in every nerve, when we had lost the field and were riding alone, stretching our ears for the hounds’ voices, and I once had a pony who was so mad about the sport that she would not eat when she got home after a long day but would lean against the door of her loose-box, straining to hear the intoxicating sounds from which I had had much trouble turning her away several hours before. Whatever it may be, it is shared by the rider, and it is not lust for blood. I used, whenever possible, to avoid being in at the kill, and of all the many people I have known who enjoyed hunting, not one took pleasure in the chase’s logical conclusion.

A long hack home after a hard day could be physical torture: cold, stiff, often wet, you could reach a stage when your mount’s every stride seemed a jolt, and every jolt drove your spine into the back of your head. That, and the nerves, were part of the game that made it more than a game, that extended you more than you thought you could be extended. At the Manor there would be a groom to take our ponies when we got in, but in Hertfordshire and at the Farm, where we looked after them ourselves, it went without saying that we rubbed them down, fed and watered them and put on their rugs before we plodded our own aching bodies up to their hot baths (oh, the agony of numb fingers coming alive in hot water) followed by tea-with-an-egg. Absurd though one may think the English gentry’s obsession with animals, a child gains something from their care. To be able to feel your own chills and fatigues in the body of another creature, to rub them away with a twist of straw and solace them with a bran-mash, is to identify with a being outside yourself.

My family’s way of talking about its animals—horses, dogs, and goats—would have sounded absurd to anyone who had no experience of them or liking for them. We saw them not as docile or bad-tempered, ill- or well-trained, but as personalities with attributes similar to those of humans. ‘Poor Cinders, he gets so bored in the lower shed,’ we might say of a pony; or of a dog, ‘Lola is in a very haughty mood.’ This anthropomorphic approach to animals, despised by those who do not share it, can be taken to foolish extremes but does not seem to me to be an error. I think Freya Stark put her finger on it when she described the death of a lizard she had once owned. She was grieved to a degree she thought exaggerated until it occurred to her that the distance between the lizard and herself was far less than the distance between her and God, and in that way she expressed a truth which urbanized people forget: that Homo sapiens is not a creature apart, but one development of animal life. The more subtly developed animals do share with human beings certain muscular movements and actions which express similar states of consciousness; in them these actions are released more directly, by simpler stimuli, but at bottom they are not different and we natter ourselves if we suppose too great a distance between our own behaviour and that of Pavlov’s salivating dog.

I have always taken great pleasure in the company of animals, or even in their neutral presence—a rabbit hopping across a lawn or a bird teasing at some berries in a tree—and I am glad that I was brought up in such a way that this pushing out of feelers into a part of nature other than my own is possible to me. I am also glad that circumstances enabled me to go one step further in this than most of the people among whom I was raised, and ask myself the question ‘If I feel like this about dogs and birds and horses—what about those poor foxes?’

It was hares and stags in my case, for ours was not a fox-hunting county and we had to make do with harriers and a pack of staghounds which hunted deer maintained for the purpose and captured alive after the day’s sport, to be returned to their paddock. It was sometimes argued that the older, more experienced deer knew that this was going to happen and fled from the hounds for the fun of the thing, but they did not look as though they thought it fun. I hunted in order to ride. The subtleties of working hounds meant little to me, and throughout my youth the pleasure I got from riding was so great that I averted my eyes and shut my mind to thoughts of the creatures the hounds pursued, but the images registered, all the same. I cannot be certain whether I would have acknowledged them if those months between school and Oxford had ‘gone on forever’ and my country pleasures had continued unbroken, but I believe I might have done. My father did: he did not merely give up shooting, but came to loathe it.

As it happened I was living in London, and no longer killing anything, by the time I acknowledged that to kill for amusement was barbaric. Now I detest blood sports. I would never hunt again, nor would I go out to watch anyone shoot, nor even, I think, catch a fish unless I were without food. Living creatures have to prey on each other in order to exist, but not one of them can annihilate another for its own amusement without committing an outrage.

Athill, I think illustrates here beautifully the contradictory mindset of the Trans-Atlantic leftwing intelligentsia.

Their devotion to sanctimony and the conformist ideology of their class buries their personal experience of life and truth as thoroughly as the ashes from Vesuvius buried Pompei. Athill has just argued that Homo sapiens is not a creature apart, and she has remarked noticing just how fond horses are of hunting; but, look out! here comes the Labour Party political correctness, we musn’t chase poor little foxes. Why, we must not even fish!

Intelligent as she is, Athill completely overlooks the fact that the chicken, steak, or sole, she had for dinner at some agreeable little boite was recently just as alive as the pheasant pulled down by a load of sixes at the end station of the drive at Sandringham. So too, she overlooks the fact that Charles James himself delights in hunting and makes his own living thereby. If we and other animals are not creatures apart, how is that friend Reynard can hunt innocently, or for that matter my cat, and not me?

Once the renowned editor has left the country house of her childhood behind and sits in judgment in the Metropolis, she seems to forget that no system of National Health or Old Age Pension scheme has been established for the fur, fin, and feather set. All flesh is grass, and the unshot pheasant does not escape misfortune to retire to a villa in Spain. Nature has in store a wide array of unpleasant ends for wild creatures, a great many of which are more considerably frightening, painful, and protracted than falling quickly in hot blood to gunshot or the chase.

Athill has acknowledged recognizing that the intimacy and understanding of the hunter for the game cannot be equaled elsewhere or otherwise achieved. Logically, she is obliged to make the connection between field sports and the preservation of the wild. Non-sportsmen will never understand wildlife properly, and without the emotional connection provided by sport, the human relationship to wild creatures will attenuate to indifference or sink to the cynical exploitation of anthropomorphized fantasies.

05 Jan 2010

Baily’s Goes Electronic

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My oldest copy is the 1905-1906 8th edition

Queen Victoria was celebrating her Diamond Jubilee, Edmund Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac was playing to packed houses in Paris, and the adventurersome (including Jack London) were heading to the Klondike in search of gold in 1897, the year in which Baily’s Monthly Magazine of Sports and Pastimes, founded in 1860, began issuing its annual Directory of Hunting, listing organized fox hunts in Britain. The listings were later extended to beagles, bassets, otter and mink hounds, and its coverage made world-wide.

Charles Moore reported recently, in the Telegraph that, despite Labour’s tyrannical hunt ban, Baily’s is not only continuing publication, but is this year, for the first time, available on-line by electronic subscription.

Since the 19th century, the facts of hunting have been compiled annually by Baily’s Hunting Directory. Like Jane Austen’s Sir Walter Elliot in relation to the Baronetage, I find Baily’s my “occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one”. Between its red covers is contained a mass of information about almost every known and recognised pack of hounds in the world. According to the count for 2009, there are now 761 of them. You learn something new, interesting and satisfyingly obscure every time you read it. You also feel a thrill because of the adversity which hunting has so successfully resisted. As Lt Gen Barney White-Spunner says in his spirited introduction to the latest edition, the loss of liberty always “stirs something deep in the British soul”.

I mention the red covers, but in fact the cover turned black in recent editions, in mourning at the ban. This year, for the first time, Baily’s goes online . The publishers say that they still want to produce the book version as well – and I hope they succeed – but a web version undoubtedly offers certain advantages over a book. One is that new photographs can be posted at any time, so the site already carries first-class pictures of the current season. Another is that any subscriber (annual price £12) can contribute his own report of his hunt.

I have happily subscribed.

The print version costs £44.95/US$107 and may be ordered here.

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