This section is from the book "Hunting: A Manual of Fox, Hare, Stag & Otter Hunting", by J. Otho Paget. Also available from Amazon: Hunting: A Manual of Fox, Hare, Stag & Otter Hunting.
Have your servants well mounted on handy horses that can gallop and jump. You cannot expect your whip to be on the spot when he is wanted if he is riding cattle that do not know their business, and are always falling. Never mind about their looks if they are good performers and can go a fair pace, but get as much breeding as you can, and avoid the hairy heel. Of course you must mount yourself well, and do not attempt to make a horse when you are hunting hounds ; but if you wish to economise by buying unmade hunters, school them on off-days, or take them out with a neighbouring pack.
Everything is now ready for a start: your whips have their new coats on, and are looking very neat with white neckcloths, cord-breeches, and well-cleaned boots. You must clothe your men, and it is no cheaper to turn them out in a slovenly fashion than to do it neatly. Buckskin breeches look very smart for hunt-servants, but they would be out of place except in a fashionable country, and you must remember our little pack is in the provinces.I have already given you a word of warning about taking hounds on slowly to the meet, and about giving them plenty of room on the road. Now I think we cannot do better than accompany you on your opening day, and see if the pack have improved since that first morning cub-hunting.
On the stroke of eleven you arrive at the fixture, give all a pleasant greeting, and then remain to be inspected by your field. You have probably gained many adherents during cub-hunting, but there are others who see you now for the first time, and you may be certain every detail of the whole turn-out is being thoroughly criticised—you hope favourably. At five minutes past the hour you trot leisurely off to the covert that is always drawn on the opening-day, and is situated in the middle of your best country: the first whip in front and the second behind, who have had orders previously to see the space for hounds is not encroached upon by the field.
The covert is twelve acres of gorse and blackthorn, not very thick in places, but with plenty of brambles and long grass to make good lying for a fox. You station your field on the upwind side, direct the whips where to stand, and then throw hounds in. There is a narrow ride down the centre of the covert, and to this you make your way, all the time letting hounds hear your voice and encouraging them to try. Where the undergrowth is thickest you give them more time to draw, and when you enter the ride you take care that none are following at your horse's heels.
My reasons for advising drawing small coverts down-wind are, first of all, that a fox should not be chopped, and secondly, that it gives a good fox the opportunity of going away in the direction for which he is certain to make ultimately. I know many huntsmen like to get their fox away up-wind ; but he is sure to turn in a field or two, and then hounds go from good conditions to bad, which puts them in a worse position than if they had started down-wind. By starting down-wind a fox is much more likely to go straight and make a good point; then, as he becomes tired, every turn he makes will be in favour of hounds. I also maintain that hounds will run faster down-wind with a fox that does not turn, than the contrary way with one which is always twisting.
It is three weeks or more since last hounds were in this covert during cub-hunting ; but you remember the spot where the big dog-fox was lying on that occasion, and you have a fancy he may be there again to-day. You would like, if possible, to have a good gallop on your first day, and you have an idea that old fox will run straight. Consequently you ride straight up to the spot you are thinking of—a patch of rough tussocky grass, guarded on three sides by a screen of blackthorn, and open on the south to catch the fleeting warmth of a winter's sun. He is there sure enough to-day, and as your vigorous tally-ho reaches his ear, he gives a whisk of his well-tagged brush and disappears amongst the thorns. All the hounds near at hand fly to your cheer and are soon in hot pursuit, making the undergrowth crackle as they force their way through it. Meanwhile another portion of the pack have a fox on foot elsewhere, but you are determined to go away with the first that leaves whatever happens. The old fox at once recognises the danger of staying long in covert with such a good scent, and, after dodging once or twice to gain time, he slips quietly away on the down-wind side, whilst his enemies are for the moment at fault. Will, the first whip, blows his whistle, and you know at once what has happened.
Now is the time to use your voice if you have one, and if hounds have confidence in you they will flock to your heels as you hasten through the covert into the open. A couple having heard the whistle are already on the line, and you gallop up with the others to join them, blowing your horn to let the loiterers and the field know you are away.
You were right to make a certain amount of noise coming out of covert so that every hound might hear, but now they are ' all on' you had best be quiet. Hounds are very excitable at the start, and if excited still more by much halloaing, they will be half a mile beyond the scent the first time the fox turns.
There is little, however, to bother you now ; the second whip was very smart in stopping the portion of the pack that were on another line in covert, and not one has been left behind. A straight-necked fox is in front of you, and hounds are racing with an apparently breast-high scent. Your one object now is to keep the leading hound in view, and to this end you ride some forty yards on one side of the pack. These are not the sort of fences you have been accustomed to in the fashionable countries, and you must ride with judgment if you intend to be with hounds. Unknown to you, a reputation for hard riding has followed you, and half a dozen of the best men this little provincial hunt can produce are anxious to test your powers, and would be delighted to see you pounded. Fortunately you are riding the best in the stable, and a few little darts in cub-hunting have taught him that the banks are rotten and not to be trusted ; but most of the fences are on the level, and are straggling, unkempt obstructions, with an occasional ditch rather wider than you expect to find. This country a few years ago was all under plough, but through the depression in farming most of it has been allowed to lay itself down to grass, and now generally carries a scent, though it may not carry a large head of stock.