The Howard County Iron Bridge Hounds Opening Meet
Saturday, November 1, 2014 at Harwood Farm, Jennings Chapel Road, Woodbine, Maryland
Today is the first time that I have ever had the opportunity to watch a formal fox hunt. Thank you to Bekki McMakin for the invitation. My home, Howard County has a rich equestrian history and much of the western half of the County includes horse and hay farms, equestrian trails and related equestrian activities.
The guest farm for today’s hunt was Harwood Farm, off of Jennings Chapel Road in Woodbine.
The large farm includes numerous fenced pastures, paddocks, barns, outbuildings, agricultural fields, old field meadows, stream corridors and forest strips.
The spring house.
The farm proper is located in the center north of this aerial photograph, but today’s fox hunting, covered expansive grounds including ponds, hedgerows, field edges, upland forest and riparian river corridors.
The Howard County Iron Bridge Hounds Hunt Club was formed in 1930 and has been continuously active for 84-years!
The Club has a rich tradition, where all of the members have a vast historical knowledge of the sport, understand terminology, hound breeding, etiquette and dress.
The Club website has sections/tabs on Club and sport history, the sport, fox chasing protocol, the hunt and attire. Link: http://www.hcibhounds.com/
The dogs are fox hounds, dating back to a lineage of Maryland “Brooke” Hounds from 1814.
The Club kennels are located in Glenelg.
The dogs were friendly and extremely well behaved/trained.
The hunt requires 30 to 40 riders, all who have specific tasks during the hunt.
The Club does not actually kill red and/or gray fox. Instead, they allow the dogs to come on scent, and chase the fox, then stopping short of the cull.
Today represents Opening Day, as by November 1, any/all crops have been harvested from the fields (i.e. corn, hay, soy, wheat, vegetables), with the guarantee that no crop damage will occur.
The fox are most likely to be found in thickets, hedgerows and along the forest edges. They will obviously utilize stream corridors, ponds and field edges as they forage. Den sites are usually located on forested slopes within hedgerows, near rock outcrops and often near streams and water sources. Both red and gray fox are common in the Maryland Piedmont, rural/suburban farm interface.
Reverend Patrick Rooney provided the “Blessing of the Hounds” asking our Lord to protect and keep safe, rider, hound and horse through the Club’s annual activities.
Amen, and now its game time!
Hunt instructions are provided to the equestrian team.
All of the riders section-up into function and provide a walk-thru for the guests.
. . . and now off to the hunt, going to the most likely grounds where they might happen upon a fox.
The strategy of the hunt is to isolate the fox and cut-off any escape corridors.
This requires that dozens of riders separate into smaller groups to closely observe wildlife movements and provide a cut-off should a fox flush/bolt, in an attempt to go to another hedgerow or covert.
An impressive strategy, as multiple cut-off points are now covered.
With riders in position, more or less broadly surrounding a wetland thicket, allows the Hunt Master to orient his hounds for a flush.
Watching from a distance, I saw a deer sneak out of the cover and retreat up a dell draw and away from the dogs.
No fox were observed in this particular stretch of cover, so the hunt moves to an upland hedgerow to allow the dogs to find the most fresh scent possible, narrowing the search.
The threat of rain held-off and this autumn day was crisp and autumn colors were spectacular.
At this point in the hunt, the dogs and horses went miles away and along Patuxent River State Park, north of Triadelphia Reservoir. I walked miles to get in position for photographs, without going near any covert ground that could harbor fox and being considerate of the hunt. Expecting that the hunters may be hours, I decided to call it a morning.
What incredible tradition. It was an absolute treat to watch well trained fox hounds, do what they do best! What a beautiful way to spend the morning.